Improvement of Decreased Critical Flicker Frequency (CFF) in Headache Patients With Drug Abuse After Successful Withdrawal


Dr. Peter Schnider, Neurologische Universitätsklinik, Währinger Gürtel 18-20, A-1090 Vienna, Austria.


A considerable proportion of headache patients fulfill the criteria of “drug abuse” (definition according to the International Headache Society [IHS] criteria). These patients exhibit markedly reduced vigilance and continuous performance, as shown by the results of critical flicker frequency (CFF) analysis.

The present study deals with the question whether this impairment of vigilance and continuous performance is reversible. Forty-eight headache patients with drug abuse were investigated three times by means of CFF analysis: immediately before (A), immediately after (B), and 3 weeks after having finished (C) inpatient drug withdrawal.

Immediately after withdrawal, a significant decrease of headache intensity was observed. The CFF values, however, remained unchanged at a depressed level, probably due to withdrawal medication and the initial sedative side effects of thymoleptic agents (given as prophylaxis).

Three weeks after withdrawal, however, the CFF values were significantly improved, and were now within a range not far from the normal values known from a healthy general population. Thus, even after many years of drug abuse, headache patients have a good chance to improve their vigilance and continuous performance and to reach normal or close to normal levels.