What Over The Counter Drugs Can Be Abused?

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Over the counter drugs, also known as over the counter (OTC) medicine refer to medicine that can be purchased without a prescription. As explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) “OTC medicines treat a variety of illnesses and their symptoms, including pain, coughs and colds, diarrhea, constipation, acne, and others.” According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “they are safe and effective when you follow the directions on the label and as directed by your health care professional.” While the availability of OTC medications provides the public with countless benefits, their convenience and ease of access can also be detrimental. When misused, over the counter drugs can lead to a plethora of adverse short- and long-term effects. Abuse of OTC drugs occur when an individual uses the medication more frequently than recommended, ingests an excessive amount of the medicine, mixes the OTC drug with other substances, or ingests the medication in a way other than the way it was intended (e.g., crushes and snorts a pill, instead of swallowing it).

Commonly Abused OTC Drugs

There is a plethora of over-the-counter drugs available. While any over the counter drug can, in theory, be abused, there are certain OTC medications that are more commonly abused than others, some of which include:

  • Motion sickness pills (dimenhydrinate and diphenhydramine)
  • Nasal decongestants (pseudoephedrine)
  • Caffeine pills
  • Diet pills (ephedra)
  • Pain relievers (acetaminophen and ibuprofen)
  • Cough and cold medicines (dextromethorphan) 

As the NIH assert, the two most abused OTC medicines are dextromethorphan (DXM) and loperamide hydrochloride (the active ingredient in Imodium). 

Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Dextromethorphan is an ingredient found cough and cold medications (e.g., Robitussin, Nyquil, Vicks Formula 44, etc.). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved DXM in 1958. The typical recommended safe dosage for use of DXM ranges between 15 mg to 30 mg taken within a four-hour period. People that abuse DXM could take as much as 240 mg to 1,500 mg of DXM at a time. When abused and/ or taken in copious amounts it can lead to distorted awareness, altered perception of time and hallucinations.

Loperamide Hydrochloride

The active ingredient in Imodium is loperamide hydrochloride, which is an opiate receptor agonist. Imodium is an anti-diarrheal medication that works by slowing down one’s digestion to help prevent and treat diarrhea. Although Imodium is a type of opiate, it does not cross the blood-brain barrier. The maximum amount of Imodium an individual should take is up to 60 mg, and depending on the person, ingesting this amount can still cause adverse reactions. As is true with taking excessive amounts of any substance, abusing over the counter drugs can not only lead to a variety of adverse effects, but can also increase one’s risk of overdose. 

For Information and Support 

If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding substance abuse and/ or addiction we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one. We can be reached by phone at 424-318-3777. You are also welcomed to contact anytime us via email at admissions@hhtxc.com.

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