What Is an Ibuprofen Addiction?

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What Is an Ibuprofen Addiction?

Ibuprofen is a type of medication classified as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). People take ibuprofen for fevers, headaches, body pain, stiffness, and swelling. Some people take it on a long-term basis to manage severe or chronic pain, caused by arthritis or cystic fibrosis, for instance. Ibuprofen works by inhibiting the production of substances that cause pain, inflammation, and fever.

Branded versions of ibuprofen include Motrin, Midol, and Advil; however, there are several generic versions as well. While some ibuprofen medications require a prescription, non-prescription strength ibuprofen is available over the counter at most supermarkets and drugstores. Ibuprofen is available in the form of tablets, capsules, chewable tablets, and liquid medication.

Over 11% of ibuprofen users take over the prescribed dosage and have the potential to become dependent on the medication, says Angeleena May, LMHC, Executive Director at AMFM Healthcare.

“Most people think of addiction as either abusing prescription medications, excessive alcohol use, or substances one may obtain in a dark alley, not an over-the-counter medication that is thought to be safe and effective for people as young as 3 months old. However, ibuprofen addiction is real and there can be serious side effects,” says May.

This article explores the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of ibuprofen addiction.

Symptoms of an Ibuprofen Addiction

A case study recorded the symptoms of a person who met the DSM-5 criteria for moderate substance use disorder, as she took more than the amount of ibuprofen prescribed to her. The criteria she met included:

  • Developing a tolerance to ibuprofen
  • Using more ibuprofen than was prescribed or intended
  • Failure to stop using ibuprofen
  • Craving ibuprofen

Signs of an Overdose

Taking too much ibuprofen could result in an overdose. The symptoms of an ibuprofen overdose include:

  • Agitation
  • Blurred vision
  • Chills 
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions 
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness 
  • Drowsiness
  • Heartburn
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Rash 
  • Ringing ears
  • Severe headache
  • Slow or labored breathing
  • Stomach pain
  • Sweating 
  • Unsteadiness 
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness 
  • Wheezing 

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Diagnosing an Ibuprofen Addiction

If you suspect that you or a loved one have an ibuprofen addiction, May recommends seeing a licensed mental healthcare professional right away. 

May considers ibuprofen addiction a mental health disorder that should be classified as a somatic disorder—similar to other compulsive, addictive, or anxiety-motivated disorders.

Your healthcare provider will conduct a formal assessment of your symptoms and medical history in order to diagnose your condition, determine its severity, and develop a treatment plan.

Causes of Ibuprofen Addiction

Ibuprofen addiction can be motivated by physical causes as well as emotional reasons. May outlines some of the causes below.

Physical Dependence

Over 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and taking over-the-counter pain medication is typically the first line of defense. However, reliance on these types of medications may increase pain. 

If taken more frequently or at a higher dosage than directed, you may experience more intense and additional symptoms once the medication is discontinued. When the effect of the ibuprofen wears off, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, prompting you to take more medication. This creates an addictive cycle. 

Taking any medication, including over-the-counter medications, should be discussed with your primary care physician.

Emotional Dependence

Many forms of trauma and depression manifest through physical ailments and, without intervention from a licensed therapist, may be misdiagnosed. 

It’s important to understand that addictive behaviors and substance use are often motivated by unresolved mental health issues and address the underlying cause through a dual-diagnosis mental health and substance use-focused treatment program.

Impact of an Ibuprofen Addiction

Ibuprofen use and abuse can put you at risk for health conditions such as:

  • Heart attack
  • Holes in the stomach or intestine
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Stroke
  • Ulcers

The risk of developing these conditions is higher for those who have been taking ibuprofen for a long time.

Treating an Ibuprofen Addiction

Mental health treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy and trauma-based therapies to resolve underlying needs currently not being met in a person's life, which may include acceptance of self, safety, contentment, or feeling in control, says May. 

Treatment for substance use generally incorporates the following principles:

  • Addiction is a disease that alters brain function and affects behavior. It is complex, but treatable.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all form of treatment. Treatment must be customized to the individual’s needs and modified as their needs evolve.
  • In order to be effective, treatment shouldn’t address only substance use; it needs to cater to multiple needs of the individual.
  • It’s important for the individual to continue treatment for an adequate amount of time.
  • Relapses may occur, so the healthcare provider must monitor the individual carefully.

A Word From Verywell

While ibuprofen is a medication that provides pain-relief, it can cause side effects, particularly if consumed in excess of the recommended dosage or over a long period of time. An ibuprofen addiction can put you at risk for an overdose as well as other serious health conditions, including heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and liver damage.

If you or a loved one have an ibuprofen addiction, it’s important to seek help right away.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Library of Medicine. Ibuprofen. MedlinePlus.

  2. Irvine J, Afrose A, Islam N. Formulation and delivery strategies of ibuprofen: challenges and opportunitiesDrug Dev Ind Pharm. 2018;44(2):173-183. doi:10.1080/03639045.2017.1391838

  3. Kaufman DW, Kelly JP, Battista DR, Malone MK, Weinstein RB, Shiffman S. Exceeding the daily dosing limit of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs among ibuprofen users. Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety. 2018;27(3):322-331. doi:10.1002/pds.4391

  4. Godersky ME, Vercammen LK, Ventura AS, Walley AY, Saitz R. Identification of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug use disorder: A case reportAddict Behav. 2017;70:61-64. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.02.008

  5. National Library of Medicine. Ibuprofen overdose. MedlinePlus.

  6. American Psychiatric Association. What is a substance use disorder?

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain among adults—United States, 2016.

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.