Dissociative psychopathology among opioid use disorder patients: exploring the "chemical dissociation" hypothesis

Eli Somer, Libby Altus, Karni Ginzburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Although early trauma is a well-recognized risk factor for both dissociation and substance abuse, there are inconsistent reports on the association between substance abuse and dissociation. This inconsistency may be resolved by the "chemical dissociation" hypothesis that suggests that some substance abuse patients may not exhibit high levels of dissociation, despite their trauma history, because they may achieve dissociative-like states through chemicals consumption. This article describes 2 studies aimed to (a) assess the incidence of dissociative psychopathology among recovering opioid use disorder (OUD) patients and (b) examine the chemical dissociation hypothesis. Methods: One hundred forty-nine patients receiving treatment in a heroin recovery program and 46 controls were administered self-report measures of dissociation and childhood maltreatment in study 1. A similar battery and an assessment of addiction severity were completed by 50 methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) patients and 30 detoxified OUD patients in study 2. In addition, Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition Dissociative Disorders-Revised was administered to a subsample of MMT and detoxified OUD patients. Results: Patients with OUD reported higher levels of child maltreatment and dissociation than controls. Although MMT and detoxified patients did not differ in severity of addiction and child maltreatment, detoxified outpatients had higher levels of dissociation than MMT outpatients: 23% of the detoxified patients and 12% of the MMT patients were diagnosed with a dissociative disorder. Conclusions: These findings support the chemical dissociation hypothesis of OUD and suggest that detoxification programs should take into consideration the high incidence of comorbid dissociative disorders among their recovering OUD patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-425
Number of pages7
JournalComprehensive Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Study 1 was supported by a grant from the Israel Anti-Drug Authority .

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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