Opioid dependence and addiction during opioid treatment of chronic pain

Pain. 2007 Jun;129(3):235-255. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2007.03.028. Epub 2007 May 4.


Throughout the long history of opioid drug use by humans, it has been known that opioids are powerful analgesics, but they can cause addiction. It has also been observed, and is now substantiated by multiple reports and studies, that during opioid treatment of severe and short-term pain, addiction arises only rarely. However, when opioids are extended to patients with chronic pain, and therapeutic opioid use is not confined to patients with severe and short-lived pain, compulsive opioid seeking and addiction arising directly from opioid treatment of pain become more visible. Although the epidemiological evidence base currently available is rudimentary, it appears that problematic opioid use arises in some fraction of opioid-treated chronic pain patients, and that problematic behaviors and addiction are problems that need to be addressed. Since the potentially devastating effects of addiction can substantially offset the benefits of opioid pain relief, it seems timely to reexamine addiction mechanisms and their relevance to the practice of long-term opioid treatment for pain. This article reviews the neurobiological and genetic basis of addiction, its terminology and diagnosis, the evidence on addiction rates during opioid treatment of chronic pain and the implications of biological mechanisms in formulating rational opioid treatment regimes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / prevention & control
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain / psychology
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / trends


  • Analgesics, Opioid