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The temporal dynamics of emotion dysregulation in prescription opioid misuse


Hudak, J., Prince, K. C., Marchand, W. R., Nakamura, Y., Hanley, A. W., Bryan, C. J., Froeliger, B., & Garland, E. L.


Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry.2021 Jan 10;104:110024. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2020.110024. Epub 2020 Jun 24.

Publication Year:

2021 (Epub 2020 Jun 24)







Grant Support:




  • Opioid misuse is theorized to involve emotion dysregulation.
  • Misusers demonstrated autonomic dysfunction during emotion regulation.
  • Non-misusers demonstrated effective emotion regulation.
  • Emotion dysregulation in opioid misusers is evident within one second of stimulus presentation.




Opioid misuse is theorized to compromise the capacity to regulate positive and negative emotions. Yet, the temporal dynamics of emotion dysregulation in opioid misuse remain unclear.



Patients with chronic pain on long-term opioid therapy (N = 71) participated in an experiment in which they completed an event-related emotion regulation task while heart rate (HR) and galvanic skin responses (GSR) were recorded over a 5 s emotional picture viewing period. Participants were asked to passively view the images or to proactively regulate their emotional responses via reappraisal (i.e., negative emotion regulation) and savoring (i.e., positive emotion regulation) strategies. Using a validated cutpoint on the Current Opioid Misuse Measure, participants were classified as medication-adherent or opioid misusers.



Medication-adherent patients were able to significantly decrease GSR and HR during negative emotion regulation, whereas opioid misusers exhibited contradictory increases in these autonomic parameters during negative emotion regulation. Furthermore, GSR during positive emotion regulation increased for non-misusers, whereas GSR during positive emotion regulation did not increase for misusers. These autonomic differences, which remained significant even after controlling for a range of covariates, were evident within 1 s of emotional stimulus presentation but reached their maxima 3-4 s later.



Opioid misuse among people with chronic pain is associated with emotion dysregulation that occurs within the first few seconds of an emotional provocation. Treatments for opioid misuse should aim to remediate these deficits in emotion regulation.



Addiction; Autonomic; Emotion regulation; Reappraisal; Savoring.


Update as of May 7, 2021

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Last Updated: 12/12/23