Cancer pain and alcohol self-medication

Collin M. Calvert, Diana Burgess, Darin Erickson, Rachel Widome, Rhonda Jones-Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Cancer survivors are at increased risk of pain due to their either cancer and/or treatments. Substances like alcohol may be used to self-medicate cancer pain; however, these substances pose their own health risks that may be more pronounced for cancer survivors. Methods: We used cross-sectional data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) 2012–2019 to quantify the association between cancer pain and alcohol use. We used negative binomial regression, with interaction terms added to examine variations across age, sex, and race. We also examined whether alcohol use relates to cancer pain control status. Results: Cancer survivors with cancer pain were more likely to be younger, female, Black, and to have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer pain was associated with lower alcohol consumption (incidence rate ratio (IRR): 0.88, confidence interval (CI): 0.77, 0.99). This association was primarily among people 65 and older, women, and white and Hispanic people. Cancer pain control status was not related to alcohol use. Conclusions: Lower alcohol use among cancer survivors with pain has many possible explanations, including several alternative pain management strategies or a decrease in social engagement. Our findings of racial and gender disparities in cancer pain are consistent with the broader evidence on disparities in pain. Implications for Cancer Survivors: Cancer pain management for marginalized groups should be improved. Healthcare providers should screen cancer survivors for both pain and substance use, to prevent unhealthy self-medication behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1561-1570
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cancer Survivorship
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Work for this research was supported by the University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Alcohol
  • Cancer pain
  • Health disparities
  • Pain management
  • Self-medication

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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