Medication overuse headache (MOH), previously known as analgesic abuse headache or medication misuse headaches, is a common form of chronic headache disorder that has a detrimental impact on health and society. Although it has been widely accepted that overusing abortive medications is paradoxically the cause of MOH and drug discontinuation is the treatment of choice, ongoing debates exist as to whether drug consumption per se is the cause or consequence of headache chronification. Certain features in MOH such as their compulsive drug-seeking behavior, withdrawal headaches and high relapse rates share similarities with drug dependence, suggesting that there might be common underlying biological and psychobehavioral mechanisms. In this regard, this article will discuss the updated evidence and current debates on the possible biobehavioral overlap between MOH and drug dependence. To begin with, we will discuss whether MOH has characteristics of substance dependence based on standard psychiatry diagnostic criteria and other widely used dependence scales. Recent epidemiological studies underscoring common psychiatric comorbidities between the two disorders will also be presented. Although both demonstrate seemingly distinct personality traits, recent studies revealed similar decision-making impairment from a cognitive perspective, indicating the presence of a maladaptive reward system in both disorders. In addition, emerging imaging studies also support this notion by showing reversible morphological and functional brain changes related to the mesocorticolimbic reward circuitry in MOH, with a strong resemblance to those in addiction. Finally, an increased familial risk for drug dependence and genetic association with dopaminergic and drug dependence molecular pathways in MOH also support a possible link between MOH and addiction. Understanding the role of dependence in MOH will have a great impact on disease management as this will provide the missing piece of the puzzle in current therapeutic strategies.
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