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Chronic disruptive pain in emerging adults with and without chronic health conditions and the moderating role of psychiatric disorders: Evidence from a population-based cross-sectional survey in Canada

Rana A. Qadeer, Lilly Shanahan and Mark A. Ferro


Background and aims

There has been a growth in the proportion of emerging adults vulnerable to pain-related sequelae of chronic health conditions (CHCs). Given the paucity of research during this important developmental period, this study investigated the association between CHCs and chronic disruptive pain among emerging adults and the extent to which psychiatric disorders moderate this association.


Data come from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey - Mental Health (CCHS-MH). This cross-sectional survey included 5987 participants that were 15-30 years of age and self-reported their CHCs (n = 2460,41%) and the extent to which pain impacted daily functioning using items from the Health Utilities Index Mark 3 (HUI 3). Group comparisons between respondents with CHCs and healthy controls were made using chi-square tests. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were computed from ordinal logistic regression models adjusting for sociodemographic covariates. Product-term interactions between CHCs and psychiatric disorders were included in the models to explore moderating effects. All analyses were weighted to maintain representativeness of the study sample to the Canadian population.


The mean age of participants was 23.5 (SE 0.1) years and 48% were female. Compared to healthy controls, a greater proportion of participants with CHCs reported having chronic pain (20.3% vs. 4.5%, p < 0.001). Among those with chronic pain, respondents with CHCs reported a greater number of activities prevented because of chronic disruptive pain (χ2 = 222.28, p< 0.001). Similarly, in logistic regression models, participants with CHCs had greater odds of reporting chronic disruptive pain (OR = 4.94, 95% CI = 4.08-5.99). Alcohol (β = –0.66; p = 0.025) and drug abuse/dependence disorders (β = –1.24; p = 0.012) were found to moderate the association between CHCs and chronic disruptive pain. Specifically, the probability of chronic disruptive pain was higher for emerging adults without CHCs and with alcohol or drug disorders; however, among participants with CHCs, probability was higher for those without these disorders.


There is a robust association between CHCs and chronic disruptive pain. The moderating effects suggest that alcohol or drug disorders are especially harmful for emerging adults without CHCs and contribute to higher levels of chronic disruptive pain; however, among those with CHCs, alcohol and illicit drugs may be used as a numbing agent to blunt chronic disruptive pain.


Findings from this study have implications for the integration and coordination of services to design strategies aimed at managing chronic disruptive pain and preventing pain-related disabilities later in life. Within the health system, healthcare providers should engage in dialogues about mental health and substance use regularly with emerging adults, be proactive in screening for psychiatric disorders, and continue to monitor the impact of pain on daily functioning. Given the age range of emerging adults, there is tremendous opportunity for clinicians to work cooperatively with colleagues in the education system to support emerging adults with and without CHCs. Overall, clinicians, researchers, educators, and those in social services should continue to be mindful of the complex interrelationships between physical and mental health and chronic disruptive pain and work cooperatively to optimize health outcomes and prevent pain-related disabilities among emerging adults.

DOI of refers to article:

University of Waterloo, School of Public Health and Health Systems, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3G1, Canada

1 McMaster University, Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, L8S 4K1, Canada.

2 University of Zürich, Department of Psychology, Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development, Andreasstrasse 15, Zurich, CH-8050, Switzerland.

  1. Funding: This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

  2. Ethical issues: All participants were informed of the purpose of research and gave their informed consent. Confidentiality of participants was guaranteed by Statistics Canada and data was accessed at a secure Research Data Centre (RDC) at McMaster University. All analyses were approved by the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board.

  3. Conflicts of interest: The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest associated with this manuscript.


Rana Qadeer is the recipient of an Ontario Graduate Scholarship and Mark Ferro holds the Canada Research Chair in Youth Mental Health. This work was conducted using data collected by Statistics Canada. However, the analyses presented here were conducted by the authors and the interpretations presented in this paper do not reflect the interpretations or opinions of Statistics Canada.


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Received: 2017-04-19
Revised: 2017-07-03
Accepted: 2017-07-05
Published Online: 2017-10-01
Published in Print: 2017-10-01

© 2017 Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain

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