Over The Counter Drub Abuse

Help for Over The Counter Drug Abuse

Americans tend to stock up on over-the-counter drugs. Many of these substances – cold medicine and mild painkillers like Advil – can be safe and effective, but only when taken as directed. Although many drug campaigns focus on illegal substances, over-the-counter medicines can cause equally serious health problems and even fatal side effects.

Anyone can suffer from over the counter drug abuse, but teens between the ages of 13 and 16 are often most at risk. Their parents’ medicine cabinets can potentially provide them with easy access to a quick high, perhaps without anyone being the wiser. Sometimes older teens will combine OTC drugs with other substances, including alcohol and illegal drugs.

Read on to discover some of the most frequently abused OTC drugs.


A great many over-the-counter cold and cough medicines contain this active ingredient, including NyQuil, Dimetapp DM, and Robitussin. A 2008 study showed that one in every 10 teens has used dextromethorphan, or DXM, to get high. That means cough medicine abuse is more popular among this age group than other drugs like cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, and meth.

Digesting large doses of DXM during a short period can stimulate euphoria, hallucinations, and distortions of color and sound for periods of up to six hours. This high can come at a dangerous price, however, as side effects can include seizures, loss of muscle movement, blurred vision, shallow breathing, vomiting, and impaired judgment. Combined with other drugs, an overdose of DXM can be fatal.

DXM can also be addictive. Withdrawal symptoms include depression or difficulty sorting out thoughts. Scientists still don’t know what all of the long-term effects of DXM abuse might be, but there have been cases of permanent brain, bone marrow, and nerve cell damage.

Pain Relievers

These are typically abused because the people who take them believe that taking more than the recommended dose will bring faster or better pain relief. Unfortunately, doing so can cause troublesome side effects. Large doses of a painkiller that contains acetaminophen can cause liver failure. Large doses of ibuprofen may result in kidney failure, stomach bleeding, and a heightened risk of cardiac issues.


This is another common cold medicine ingredient that is frequently abused. Its effects are similar to that of amphetamines, which is why it’s often used as an ingredient in the illegal street drug methamphetamine. It’s also commonly abused for its stimulating effects or taken as a weight-loss drug, but federal regulations make it difficult to buy in bulk. Side effects can include heart palpitations, heart attacks, and irregular heartbeats. Combined with narcotics, it make cause episodes of paranoid psychosis.

Energy Drinks and Caffeine

There are quite a few pills that contain caffeine, including NoDoz, and an endless amount of energy drinks and sodas that promise a burst of energy. But at what cost? Our modern lives can wear us out, so it isn’t especially surprising when many people fall back on caffeine for a little bit of extra energy. However, large doses of caffeine have huge drawbacks, including dehydration, panic attacks, heart irregularities, and gastric reflux. Caffeine has also been linked with a few accidental deaths – especially when a preexisting heart condition was involved. Some pain relievers contain caffeine, and taking too many of these pills can also cause these same side effects. Withdrawal symptoms include headache, fatigue, anxiety, and depressed mood.

Diet Pills

A large dose of diet pills won’t cause more than a mild high, but over-dependency on diet pills may be a symptom of an eating disorder. These are among the most addictive OTC drugs and many of their ingredients pose serious risks. Although the FDC banned ephedrine and other diet pill stimulants, many now use bitter orange, which can cause stimulant-like symptoms, including irregular heartbeat, stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure, and fatality. Other diet pill ingredients can lead to hair loss, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, extreme paranoia, blurred vision, kidney trouble, and dehydration. Don’t be fooled by diet pills that claim to be “natural” – if misused, even these can cause dangerous side effects. Remember, when the FDA banned ephedra, it did so only for diet pills that are labeled as dietary supplements, not for herbal pills and teas like those that contain the ingredient ma huang, which actually is ephedra.

Sexual Performance Medications

OTC sexual performance medicines can be found in abundance online, and both teens and adults have been known to combine these with other drugs and alcohol, which is when they are most likely to lead to heart problems.

OTC drug abuse isn’t something to be taken lightly. Luckily, help is available to those who need it. Many rehab programs and drug treatment centers have been proven to help those who suffer from addiction kick any unhealthy habits.

Help for Over The Counter Drug Abuse

If you or someone you know if suffering from over the counter drug abuse or addiction, call The Treatment Specialist to receive help at an inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

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