Fast Fact and Concept #69: Pseudoaddiction

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Title: Fast Fact and Concept #69: Pseudoaddiction

Author(s): David E. Weissman

The term Pseudoaddiction was first used in 1989 to describe an iatrogenic syndrome resulting from poorly treated pain. The index case was a 17y/o man with leukemia, pneumonia and chest wall pain. The patient displayed behaviors (moaning, grimacing, increasing requests for analgesics) wrongly interpreted by the physicians and nurses as indicators of addiction, rather than of inadequately treated pain. Put simply, Pseudoaddiction is something that we do to patients, through our fears and mis-understanding of pain, pain treatment and addiction.

Diagnostic Features

Anytime there is a suggestion, because of escalating pain behaviors, that a patient on opioids may be "addicted", Pseudoaddiction should be ruled-out. Perform a complete pain assessment and review the recent analgesic history:


If you believe the current problem is Pseudoaddiction, there are two key management steps:

  1. Establish trust-a primary issue in most cases is the loss of trust between the patient and the health care providers. The physician and nursing staff should meet to discuss how they will restore a trusting therapeutic relationship; outside assistance from a pain or palliative care service may be helpful. Plan to meet with the patient and openly discuss the events leading up to the current problem; engage the patient in the decision process about the current and future use of analgesics.
  2. Prescribe opioids at pharmacologically appropriate doses and schedules; aggressively dose escalate until analgesia is achieved or toxicities develop (see FF # 18, 20, 36). Frequently re-evaluate progress in pain management and ask for consultation assistance.

Also See:
Fast Fact #68: Is it pain or addiction?

References: Weissman DE and Haddox JD. Opioid pseudoaddiction. Pain 1989 36:363-366. Sees KL and Clark HW. Opioid use in the treatment of chronic pain: assessment of addiction. J Pain Symptom Manage 1993; 8:257-264.

Copyright and Referencing Information: Users are free to download and distribute Fast Facts for educational purposes only. Citation for referencing Fast Facts and Concepts #69 Pseudoaddiction Weissman DE. April, 2002. End-of-Life Physician Education Resource Center www.eperc.mcw.edu.

Fast Facts and Concepts was originally developed as an end-of-life teaching tool by Eric Warm, MD, U. Cincinnati, Department of Medicine. See: Warm, E. Improving EOL care--internal medicine curriculum project. J Pall Med 1999; 2: 339-340.

Disclaimer: Fast Facts provide educational information, this information is not medical advice. Health care providers should exercise their own independent clinical judgment. Some Fast Fact information cites the use of a product in dosage, for an indication, or in a manner other than that recommended in the product labeling. Accordingly, the official prescribing information should be consulted before any such product is used.

Creation Date: 5/2002

Format: Handouts

Purpose: Instructional Aid, Self-Study Guide, Teaching

Training: Fellows, 1st/2nd Year Medical Students, 3rd/4th Year Medical Students, PGY1 (Interns), PGY2-6, Physicians in Practice
Specialty: Anesthesiology, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, General Internal Medicine, Geriatrics, Hematology/Oncology, Neurology, OB/GYN, Ophthalmology, Pulmonary/Critical Care, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Surgery
Non-Physician: Nurses

ACGME Competencies: Medical Knowledge, Patient Care

Keyword(s): Addiction, Negotiating treatment goals, Pain assessment, Pain treatment

The Fast Facts series is distributed for educational use only and does not constitute medical advice. For the most current version of Fast Facts visit the EPERC web site at www.eperc.mcw.edu. This mirror version is provided subject to copyright restrictions for educational use within the Inter-Instutional Collaborating Network on End-of-Life Care (IICN).