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Sunday, July 22, 2012


I hate reading about medical problems even more than writing about them, but if you're a coffee drinker and get headaches you might find this somewhat interesting.

I suffered occasionally with bad headaches when young. My mom, a nurses' aide, suggested Empirin Compound, and, if taken at the first sign of a headache, it did the trick. This was my headache remedy for many years. Eventually, as a library custodian, I came to the realization that Empirin Compound did even more than stave off headaches: It improved my mood. And I found myself taking it more and more frequently, just to feel better. It gave me a sense of well-being, and increased my enthusiasm for new interests.

Then suddenly Empirin stopped working. I thought perhaps I had become immune to it, by taking it so often. Not only did it stop boosting my spirits, but it stopped curing my headaches, which now came almost daily. I was perusing the pain killer aisle of a drug store, wondering what else to try, when the pharmacist happened by and asked me if he could help. I told him that Empirin had stopped curing my headaches, and he said it's because they had taken the caffeine out of it. He took a bottle of Excedrin off the shelf and handed it to me, saying that it's the same as Empirin was. He was right. I switched to Excedrin, and for the first time paid attention to the ingredients. Each tablet contains 250 mg acetaminophen, 250 mg aspirin, and 65 mg caffeine. One dose is two tablets.

So I knew I needed caffeine in there to cure the headaches, and over the years I became wise to the racket. I had acquired a caffeine addiction, and whenever I stopped taking Excedrin regularly I would suffer caffeine withdrawal, including fatigue...and a bad headache. So the medication was actually causing the problem it boasted of correcting. When Empirin Compound cut out the caffeine, it wasn't out of meanness; it was acting on this realization and trying to help, becoming uneffective in doing so. I was now taking Excedrin faithfully every four hours I was awake, and taking it first thing every morning to start off the day, just like so many people drink coffee.

Of course I didn't like the idea of being a caffeine addict, and so tried various methods to escape. I tried taking the doses less frequently, even getting it down to only one dose each morning. But four hours into the day it would wear off and I'd have to struggle with the fatigue and feeling generally lousy, and finally I'd find myself back to three or four doses per day.

A week's vacation came along, and my family and I went camping. We pitched our tent by a lake, and I was determined to relax and enjoy myself so much that I wouldn't even need the Excedrin. I decided to quit cold-turkey. Of course I brought a bottle of it, just in case, but I went the whole first day without it. That night I woke up with severe caffeine withdrawal -- the worst headache I'd had in my life. I couldn't even walk, but stumbled on my hands and feet, groaning terribly and rolling over in agony. My head really felt like it was splitting, and I feared for my life. In order for the Excedrin to work on a headache, I had to nip it in the bud, and I realized a dose wouldn't cure this, but managed with shaky hands to get two tablets out of the bottle and crawl to an outside faucet to drink them down. The intense pain subsided enough for me finally to fall asleep again. In the morning, in the public restroom, I was shocked when I looked in the mirror and saw veins protruding under the skin of my forehead. It was then I knew that my addiction wasn't only psychological but physiological. And it was then that I surrendered to staying on Excedrin regularly and never chancing another headache like that one...ever again.

Years later my stomach began hurting, often, and I went to the doctor more than once, fearing an ulcer. I had mentioned my addiction to doctors several times, but they hadn't seemed to care. Finally one did. He diagnosed aspirin as the culprit. The usual 2000 mg of aspirin I was taking each day was eating through my stomach.  So this good doctor immediately made some telephone calls on my behalf, and found that I could buy acetaminophen (which, by the way, is what Tylenol is) and caffeine separately and put together my own pain killer, without the aspirin. I was afraid it wouldn't work; but doubling the acetaminophen to take the place of the missing aspirin, did the trick.  And my stomach pain almost instantly stopped.

A doctor I went to a couple years ago said that I'm the only patient he's ever had who takes caffeine regularly in pill form. My addiction has lasted forty years. I don't like it. I don't like the fact that I'm dependent each day on three or four doses of 1000 mg acetaminophen and 200 mg caffeine. And so I'm trying a different tack. Rather than cutting down on frequency of dose, as of this month I'm cutting down on amounts of each dose, and slacking off very, very slowly. So far, so good. Here's the plan (using an inexpensive, plastic, pill cutter):

July 2012:
One dose = 1 3/4 tablets acetaminophen (875 mg) and 1 tablet caffeine (200 mg).
August 2012:
One dose = 1 1/2 tablets acetaminophen (750 mg) and 3/4 tablet caffeine (150 mg).
September 2012:
One dose = 1 1/4 tablets acetaminophen (625 mg) and 3/4 tablet caffeine (150 mg).
October 2012:
One dose = 1 tablet acetaminophen (500 mg) and 1/2 tablet caffeine (100 mg).
November 2012:
One dose = 3/4 tablet acetaminophen (375 mg) and 1/2 tablet caffeine (100 mg).
December 2012:
One dose = 1/2 tablet acetaminophen (250 mg) and 1/4 tablet caffeine (50 mg).
January 2013:
One dose = 1/4 tablet acetaminophen (125 mg) and 1/4 tablet caffeine (50 mg).
February 2013 = no acetaminophen (0 mg) and no caffeine (0 mg).

Throughout this program towards freedom, my doses will be just as frequent, to cater to my psychological addiction, while hopefully the dosage will diminish slowly enough to solve the physiological addiction. I am writing this post to affirm my determination. As time goes on, I'll keep you posted below on my progress. Meanwhile, please pray for me.

July 2012 went fine. No significant change in feeling or effect.

August 2012 went well, although I've had a very slight headache at times, but nothing bad. Have also experienced a little more depression.

September 2012 went just fine. Perhaps I was generally more tired than usual. Only once did I have a headache encroach between doses bad enough to increase the dose to the old amount. This was the only time since beginning the program that I increased a dose, and only once. Beginning tomorrow, my regular dosage will be half of what it was for many years.

October 2012 went well, except for a couple times, because of a bona fide headache encroaching, when I increased the dosage to get rid of it.  Other than those two lapses, I was faithful.  Now during these months of tapering off on the dosages, getting less and less caffeine, I tend to be more tired than usual, and have less energy and less enthusiasm.  In February, when I'm free, I should expect that my energy will begin to rebuild naturally.  That's the hope that drives me.

November 2012 was okay, except the tiredness persists as I continue to cut the caffeine. Once I increased the dose slightly because I had a bona fide headache. And the last two weeks of the month I had a bad case of bronchitis, but only twice during this illness did I succumb to a higher dosage.

December 2012 was the most difficult month yet, because I've been sick since my bronchitis with a persistent cough. It's hard to take a quarter of my original dose of pain medication when I'm hurting...but I did...except for three times when I gave in and took a half dose instead of a quarter. Anyway, I've got just one more month to go until I'm free from a 40+ year addiction! I believe this will work.

January 2013 was like December, except that, when having bona fide headaches, I increased my dose twice. I was sick through this month, too, but feel better now. And now is February 1st! I AM FREE OF MY ADDICTION! This will be my first clean month after more than forty years!

February 13, Ash Wednesday, 2013:  This will be the last addition to this post, because there doesn't need to be any more. After all my failed attempts through the decades of my addiction, I have finally figured out how to beat it -- simply and SLOWLY and faithfully lower the dosage over a period of a few months, while still taking the drug at the same frequency. Because I was leaning on caffeine, an upper, I had to fight with being more tired than usual; otherwise it was easier than I expected. And now, never being able to go without a pain-killer and caffeine for even 24 hours without getting a debilitating migraine, I have gone two weeks without a hitch. I am finally done with regular headaches and artificial energy, and am rebuilding my metabolism. I can, for the first time in my adult life, go out for hours without having to take doses of my "medicine" with me! I sleep better, I feel better, my wife says I'm even nicer. I don't have those fits of nervousness and irritability, and am much more patient. Hopefully my cure above will encourage others to break free.

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1 comment:

  1. I know you've been battling this for many years. I hope, and pray, your scheduled plan will work, and you'll be free of it!