Original Report| Volume 13, ISSUE 3, P285-292, March 2012

Smoking Cigarettes as a Coping Strategy for Chronic Pain Is Associated With Greater Pain Intensity and Poorer Pain-Related Function

  • Alexander L. Patterson
    Mental Health and Clinical Neurosciences Division, Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, Oregon
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  • Susan Gritzner
    Department of Psychiatry, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon

    School of Professional Psychology, Pacific University, Hillsboro, Oregon
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  • Michael P. Resnick
    Mental Health and Clinical Neurosciences Division, Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, Oregon

    Department of Psychiatry, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon
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  • Steven K. Dobscha
    Mental Health and Clinical Neurosciences Division, Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, Oregon

    Department of Psychiatry, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon

    Center for the Study of Chronic Comorbid Medical and Psychiatric Disorders, Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, Oregon
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  • Dennis C. Turk
    Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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  • Benjamin J. Morasco
    Address reprint requests to Benjamin J. Morasco, PhD, Portland VA Medical Center, 3710 SW US Veterans Hospital Road, Portland, OR 07239.
    Mental Health and Clinical Neurosciences Division, Portland VA Medical Center, Portland, Oregon

    Department of Psychiatry, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon
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Published:February 13, 2012DOI:


      Smoking cigarettes is prevalent among individuals with chronic pain. Some studies indicate nicotine reduces pain and others suggest it may cause or exacerbate pain. Participants in this cross-sectional study were 151 chronic pain patients from a large, urban VA medical center. Patients were divided into 3 groups: 1) nonsmokers; 2) smokers who deny using cigarettes to cope with pain; and 3) smokers who report using cigarettes to cope with pain. Patients who reported smoking as a coping strategy for chronic pain scored significantly worse compared with the other 2 groups on the majority of measures of pain-related outcome. Nonsmokers and smokers who denied smoking to cope did not differ on any variable examined. After controlling for the effects of demographic and clinical factors, smoking cigarettes as a coping strategy for pain was significantly and positively associated with pain intensity (P = .04), pain interference (P = .005), and fear of pain (P = .04). In addition to assessing general smoking status, a more specific assessment of the chronic pain patient’s reasons for smoking may be an important consideration as part of interdisciplinary pain treatment.


      This paper describes the relationship between smoking cigarettes as a mechanism to cope with chronic pain and pain-related outcome. Understanding this relationship may illuminate the broader relationship between smoking and chronic pain and provide new directions for effective interdisciplinary pain treatment.

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