Tylenol addiction stems from Tylenol, the brand name of acetaminophen most popular in the US. Although it is sold in combination with codeine (Tylenol #3, Tylenol #4), this article focuses on the over the counter product which has no codeine in it.
While plain Tylenol is not physically addictive like codeine, morphine or other drugs for pain, there are patients who use it excessively and may feel they are dependent on it. Generally, these patients with Tylenol addiction are self-treating for chronic pain conditions like frequent headaches or muscle pain. A psychological Tylenol addiction can arise if anxiety and fear come on when they do not get the Tylenol they think they need. This is especially so when they do get a headache, muscle or joint pain without the drug.
Chronic, excessive use of Tylenol is dangerous. As the daily dose increases, patients risk liver damage. Along with alcohol, an even lower chronic dose of acetaminophen will cause liver toxicity. Because Tylenol alone isn’t considered habit forming by the medical community, patients who keep increasing the dose to get pain relief are at risk. In many cases, if pain is severe enough to warrant high doses of plain acetaminophen, it may be wise to consult a doctor to get a stronger, prescription alternative rather than to keep increasing the dose.
Tylenol Addiction Withdrawal
Because acetaminophen is not physically addictive, withdrawal symptoms of Tylenol addiction that occur will be psychological in nature. This shouldn’t be a reason to dismiss them out of hand. If anxiety, depression and cravings emerge, they can be felt just as strongly when stopping Tylenol as with “real” drugs of abuse. The point is to take each patient’s experience as they present and not to assume the person is merely a hypochondriac.
The Tylenol addiction experience is a personal one, after all. Stereotyping does little good. However, patients who describe an addiction to plain Tylenol are likely to be dismissed by the medical community as not having a “serious” addiction – a counterproductive strategy. Support and help in changing a harmful behavior is always warranted. So even though acetaminophen is not considered addictive, it shouldn’t be considered completely benign either. After all, we live in a world where food and sex addiction have become treatable problems.