Controversy continues as to whether or not it is possible to have an addiction to paracetamol, a non-narcotic pain relief drug, also known as acetaminophen. Whilst a commonly used and effective pain reliever for everyday aches and pains, paracetamol is known to cause liver toxicity in high or prolonged doses. However, doubt still remains as to whether or not paracetamol is addictive.
Paracetamol (an aniline analgesic) and NSAID’s (non steroid anti inflammatory drugs) are considered to be safer than opioids, “bearing a low risk of addiction, tolerance, dependency and withdrawal”. However, when paracetamol is used in combination with weak opioids, there is said to be an increased frequency of “rebound headaches”, that are also known as medication overuse headaches.
The occurrence of side effects with paracetamol use is high because paracetamol has a narrow therapeutic index – which means the therapeutic dose is close to a toxic dose. People using prescription medications and or over the counter pain killers need to be aware of the total paracetamol content of the drugs they are taking to avoid accidental overdose. Paracetamol may have an antidepressant effect, as a study has shown paracetamol to increase availability of the antidepressant serotonin in rats, but this is not tested in humans
There are many people who consider that they are or have been addicted to taking paracetamol. Paracetamol withdrawal effects include irritability, anxiety and painful symptoms that mimic the original condition that the medication was taken to relieve. Any drug that has both toxicity and a “reward” effect, such as providing pain relief, has a capacity to become addictive.
The recommended treatment for withdrawal effects such as rebound headaches is to simply cease taking the medication, and put up with the discomfort, until symptoms of pain naturally subside. This recovery treatment is no different in principle to detoxing from any drug that has become tolerated and produces painful withdrawal symptoms. Serotonin depletion and resulting feelings of depression could be a further side effect of paracetamol withdrawal.
Given that intense withdrawal symptoms are commonly reported, it would seem that paracetamol can be addictive. If as manufacturers claim, physical addiction risks are minimal, then it is possible that a psychological component accounts for people feeling upset and in need of more medication with paracetamol withdrawal.
People can become psychologically addicted to any activity that produces relief from emotional stress and tension, including prescription drugs. Often the idea of “taking something” is part of what gives relief to people when they are suffering pain of any kind. Paracetamol will automatically provide relief from symptoms of emotional pain at the same time as it reduces symptoms of physical pain.
Hard drugs and narcotics get people’s attention but addiction to non narcotic pain killers is just as much a problem. The risk of fatal liver damage is an issue when abusing paracetamol. People addicted to paracetamol are in need of urgent drug addict help.
Withdrawal from any addiction is something best not done on your own. Drug addict help from comprehensive therapeutic programs can get you clean of the drug, and provide support and help to really improve your life. Part of the risk if you continue to abuse drugs such as paracetamol is that one day you might be tempted to seek out something stronger.
CONTRIBUTOR TO THIS ARTICLE
Carole Pelland, from ARC Services
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For the first time in over 10 years I have gone 5 days without taking any paracetamol, I hope not to take any painkillers ever again unless absolutely necessary. The above article is the only accurate information on the side effects of repeated and prolonged use of paracetamol and the physical and psychological addiction that a person can have to them. Aside from the rebound headaches that are actually caused after taking paracetamol to often and which in turn causes a vicious cycle of having to take more of them it is also very true that after a while a psychological need to take them also appears whenever even the slightest physical or emotional pain presents itself, almost like the desire to “feel better” can be fulfilled through taking a tablet turning it into an emotional placebo. Taking paracetamol to often will cause more headaches and in my experience this case is even more so with paracetamol & codeine and also ibuprofen, this will lead to having to take more of them to get rid of the pain they have caused which then runs a greater risk of exceeding the stated dose and then overdosing.
Lucy Beaghen says
Why would you take any pain killer unless is were absolutely necessary? All drugs are in some way harmful/addictive I have taken most of them over the years. I am now on mostly only alcohol which is a great painkiller the original the best. Can’t drink and drive though!
Alcohol is a drug and is as bad if not worse than paracetamol, it can also cause liver damage and addiction..
Thank you so much for this. I have been taking at least 1 gram of paracetamol a day for the last 8 or 9 years. Mostly because I can’t sleep if I don’t (headaches) but also because of headaches on the day- basically due to stress. In the 2 days since I decided I need to stop taking it, I have noticed that the constant edema in my fingers has gone. I really do t want to take it again now and I’m hoping the headaches will ease off….
I take 2 to 4 paracetamol plus everyday. If I don’t I get bad headaches. Shall I just stop taking them and put up with the headaches.
Lucy Beaghen says
I hope your problem has sorted itself out by now but my advice would be to get plain paras not paras “plus” as they contain caffeine and it may be that giving you headaches. I have taken 4grams of plain paracetamol for over 10 years and don’t get headaches much even if I withdraw for a while (as now). Can’t drink coffee or eat chocolate because of the caffeine which does give me headaches. Drink more water too constipation can cause headaches also!! x
I’m 15 and I’ve been taking paracetamol a lot over the last couple months. It started over Christmas because I was getting headaches and now I just take them like my life depends on it. When I don’t take them I get light headed,dizzy and angry really easy. I want to stop but I don’t know how to. Also I’m diabetic.
I have a supposedly incurable brain tumor.
I have been taking panadol for the pain for just years and years, now I need about 2 tablets a day or I get really bad headaches mostly in the area where the tumor is located.
Why its just occurred to me that the headaches might be attributable to addiction and not the tumor I don’t know. I’m tempted to say Duh at this point.
But here I am – having just taken two panadol because I know that my headache will go now.
I’ll have to wean myself off, but now that I know (or think that I do) I can move forward.
I must say that I’m thankful for the drug or I would have ended my own life long ago – but I’m seeing clearly now.
I’ll move forward
Sharon Polkowski says
My son is suffering from chronic depression . Taking paracetimol takes the pain away from his head . Plus alcohol , though he hates the taste .
What do I do ?
I am teribly addicted to Adco-dol headache tablets. I can’t go a day without them or atleast Grandpa headache powder. This article is an eye opener. Thank you so much!! I am staying away from tablets starting from tomorrow…I have already taken 1 today 🙁 even after taking just 1 in a day, I feel awesome…no headache no stress. I feel light 🙁 no more!!!!
Since the age of 12 when I started menstruating I would get very bad migraines where it got so bad I couldn’t see, hear or even sit up. I started taking pain meds like paracetamol and ibuprofen to help. From the age of 6 I have had trouble sleeping at night, and noticed that my headaches would start at night. Now since the age of about 13 (exactly half my life) I have been drinking pain meds to sleep. After a meal I crave paracetamol (I like the taste and texture so I chew them like candy) I drink anywhere between 2000-6000 milligrams of paracetamol (1tab=500milligrams) and 1000-2000 (1tab=250milligrams) milligrams of ibuprofen a day. I got help for my addiction when I was 16 and stopped taking pain meds for many years but in the last 5years it has come back and I am almost back to where I was at my worst where I consumed 400-600 paracetamol tablets a month. When I don’t have any pain meds I get stressed out because I know this means I won’t be able to sleep and then my headaches start my pulse goes down to 50bpm I get stomach aches and feel nauseous, dizzy and light headed. I hope I can stop again
Lucy Beaghen says
I have been taking paracetamol for 10 years for chronic pain. I was taking a lot of other strong painkillers too but have weaned myself off them because I was addicted to them for sure. I am dependent on paracetamol now and alcohol but I think the paras are making my depression worse (not the alcohol because I often get really teary and down after my paras in the morning and I don’t drink til later in the day). I am stopping them for a while because although my pain is bad my depression and anxiety is life threatening. I’ll see how much pain I can take. Probably have to take 2 for sleeping still though. Another drug is coffee. How many out there drink coffee? Have you ever gone cold turkey from that drug? I don’t drink is now because of acid reflux and palpitations and even drinking one mouth full will give me a headache then and after. So paras are no worse than coffee.
I to drink coffee and am addictive to it as well. I have to try and cut down on the coffee to so I do understand.
Megan Hamilton says
I’m 15 years old and keep taking paracetamol. It all started when i was getting headaches but now i take up to 8+ a day. It always makes me feel sick and tired and i have loat my appetite but i can’t stop taking them. What can I do to stop?
yo mama says
listen to blasphemy by tyler joseph.
I was a high level opioid addict. I went cold turkey and got clean for two years.
Then I started having headaches again, so I started paracetamol. Everyone said it’s not addictive. Well I’m drinking up to 40 x 500mg tablets a day no end in sight. I drink about 8 four or five times a day. Am I addicted?
I truly hope that you are not dead now as 20mg is a fatal dose.
Margaret Armstrong says
I have been using paracetamol with tramadol for 4 years. Due to my age the doctor said I had to stop taking brufen 4 years ago hence increased paracetamol. I started taking brufen again as I am like the Tin Man all seized up. It is now 5 days and although my knees are more moveable my general well being is worse.
Paracetamol is obviously very addictive, I am very shocked by this and this blog has really helped. I will just have soldier on and kick the habit. At least now I understand why I feel so bad.
Tension Headaches suck says
I try to only take 1000mg of para a day for chronic tension headaches as I’m worried about getting rebound headaches too!
Hi,I am 78 , for the last 35 years I have been taking 8 co-deine + paracetamol a day, totalling 80,000 tabs, I recently realized I had to get off them,I was addicted,and I have done it, it wasn’t easy,I cut down slowly,now take paracetamol, better than codeine,and try to use less, use willpower,the pain manufactures itself to get the drug
I’ve used paracetamol everyday in conjunction with a low dose anxiety drug for about 6 months.
I developed a constant nagging headache for the last 3 months.
I finally felt better about my situation and did some research on side effects of paracetamol and decided to drop them.
My headaches almost disappeared in a day.
I sometimes feel a bit dizzy and have a slight headache hangover.
I bet I’m feeling great again soon.
Those things do create a headache pathway; medical science is now onto it.
Be a discerning patient.
I did a search and found this website and pleased I did. I live in New Zealand and a year ago (age 62) I broke my femer bone and was put on tramadol and panadol. Plus I take quineiatpine and Floroxatine for depression and aniexty. I ran out a couple of days ago and anxiety. Anyways the aniexty got worse I thought maybe the tramadol so I got a new prescription as I still had heaps of panadol left. I stopped the panadol 2 days ago because I admitt I was terrifed of dying from toxation to the liver. now I have a horrible mepty feeling in my stomach and anxiety plus shaking, But am determined to stop the panadol and then hopefully stop the tramadol. Im angry at doctors for giving these pills out willy nilly and not telling us that this can happen. Good luck to all you guys to, hope you all manage to get off it as well. I was thinking of taking nurofen instead for pain but then dont want to get hooked on that to.
oh my goodness, that is horrible for you hunny. I hope you will be able to stop again to
jimmy barnold says
Alcohol is a drug and if not worse than paracetamol? Are you crazy people that naive? Right…… fact now, if alcohol was created today it would fall into the ‘A’ classification. This is factual information. Alcohol is worse than cocaine,speed,cannabis and many other illegal drugs. Its insaine that i can walk into a shop and purchase such harmful drugs and be told ” have a nice evening” by the shopkeeper! one of many ways the corrupt world we live in confuses me……
Pepita Ridgeway says
I get terrible headaches from caffeine withdrawal but had to do it recently because I find I need more and more coffee as the weeks go by.
This time I loaded up with paracetamol, ibuprofen and asprin so I wouldn’t suffer too badly but it has now been 6 days since I had coffee and my head is still pounding so much I can hardly walk or talk. It has taken longer to get over the coffee than the usual 48 hours or so. I think the painkillers have made the situation worse but I am in so much pain I don’t know what to do.
I have rebound headaches from taking too much paracetamol for pain in my throat. i havent been using them for years or anything a few months max (where i been taking to much) any advice for dealing with the rebound headaches do i stop 100% the paracetamol? Is there any natural remedy anyone can recommend? If not how long do rebound headaches tend to last? Thanks
Some of my friends said that they uses paracetamol tablets to stop meths addiction..?? Is it possible..??
Coz im going through hell now for meths.. i need to stop using meths. Any suggestion would be dearly appreciated.
This makes very interesting reading and it helps to know that others believe that it is possible to become addicted to paracetamol and ibuprofen. I switched to these after using Anadin Extra or equivalent for many years and ending up in hospital with internal abdominal bleeding. Doctor was really surprised at the amount I was taking. Been eight days now with no pain killers at all and still suffering from bad headache, but hope this will subside soon as drug washes out of my system. One piece of advice I know from experience will be really difficult for some to follow is to try and put aside some time with as few demands as possible to come off the drugs. I needed to dose myself up to cope with work or family life and have found it easier to find the time to stop taking them and allow myself to feel ill now I am retired. You need help and understanding from your family and I am lucky in this respect. Best wishes to you all and hope things improve.
Having been concerned for a while about possible para addiction, liver damage, today I googled and read this article. Now I feel pretty sure that symptoms of skin irritation, especially when the next paras are due, occasional very severe frightening depression, tearfulness, severe swelling of feet, ankles, general mugginess…….are due to routine use of 4x500mgs para a day, as routinely prescribed by doctors for relief of arthritic pain. I plan to try and do without them, gradually reducing, hoping to heal any damage. They have seemed to give pain relief so it won’t be easy but worth a try. Para addiction needs to be more widely publicised.
I had been taking at least 1000mg I’d paracetamol and caffeine for years for headaches and general aches and pains. I am a 56 year old female. I have managed to go a week with none and the headaches and other aches have all but disappeared. It has been hard but I try and distract myself by going for a walk etc.
Hi Catherine – May i ask how you are doing now?
Hi – i am glad i have found this page. I have took Panadol extra for many years, i would say 10 ish. i am sick of taking them yet every day i do. Last week i thinik it was Wednesday and i didnt take any. It is such a addiction. I have cut down on them as i would take 4x every day. but only take two now.
I want to quit/. Has anyone actually managed to quit? I have depression and anxiety, i take them as i think they help me, obviously they dont . I think maybe i am addicted to them is because of the caffeine in them? Anyway i really want to stop taking them .
I have suffered with terrible pains in my left leg for years since I was about 15 I am now 25. Went to the doctors at 15 and he said it was growing pains. So it’s been on and off for years the pain, I got sent to physio therapy and it helped a little bit but the pain never left completely. So everytime I get the pains I do my stretches to help as of recently I had an x-Ray because I couldn’t cope with the pain. It turns out it’s my actual hip that’s been causing the problem they think the bone has grown wrong over the years and has affected the blood vessels in my left hip which is why I get the leg pains… I have been taking paracetamol for years everyday about 4-6 tablets a day. Is this a safe amount to take? I feel like I have done damage to my body over the years but I have to take them for the pain. I’m waiting for a MRI scan in the next few weeks for my hip then can hopefully start treatment.. I’m just concerned about my paracetamol intake?????
I’ve been taking paracetamol since I was a teen, 39+ years. First it was with codine and My GP realised I was addicted and I stopped. That was a struggle but I swapped to plain paracetamol and because they didn’t work so well on my headaches I tried soluble. I’m now truly addicted to them and need to stop. Blood pressure through the roof due to the salt. Trying to cut down but find myself buying them anyway, it has to be cold turkey and I need to stay strong. Not told the dr as don’t think they’ll believe I could be addicted to paracetamol
Wayne Armstrong says
hi everyone I managed to stop solpadine ,paracetamol and codiene and now trying to stop paracetamol.you will feel better but it takes time stick with it wayne
Taken paracetamol for over 10 years and need to stop is it better to cut down or just completely stop
I get a fever on and off most days. This causes a feeling of burning behind my eyes and aching muscles and joints, with a general feeling of being unwell. Does anyone else get these symptoms and there for reach for the paracetamol?
I’m 65 , I’ve had ankylosing spondylitis since I was 23 . By the time I was 50 I was on a dozen different meds a day , including cocodamol 500/500 2 4 x a day . Half of the drugs I was taking were for the side effects of the other half . I knew my body couldn’t take that level of toxicity for long , I was more scared of the drugs than the disease . I wouldn’t advise anyone to do what I did but I stopped taking all of them over a period of about a month . Strangely my inflammation markers dropped and the a.s went into remission , but I had made dietary changes too . The a.s has done severe damage to my bones and I still have pain , so I started taking o.t.c. paracetamol and got addicted all over again . I’ve now quit paracetamol , two days in . Some of the side effects I believe they ware causing , reflux , itching , headaches , shortness of breath , excessive mucus production , stabbing eye pain , shortness of breath and most embarrassingly pruritus . Also muscle spasms that affect my jaw causing me to bite my tongue and lips . Is this really medicine ?
Five days now with raging headache tears and the pain back from my RH but going to beat my addiction to paracetamol. I have been taking the maximum dose recommended every day for 6 years now,due to Rheumatoid Arthritis and not been able to tolerate any of the drugs usually prescribed for it.
I was told that it was perfectly safe by medical staff, but these last few months been waking up with headache and still in pain from RH. Thank you ,your site has opened my eyes. Was beginning to wonder about taking so many paracetamol so Google’s it and was shocked to learn of the damage it can cause. Going to beat this and become myself again. Just cannot believe that I was told it was ok to take for such a long time and the max recommended dose. Will not believe anything about anything again without checking it out myself.
Jamie Brousard says
I had the same. Pain in the leg for so long. What has happened tho, and i think has also happened to you, is the extended use of paracetamol has made you slightly anemic. A side effect of anemia is…you guessed it…bone pains in the legs. If you get off the paracetamol, it will get worse, but then will get better and eventually should go away
I have taken paracetamol for 10+ years after spinal problem. Trying to cut down, 2 at night and a half during the day. Aches and pains in limbs, feeling very worried wondering what’s happening. What I have read makes sense think that is what I am getting withdrawal symptoms. Whish they would go. You have given me hope if I can carry on reducing them slowly.
Colette McLister says
I recently came off Tramadol with the help of my GP and tapered doses. Now I’ve been off them completely for 2 weeks. Been relying on Paracetamol [initially to calm my raging fever] but I have been taking two [with a 6 hour gap] whenever I start to feel ropey. My advice for coming off any meds is to taper down your doses, it does help minimise withdrawal symptoms. Also, for tummy problems I took Buscopan, they’ve been a God send. I hope this helps.