The Role of Attachment and Naturally Occurring Variation in the OPRM1 Gene in Differential Grief Responses during Spousal Bereavement



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Losing a spouse is the most stressful life event one can encounter. However, everyone grieves differently. For some people, adjusting to life without their spouse gets easier over time. For others, grief persists or even escalates. Anxiously attached individuals are at a higher risk for developing complications in the grieving process. Separation from an attachment figure prompts abrupt cessation of opioid release, which impacts feelings of distress and grief in response to loss. Individual differences in grief responses may depend on naturally occurring variation in the μ-opioid receptor gene (OPRM1), involved in mu opioid receptor signaling. 102 participants who have recently lost a spouse completed self-report measures of attachment and grief and underwent a single stick blood draw to collect genetic data. Even when controlling for clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms, bereaved individuals who scored high on attachment anxiety also reported significantly greater grief symptoms at about three months after losing their spouse. In some models, attachment avoidance trended toward significance; individuals who were more avoidant trended toward reporting significantly less grief symptoms than those who were less avoidant. Being a G allele carrier of the OPRM1 gene (specifically, the A118G polymorphism) was not related to grief symptoms. However, this cross-sectional investigation may underestimate the impact of the OPRM1 gene and its influence on individual’s sensitivity to grief responses across longer term grief trajectories.



Attachment, Bereavement, Grief, Social Pain, OPRM1