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Adults with difficult childhoods susceptible to chronic pain, adverse opioid effects

Web Desk
A child can be seen putting her hands on her face while tense. — Unsplash/File
A child can be seen putting her hands on her face while tense. — Unsplash/File

A new study has suggested that people, who have had difficult childhoods or suffered adverse experiences at an early age, are more likely to suffer from chronic pain and the harmful side effects of opioid painkillers, reported Independent.

The experts at the University of Dundee's Consortium Against Pain InEquality (Cape) suggested that exposure to being neglected in early life increases vulnerability to pain and severe side effects of opioids in adulthood.

In their research published in the journal Pain, scientists observed mice and found that those who had experienced disrupted care from their mother experienced increased vulnerability to persistent pain.

The theory has not been tested on humans.

The study revealed: "Morphine used to treat the pain was less effective than in those mice who had not experienced disrupted care."

Morphine causes rapid tolerance, a phenomenon associated with the development of opioid dependence and misuse.

According to the researchers, "these changes may explain why people exposed to childhood neglect and trauma are also prone to persistent pain and opioid dependence, findings with significant implications for the prescribing of painkillers."

Professor Tim Hales, the principal investigator of Cape, said: "We know that what happens in childhood can lead to multiple poor health outcomes in later life."

"The strongest association is with drug dependence. Psychological trauma and neglect cause physical changes in the brain so it is not surprising that this can also increase vulnerability to pain."

"We believe that altered coping mechanisms caused by persistent stressors such as neglect in early life mean some individuals are less able to regulate their pain and may also be less likely to benefit from opioid prescriptions, with vulnerability to their negative effects."

"I think this research will have an important impact as it identifies how this can happen."

Chronic pain affects millions in the UK and is often associated with arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia and other disorders.

In order to address the challenges of chronic pain treatment and improve the livelihoods of people, a better understanding of the mechanisms and vulnerabilities is required.

Prof Hales continued: "Opioids have a role to play in treating pain, but they are potentially harmful drugs. Addiction is a complex, multi-factorial condition."

"A better understanding of the processes linking adverse early life events to chronic pain will lead to changes in our approach to prescribing analgesic medications."