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Beliefs about Perioperative Opioid and Alcohol Use among Elective Surgical Patients Who Report Unhealthy Drinking: A Qualitative Study



Elective surgical patients with unhealthy alcohol use have unique pain management needs and addiction risk factors that are relevant to surgical preparation and recovery. This descriptive qualitative study sought to better understand patients' beliefs and behaviors related to opioid use, alcohol use, and pain management in the perioperative context.


We conducted individual semi-structured interviews between July 2017 and March 2018.


A large Midwestern academic health system.


Participants were elective surgical patients meeting unhealthy alcohol use criteria, recruited from the health system's preoperative anesthesia clinic.


Semistructured interview guides explored beliefs and behaviors relating to alcohol and opioid use, health status, and surgical care. Interview recordings were transcribed and coded for thematic analysis.


Among 20 elective surgical patients (25% female), we identified three key themes regarding alcohol use, opioid use, and their co-use before and after surgery. First, desires and intentions to use opioids for postoperative pain management varied widely, even before opioids were prescribed. Second, some participants described alcohol as a preferred pain management strategy. Third, participants held a range of beliefs about the risks and benefits of alcohol and opioid co-use.


Appropriate assessment of beliefs and intentions regarding opioid and alcohol use could help identify patients most vulnerable to new opioid problems and unhealthy alcohol use in the context of perioperative surgical pain. These findings have important implications for perioperative pain management.

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