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Commonly Abused OTC Medications

OTC medications are those which you can buy over the counter at the grocery store or drug store. But just because they’re available without a prescription doesn’t mean they can’t be potentially dangerous or that they can’t be abused. Around three million young people between the ages of 12 to 25 reported that they’ve used OTC medications to get high. This includes four percent of American high school seniors.

3 Minute Read | Published Aug 22 2023 | Updated Mar 06 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
Ashley Bayliss
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
Ashley Bayliss
Reviewed by

Abusing OTC medications can lead to serious health problems, including addiction and dependence.

Commonly Abused OTC Medications

Over the counter drug abuse is the act of taking over the counter drugs to get high, taking them other than as directed, or taking them in a way that causes problems in your life. These problems include the physical and mental health risks of using more medication than the packaging directs or a doctor advises. Commonly abused OTC medications include:

Cough medicines, such as dextromethorphan, or DXM. Cough medicines can produce an intense high when they’re taken in large doses. Young people are the most common abusers of cough medicines, because they’re easy to get a hold of. Taking too much cough medicine can lead to physical problems like a rapid heart rate, vomiting, blurry vision, and tremors, and it can even cause brain damage.

Cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine is a stimulant drug that’s commonly found in OTC cold medicines. Taking too much can cause hallucinations and a potent “body high.” Pseudoephedrine is also used to make drugs like meth and can cause shortness of breath, a spike in blood pressure, dizziness, an irregular heart beat, and seizures.

Motion sickness medications containing dimenhydrinate. Dimenhydrinate is used to treat vertigo and motion sickness and can cause auditory and visual hallucinations when taken in high doses. It can cause ringing in the ears, irregular heartbeat, nausea, seizures, coma, and even death.

Pain relievers containing acetaminophen. Acetaminophen doesn’t produce the high other OTC medications are known for, but some people abuse them to treat their chronic pain. But high doses and long-term use can cause serious health issues, including diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain.

People who use over the counter drugs to get high are at risk of developing serious health complications.

OTC Addiction

Over the counter drug abuse can lead to addiction. Addiction is characterized by the inability to stop using a drug even though it’s causing problems in your life. People who are addicted may want or try to quit, but they’ll find that they can’t stop using for the long-term.

Once an addiction develops, it almost always requires professional help to end for the long-term. Drug abuse and addiction usually have underlying causes, such as chronic stress, a history of trauma, or a mental illness. Getting to the bottom of underlying issues is essential for ending the addiction once and for all.

A high quality treatment program that takes a holistic approach to treatment is essential for successful recovery. A holistic approach to treatment involves a variety of therapies that address a range of issues of body, mind, and spirit. Through therapy, individuals address their issues, re-learn healthy ways of thinking and behaving, and develop a toolkit of skills and strategies to help them cope with stress, cravings, and other powerful relapse triggers. Therapy helps people find purpose and meaning in a life without drugs, and it helps them learn to relax and have fun without needing substances to do it. It also helps them repair relationships that were damaged by the addiction and develop healthy communication and interpersonal skills.

If you’re addicted to OTC medications and need help ending the abuse, Better Addiction Care can help you find a high quality, holistic treatment program to help you recover once and for all.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at (800) 429-7690.

Resources

bullet American Academy of Family Physicians (2016)
"Over-the-Counter Medications in Pregnancy"
Retrieved on March 12, 2018
bullet Drug Enforcement Administration (n.d.)
"Get Smart About Drugs: Over-the-Counter Medicines"
Retrieved on March 12, 2018
bullet National Institute on Drug Abuse(2020)
"Misuse of Over-the-Counter Medications"
Retrieved on March 12, 2018
bullet National Institute on Drug Abuse(2021)
"Over-the-Counter Medicines"
Retrieved on March 12, 2018
bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US) (2015)
"Substance Use Disorders: A Guide to the Use of DSM-5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US)"
Retrieved on March 12, 2018
bullet Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US) (2019)
"The Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS): 2007-2017. National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US)"
Retrieved on March 12, 2018
bullet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (n.d.)
"Medication Guides – Distribution Requirements and Inclusion in the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS)"
Retrieved on March 12, 2018
bullet U.S. Food and Drug Administration (n.d.)
"Safe Use of Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers and Fever Reducers"
Retrieved on March 12, 2018
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