Rationale: The serious impact of the opioid overdose crisis requires an understanding of the root causes of opioid misuse. This systematic review assesses evidence for an association between social connection, the subjective experience of belonging, and opioid misuse or opioid use disorder among individuals living in the United States. Methods We used a Boolean search strategy of PubMed, PsycINFO, and Embase to identify eligible publications from January 1990 to March 2020 and narrative analysis to synthesize the evidence. Results The database search identified 1267 independent citations; 29 publications met inclusion criteria. Nearly all the studies demonstrated high risk of bias, most often due to selection and confounding bias. Most of the studies in the review (k = 20, 69%) found at least one significant association between social connection and opioid outcomes. Although no two studies included the same measures of social connection or opioid misuse, and social connection was both positively and negatively associated with opioid misuse, results support that social connection is an important correlate of opioid misuse. Conclusions This review highlights the importance of social connection as a correlate to opioid misuse. However, the extensive variability among research studies points to a need for standardization of measurement and larger studies with diverse populations to allow for consequential recommendations for prevention or treatment of opioid misuse. Evidence regarding the associations between social connection and opioid misuse or disorder is sparse. We provide suggestions for advancing this research, including clarification of the complex influences between social connections and opioid misuse.
Examining the relationship between social connection and opioid misuse
A systematic review