Social Connectedness and Opioids – What’s the relationship?


Here’s a paper worth reading. This article (Opioids and SocialConnectedness) presents findings about the effect of opioids on human social connection. Check out the link for the full paper and details on specific positive and negative social experiences that were observed.

Author: Tristen K. Inagaki at the University of Pittsburgh

Inagaki, T. K. (2018). Opioids and Social Connection. Current Directions in Psychological Science27(2), 85–90.


Social connectedness is essential to the well-being and livelihood of people, yet there is minimal research about how social connectedness happens and the role of neurochemicals in this occurrence. When we dive deeper into the area of social attachment, the brain opioid theory hypothesizes that opioids cause the pleasurable emotions felt from making a connection. In animal research, social behaviors like “huddling” are observed which may support this theory. However, without the ability to ask animals how they feel, it is undetermined if this shows their desire to be close with one another. In humans, little is known about how people experience connectedness in social experiences when interacting with opioids. This paper reviews findings from pharmacology studies in humans that have been show the effect of opioids in positive and negative social experiences.

Key findings:

  • Blocking opioids can decrease feelings of social connections. This may affect the likelihood of a relapse for people in recovery from addiction.
  • There are mixed findings around opioids and negative social experiences. Some findings were in line with the hypothesis, which predicts that opioid stimulation should decrease negative feelings. However, other findings did not support the hypothesis or were in the opposite direction.

Future directions:

  • The research on subjective feelings and opioids in pharmacology is scarce, prompting a need for more work in this area.

  • For people who use drugs and are involved with treatment, it may be important to find ways of addressing the varying social connectedness feelings that can come from medication.

Moving forward, studies may want to focus on measuring satisfied feelings within close relationships.

If you’re interested in more of her work, this PubMed link shows some of her recent papers.