I feel like I cannot function without Tylenol. How can I stop this?
October 12, 2014 9:25 PM   Subscribe

I have persistent headaches, backaches, depression, and anxiety. I take Tylenol to alleviate both physical and emotional pain, but now it has become so habitual that I can't stop. I'm scared of what I'm doing to my health at this point and need advice on how to stop, and other alternatives I can take to relax enough to be able to function throughout my day.

I should start off by saying that I am someone who suffers from deep depression and very strong emotional pain from the some of the struggles I’ve been through this past year. I faced a really bad heartbreak, couldn’t find a job for a long time, and moved back in with a negative and critical family. If you’ve seen any of my previous posts, you probably have an idea of some of the things I went through.

I did seek therapy and went on Prozac to alleviate the stress and anxiety, but it doesn’t always seem like enough. Although I found a wonderful job as a Pre-K teacher a few months ago—I love my students and most of my coworkers, I love having a job—there are days when it just feels like too much. It’s a stressful/burnout job, so I wake up with a lot of headaches and backaches, (and I’m still dealing with a lot of pain in my personal life, so I’m sure that contributes to the pain as well). The physical pain has become so prevalent that I’ve become used to popping Tylenol/Excedrin/whaever painkiller I happen to have right when I wake up in the morning, because I just don’t feel healthy or energetic enough in the morning to start my day without it.

I’ve also read a lot of articles on how painkillers reduce emotional pain and stress as well--something to do with their ability to stop pain signals from going to your brain--so whenever I feel stress/unhappiness during the day, or feel the pain of my broken heart coming on again, (both of which still happen A LOT), I go and pop another dose of Tylenol. It’s gotten so bad and habitual, that I went through an entire bottle in one week. I don’t know how to stop—mental or physical pain, I just take more medicine. Also, I should add that I asked my therapist what to do about this. She suggested yoga and exercise, but I’m always too exhausted from work and life in general to make the effort to go to an exercise class. I don’t even feel I have the energy to go to Zumba/dance, which used to be one of my favorite hobbies before I started working.

What can I do to stop? More specifically, what are some mental steps I can take in order to alleviate my need for that much medicine? I feel like it is turning into more of an addiction now. Also, are there are herbal supplements I can take to alleviate headaches and stress? Any other ways I can feel better? I’m open to suggestions and to trying my best to overcome this issue.

Thanks in advance for your answers, and thanks for reading!
posted by summertimesadness1988 to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You need to go back to your doctor or psychiatrist. You should not be going through a bottle of tylenol in a week, and as such you are likely exceeding the recommended dose. It's very very very easy to overdose on tylenol and cause irreversible damage to your liver, especially if you combine it with drinking over the long term. You should also know that many non-tylenol branded drugs contain acetaminophen which could put you at even greater risk for overdosing.

Your therapist does not sound like he or she recognizes the risk you're placing yourself in by taking so much tylenol. Also, you mentioned that the prozac "doesn't always seem like enough" which is definitely something you want to talk about with your psychiatrist. There's lots of evidence that depression is associated with chronic pain like the muscle pain you're describing, and as such by better treating your depression you're likely to address the pain that's causing you to take so much tylenol.
posted by ghostpony at 9:42 PM on October 12, 2014 [14 favorites]

I feel like this is a placebo thing. You think Tylenol helps you emotionally, so you take it and think you feel better. I have never heard of painkillers helping with mood and it's certainly something I have not observed. Convince yourself that drinking water helps your mental health. Water always makes me feel good.

I really think this is a doctor question. You are asking what supplements you can start pumping into your body instead of Tylenol. I think the solution is probably not feeling compelled to consume anything constantly. I think you need to start therapy back up.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:48 PM on October 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

Please go to your doctor or psychiatrist about this. Chronic pain is a problem that can be managed by pain specialists and/or psychiatric treatment, depending on the source of the pain. Taking a ton of Tylenol all the time can be very damaging to your liver, and the damage can be cumulative. Don't wreck your long-term health over something that can be treatable in the short term.
posted by bedhead at 9:50 PM on October 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you do need someone to talk about this with, but it doesn't sound like your current therapist is very helpful. Is it possible to find a new one? Or do you have a doctor who you can talk it over with who also understand the dangers of relying so much on painkillers?

My boyfriend and my mother both make fun of me for taking supplements, but I think that they are helpful. Yeah, some people will say that supplements are useless, but it makes me feel like I am at least trying to do good things for my body.

Get a blood test from a doctor and see if you are low in anything essential, like vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iron. Deficiencies can exacerbate mood and stress issues. I was an emotional wreck a few years ago and it turns out I was low in B12. A blood test will give you an idea of whether there are any supplements that would be definitely good for you. My vitamin D levels are always pretty low, so I usually start the day with a vitamin D supplement. I take a couple of fish oil or evening primrose capsules each day to look after my skin and joints and I will sometimes take a magnesium supplement in the evening, because it is supposed to be good for muscles (my neck and shoulders are always sore). You don't want to be taking heaps of supplements, and some are bad to take if you don't need them, but things like fish oil are okay to take a few of each day. Just don't overdo it. Too much of anything is bad!

Caffeine-free herbal teas can also be great. Find something that you like the taste of and make tea time about relaxing. Maybe you want to make tea with fresh ginger root? Maybe you'd prefer chamomile tea with honey? Whatever it is, take 20 minutes in the evening to zone out with a cup of tea and not think about any of your day-to-day stresses. If you find yourself thinking about something, let the thought float away. If it keeps coming back, write it down on a piece of paper and tell yourself you will worry about it after your cup of tea is finished.

Also, at night time put a 600 mL bottle of water next to your bed. Drink all, or most of, it when you wake up. Maybe you're dehydrated when you wake up? That can cause terrible headaches! You might also need a coffee or cup of black tea after this if you're used to caffeine. Caffeine withdrawal also causes headaches! And exedrine contains caffeine.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:51 PM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

You have to be careful with Tylenol because too much -- less than you might think -- consumed too quickly can destroy your liver. Thousands of people die from this annually. As a stopgap measure -- if you do nothing else -- try other painkillers like ibuprofen, aspirin, etc. and avoid acetaminophen. I've never had a headache that aspirin didn't work on.

Look into the work of John Sarno, who has written a great deal about somatoform illness, including a book conveniently titled Healing Back Pain, which I haven't read but assume would be a good place to start. I suggest this because of the stress and emotional pain you mentioned. It is quite likely there is nothing wrong with your back, even though the pain is very real. I went through this myself, but with hand pain instead. It's easy to get rid of the pain, permanently, once you know how.

Solving the pain should reduce your dependence on painkillers and will be a huge step. From there, you can dig deeper into your emotional problems, which I will leave to other commenters.
posted by panem_et_circenses at 9:59 PM on October 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have never heard of painkillers helping with mood and it's certainly something I have not observed

Actually, Naomi Eisenberg, a psychologist at UCLA, has done some research that purports to show a connection between social pain and physical pain, and in one experiment subjects given Tylenol did report elevated mood. So, it is a theory that is being taken seriously by some scientists.

OP: before taking herbal supplements, I would suggest you go back to your primary care physician, tell her your concerns about how much Tylenol you are taking, and go from there. She can test the function of your organs and make suggestions. One thing you may want to explore is allergies: I had wicked headaches everyday for months at a time. Eventually I figured out that I had developed allergies as an adult.

Good luck!
posted by girl flaneur at 10:06 PM on October 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


A really good one.

And a Naturopath or Nutritionist.

Tylenol is masking your symptoms, the type which traditional doctors fail at, but holistic type doctors and professionals can address.

Don't wait to continue to pursue a solution, even if you think my specific suggestions are bunk.

posted by jbenben at 10:18 PM on October 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

There is this thing--like, a known-in-the-medical-community-for-decades kind of thing--called a rebound or medication overuse headache that can set in if you're habitually using Tylenol or NSAIDs, among other pain relievers. I don't know if this is that, but it might be, I don't think it's a stretch that it could cause more than just headaches. Chronic pain is also a thing. Chronic sinus pain is definitely a thing which is how I found out that rebound headaches were a thing. Generally: yay getting real medical advice. On the feelings count, though...

I think pain relievers soothing emotional pain could be a thing, but I think most of all you've made it a habit, and indulging habits is itself soothing. Just--it's better to form soothing habits that don't involve drugs known to cause liver damage. You need other coping things, you need other ways to feel good--not just long term plans, but immediate in the moment kind of plans. It doesn't matter why this makes you feel better; at the moment, it does. But what else could? There's a danger in always doing the exact same thing, no matter what that thing is. Google "self-care ideas". Make an actual list of things that seem to appeal to you. See if you can start trying something off that list before you take a Tylenol, every time--not that you can't have it, just do the bubble bath, the stretching, the funny cat videos first, and then see if you need it. This is what I've been doing to cut down on my anxiety meds during some extremely stressful family stuff and it's going a long way.
posted by Sequence at 10:41 PM on October 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

I don't want to scaremonger, but please do not exceed the recommended dose of Tylenol (acetaminophen). It literally has the capacity to kill you in a slow, horrifyingly painful and irreversible way.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:16 PM on October 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Please see an actual physician with a medical degree before you pursue this with anyone else.

I suspect your anxiety can be better managed with actual anti-anxiety medication, and most of those options have a side effect of relaxation that should soothe the bulk of your aches and pains. Anything that's left can then be diagnosed and treated with something appropriate.

But at this point you are taking so much acetaminophen that it may be unsafe to abruptly stop. Go to a medical doctor who practices medicine on a regular basis. If they do not take you seriously, go to another one. Make sure you are clear about how much you are using.

See a doctor THIS WEEK. Go to urgent care if you have to.

When you are struggling, you may want to remind yourself that there are very few headaches or hearbreaks as painful as liver failure.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:22 PM on October 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Sweet Jesus Christ, if you went through a bottle of Tylenol in a week you need to check into a hospital.

Going over two grams a day is the danger zone for acetaminophen, and if you've been doing this for a while...
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 11:25 PM on October 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, sub ibuprofen or aspirin for the Tylenol. I'd not take more than 1000mg of Tylenol in a day.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:02 AM on October 13, 2014

Nthing what everyone else has said about going back to the doctor and psychiatrist.

In the meantime, please switch to Aleve (Naproxen). It's very effective and a lot less risky than Tylenol.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:01 AM on October 13, 2014

Do not - NOT - fuck with acetaminophen. Hopefully you haven't done too much damage to your liver yet, but you ARE certain to damage it.

Liver failure brings ugly death that nobody would ever choose for themselves. Even people who attempt suicide by overdose of acetaminophen get worse than they bargained for.

Listen to Lyn Never, get thee to a proper doctor as soon as you can, and tell them what you've told us.
posted by tel3path at 4:22 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

The rebound pain that Sequence mentioned above is a very real thing and I imagine is playing a role here for you. The other thing is that depression on its own can definitely contribute to some very real physical pain. You really need to speak with a physician who can help you untangle these things and get you on a path toward feeling better. Be honest about how much Tylenol you are taking and do it as soon as possible. As the others have mentioned above, Tylenol has very, very dangerous liver toxicity when you are not taking it at the recommended dosage. Please do this today.
posted by goggie at 6:06 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

nthing the do not fuck with tylenol sentiment. Its therapeutic index is very small -- a little over the recommended dose over time will fuck up your liver, and you could very well die on a liver transplant waiting list (former poison control officer here, married to a liver pathologist, so I have two careers worth of stories!)

You need to let your doctor know everything you've been taking, and don't lie about it. You need some appropriate (type and dose) meds/other therapy as deemed appropriate.
posted by gaspode at 6:16 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need a doctor, perhaps a functional or integrative one.

Rebound headaches are brutal. Magnesium supplements can help. Anything that reduces inflammation can help. I was advised to go "cold turkey," but that was several years ago and you will need some support.

I tend to think that addressing any nutrient deficiencies first would boost your chances of success and may help you with the energy you need for exercise, etc.

Tylenol depletes glutathione. NAC is a precursor, so ask your doc about that and see if you can get the doc and the therapist working together on your behalf.

Book link

rule this out:
posted by egk at 6:32 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I strongly second the people who urge you to go see a doctor and stop taking so much acetaminophen. I, too, think that your headache is a rebound one that cannot be cured by taking more Tylenol. You need help from a professional.

A year ago "This American Life" did a whole show on the dangers of the active ingredient in Tylenol: 505: Use Only as Directed (transcript).
"One of the country's most popular over-the-counter painkillers — acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol — also kills the most people, according to data from the federal government. Over 150 Americans die each year on average after accidentally taking too much. And it requires a lot less to endanger you than you may know."
Liver damage is no joke. Please go see a doctor!
posted by amf at 6:59 AM on October 13, 2014

Everyone has great advice, please do listen.

My small bit of advice: massage instead of yoga or exercise.

Massage will loosen tension and make you feel nurtured and cared for at the same time. I think it could be a very useful tool for you.
posted by Vaike at 8:28 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

you've received generally good advice so far, I just wanted to comment on this:

at this point you are taking so much acetaminophen that it may be unsafe to abruptly stop.

Tylenol doesn't cause physical dependency, it is not dangerous to stop using it abruptly, particularly if you are taking more than the recommended dose, you NEED to stop doing that immediately as that is indeed extremely dangerous.

Cutting down or stopping may, however, cause you to have more/worse headaches because of the issue of rebound headaches mentioned above. It's a vicious cycle and you need to put an end to it by getting further medical help as soon as possible, both from a psychiatrist and from a doctor who can address your pain issues.

I would nth the recommendation for yoga (and massage is great too but tends to be more pricey). Don't think about it as something to sap your energy, think of it as something to replete your energy: we are not talking about yoga for weight loss, "power yoga", high intensity aerobic stuff here like Zumba. Go to a gentle yoga class that is about mindfulness, meditation, relaxation etc.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:42 AM on October 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

First, try to switch over to Ibuprofen. There are people regularly taking 800mg of that multiple times a day, so if you pop a few 200mg a day, that's much better for your long-term health.

Next, have you considered supplementing B12? A lot of people swear by the sublingual drops for giving them energy to get through the day. Take one of those and an espresso and get to exercising.
posted by Trifling at 2:24 PM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Non-homeopathic, safe, effective teething relief?   |   Scheduling workouts into a busy(-ish) day Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.