What are the Most Commonly Abused Over the Counter Drugs?

People who misuse over the counter (OTC) drugs tend to the think that the drugs aren’t causing any harm. After all, these drugs are legitimate medicines, so why would they cause health problems? Over the counter drugs are any medication that can be purchased without a prescription or a visit to the pharmacy counter. Compared to other kinds of drugs, OTC medicines are inexpensive and easy to obtain. As a result, they often become the drug of choice for teenagers and younger adults who can’t afford harder drugs. Unfortunately, OTC drug abuse can become just as dangerous as other forms of drug abuse. Addiction, overdose, and other dangers exist with OTC drugs, just like they exist with street drugs and prescription drugs.

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2.1% of 8th graders misused cough medicine in 2017


Misuse and Abuse

People can misuse OTC drugs in a few different ways, and not all drug misuse is recreational. For example, someone with a cough or a cold might take more than the recommended dosage of medicine to get relief from symptoms. Some may purposely or accidentally mix medicines that can cause harm when combined.

At other times, people do consume OTC drugs for recreational purposes. Overuse of OTC drugs can make a person feel “high,” or euphoric. OTC drug misuse can cause feelings of extreme energy or relaxation in certain doses. As a result, OTC drugs are often abused at clubs and parties to enhance the group experience.

The Most Commonly Abused OTC Drugs

Any OTC drug may be abused and misused, but some drugs are more commonly abused than others.

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is one of the most common. This cough suppressant can be found in liquid, pill, and tablet form. Most commonly, people abuse this medication by swallowing it directly or by mixing it with soda, although some have injected DXM to experience the effects more quickly. DXM behaves like an opioid, causing feelings of intense relaxation. Occasionally, DXM can cause hallucinations or out-of-body experiences, which is why this medication is sometimes abused in places where people also use LSD or other hallucinogenic substances.

Loperamide, an anti-diarrhea medication, is a commonly abused OTC drug that doesn’t get a lot of publicity. Like DXM, loperamide acts like an opioid. People who have addictions to pain medication sometimes turn to drugs like Imodium when they can’t access other opioid sources. This medicine can cause a high similar to a DXM high.

Additionally, some people abuse medications that contain antihistamines, such as allergy medication or motion sickness pills. When consumed in large amounts, antihistamines can cause hallucinations. They are, however, the least popular hallucinogenic drug because they don’t work as well as other options.

Do you think you might have an addiction to any of these medications? Call 800-492-QUIT to get help today.

Addiction and Withdrawal

As stated above, some erroneously believe that OTC medications cannot cause addiction like other drugs. Because OTC medications can behave similarly to other drugs, people can indeed develop an addiction. Drug usage can take over certain brain chemicals and body responses. When a person’s body gets used to the medication, he or she may start to depend on the high. In fact, after repeated drug use, some individuals reach the point of needing the medication to feel okay, not to feel high. If you’ve experienced any of the following symptoms, you may have an addiction to OTC medication:

  • Cravings for the medicine
  • Thinking about the medication often
  • Distraction from work, school, and socializing
  • Feeling like you can’t get through the day without the medicine

Those who develop OTC medicine addictions may also experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking the drugs. OTC withdrawal symptoms can be similar to opioid withdrawal symptoms and may include any or all of the following:

  • Stomach problems
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Shakiness

If you develop an addiction to OTC medicine, the best thing you can do for yourself is to seek treatment.

Addiction Treatment Options

Individuals with OTC addictions have a few different treatment options. First, inpatient rehab provides an excellent choice. During inpatient rehab, participants live in the facility for a certain period of time, usually 30 days. Rehab provides different types of therapy in a structured environment to help patients develop a sober lifestyle.

The outpatient rehab option offers many of the same benefits as inpatient rehab, though participants live at home while they get treatment. Although outpatient rehab does have less structure than the inpatient option, people with OTC medicine addictions can absolutely find success through these programs.

Additionally, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) gives patients a great option to work through addiction. CBT-trained therapists teach their patients how to recognize triggers and stressors, coaching them on how to deal with these issues in a healthy way. CBT provides simple, practical tactics that anybody can practice.

Finding the Right Treatment Plan

No matter what treatments may be best for you, Rehab Info can help you find the right path. Our trained staff members will listen to your story before helping you find treatment possibilities in your area. Do you need help to overcome an OTC medication addiction? You don’t have to figure out a plan by yourself.
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