The Dangers of Self-Medicating Chronic Headaches

The Dangers of Self-Medicating Chronic HeadachesHeadaches can range in intensity from mildly annoying to completely debilitating. How much they affect an individual can also be related to their frequency. Headaches that occur regularly can become an unwelcome and intrusive part of life.

Headache Types

There are a number of different types of headaches including the following:

  • Migraine – The Mayo Clinic notes that migraine headaches have at least two of the following characteristics: they produce a throbbing or pulsing sensation, the pain is moderate to severe, they affect only one side of the head and routine physical activity worsens them. In addition migraines cause nausea and vomiting and/or sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine headaches may be accompanied by blurred vision, sensations of heat or cold, dizziness, loss of appetite and fatigue.
  • Tension headaches – At least two of the following characteristics are found in chronic tension headaches: the pain is mild to moderate, it feels pressing but not pulsating, both sides of the head are involved and the pain is not worsened by physical activity. Tension headaches may cause mild nausea or light/sound sensitivity. Tension headaches may also be accompanied by chronic fatigue, irritability, sleep disturbances, impaired concentration and general muscle aching.
  • New daily persistent headache – These headaches share the same characteristics as tension headaches. The difference is that they become constant very quickly, within a few days.
  • Hemicrania continua – Headaches known as hemicrania continua affect only one side of the head and always the same one. They are daily and continuous, and the pain level may spike at times from moderate to severe. They may also cause nasal or eye symptoms including nasal congestion, runny nose, irritation or redness of the eye on the affected side, drooping of the eyelid, or constriction of the pupil.
  • Cluster headache – Cluster headaches are one-sided and intense. The medical website WebMD  describes the pain as burning, piercing and throbbing. It is located in the eye region. Cluster headaches appear and disappear during the day and occur regularly often at the same time each day and night.
  • Sinus Headaches – Sinus headaches are marked by a deep pain in the forehead, cheekbones, or bridge of the nose. There are generally other sinus symptoms such as nasal discharge, a feeling of fullness in the ears, or facial swelling.

Drug Treatment for Chronic Headaches

A 2010 article in the journal Neurology notes that headaches can be considered chronic when patients experience them 15 days a month or more for at least three months. The authors note that chronic headaches are challenging to treat and that many problems are fueled by misuse and overuse of medications like Xanax. They state, in fact, that medications can turn episodic headaches into daily ones.

Medication overuse headaches are also known as rebound, drug-induced, or analgesic-dependent headaches. They occur primarily in patients with tension headaches or migraines. Risk factors include the use of medications which contain caffeine, codeine, barbiturates, opioids, ergotamine, or triptans more than 10 days a month for at least three months. Medication overuse headaches can also result from the use of simple analgesics more than 15 days a month for at least three months.

People with chronic headaches or other pain may also self-medicate with illicit drugs or non-prescribed prescription medications. They may use drugs that provide pain relief or those that address the stress that chronic pain can cause. Unfortunately temporary relief may come at a high cost including the risk of addiction and overdose as well as less serious side effects.

Non-Drug Headache Treatment

Headaches have different causes and need different treatments, and what helps one patient may not help another. It may take a degree of experimentation and a combination of treatments to find relief. A WebMD slideshow lists the following non-drug treatments for migraines. Patients may find they also help reduce the severity and frequency of other types of headache pain.

  • Exercise – A 2011 study found that a cardio routine (40 minutes, three times a week) was as effective as medication or relaxation therapy in reducing the frequency and severity of migraines.
  • Acupuncture – Studies suggest that acupuncture can both reduce the number of headaches people experience and ease their pain.
  • Massage – Although massage has not been found to help to reduce the pain once a headache has begun, it has been shown to reduce the number of headaches experienced.
  • Chiropractic treatment – A small study comparing spinal manipulation to a well-established treatment found both therapies prevented migraines equally well.
  • Relaxation training – Relaxation training, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, can help reduce the stress which may trigger headaches.
  • Biofeedback – Patients who learn relaxation techniques while receiving information on their heart rate, tensed muscles, or other physical state can learn to reduce migraine pain and frequency.
  • Herbs – Herbs that have been used successfully to treat headaches include feverfew and butterbur.
  • Vitamins and supplements – Vitamin B2 and Coenzyme Q-10 have been shown to reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) – TMS sends magnetic pulses to the brain. It can shorten the length of a migraine and lessen its intensity.

Let Us Help

If you have chronic headaches and have developed a drug addiction to Xanax, we can help you find addiction treatment that addresses the unique needs of those with chronic pain. Call our toll-free helpline, and let us assist you in understanding your treatment options and finding the program that is best for you. We can even check your insurance coverage if you wish at no cost or obligation. We understand your struggle and are here to help. Why not call today?

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