Many individuals are aware of the potential risk involved with substance abuse and the use of illicit drugs. However, the abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medication is rarely discussed. These medications can be very beneficial in dealing with a variety of symptoms, but they also may contain smaller levels of addictive substances. Using these medications in moderation can be beneficial, but it is important to be aware of their potential for abuse.

Commonly Abused OTC Drugs

Because over-the-counter drugs do not require a prescription and are relatively easy to get ahold of, they can become an abused substance that is easy to access. The following medications listed are commonly abused OTC medications.

  • Dextromethorphan (DXM)
    • This is often found in cough syrup and cold medicine.
    • Typically contains antihistamines and decongestants.
  • Loperamide (Imodium)
    • Anti-diarrheal medication.
    • Can cause similar effects to other opioids when abused, providing a euphoric sensation.

The two substances listed above are the most common forms of abused over-the-counter medication. However, many other substances can lead you to long-term health issues and potential addiction. Cold medication, motion sickness pills, and sleep aids are also commonly abused. Be aware that any form of medication can become addictive. Ensure you are not taking more than the recommended amount and are stopping within the recommended duration.

If you find that you are using a substance past the recommended duration, reach out to your health provider to find alternative solutions and for recommendations on stopping use. If you find you are dependent on these medications, contact Dream Recovery for help creating a recovery plan and working through the addiction process.

Side Effects of OTC Drug Abuse

For substances used as recommended to treat the illness or symptom for which they are intended, there often are no harmful side effects or very minor side effects for most individuals. Using medications as recommended should be relatively harmless. Abusing these medications and using them for alternative purposes, however, can have negative effects on your body’s physical functioning and brain processing.

The abuse of Dextromethorphan can be incredibly dangerous to the respiratory and cardiovascular system, potentially causing long-term damage. The abuse of Dextromethorphan can lead to the following side effects:

  • Impaired Motor Function
  • Nausea
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Increased Blood Pressure
  • Hypoxic Brain Damage
  • Respiratory Depression

Loperamide abuse can lead to long-term cardiovascular issues. The following symptoms can be present when abusing this medication:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Lack of responsiveness
  • Dizziness/drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Stomach discomfort

Before taking any form of medication, you should understand the potential risk factors and if it can safely be combined with other medications you may be taking. Many individuals reach the point of addiction and experience negative health effects by combining medications that do not pair well together. Ensuring you are safe to take any medication is essential in preventing these possible risks.

Can OTC Drugs Lead to Addiction?

The previously described substances, as well as many other over-the-counter drugs, can create a euphoric feeling when taken in more than the recommended dosage. These feelings often resemble feelings created by illicit drugs that are enjoyable. Finding that enjoyment through an over-the-counter drug, some individuals assume that it is a safer alternative to feel this sensation. However, OTC abuse can be incredibly dangerous.

While the problem of OTC drug abuse often goes unnoticed, this euphoric sensation can lead individuals to addiction. The substance does not have to be an illegal drug or one of the commonly discussed substances of addiction for dependence or addiction to occur. This can happen with over-the-counter drugs as well. 

Preventing OTC Drug Abuse

It is important to educate yourself about the medications you are taking and ensure you are taking the recommended or prescribed amount. If you are unsure if a medication will be helpful to you, ask your doctor before experimenting with it.

Pharmacists can play a large role in helping people avoid over-the-counter drug abuse. By informing individuals of the potential side effects and risks, pharmacists can help customers realize when medications can have consequences for them. Many pharmacists have practiced stating the medication is out of stock to customers they notice are habitually buying medications that should not be taken regularly. This can be hard to determine though, as people may go to various stores or go unnoticed when frequently purchasing these medications.

Posting pamphlets and signs surrounding medication aisles in stores can help inform individuals of the potential risks before they purchase the medications. Many individuals who end up addicted to OTC medications continue to take the medications because they help them feel better and remain unaware of the risk at hand until too late. By spreading awareness on this subject, we can help consumers be mindful of their purchase and consumption of over-the-counter medication.

Although society is generally aware of the risks of illicit drug use, many individuals overlook the potential of over-the-counter drugs having similar risks and possibilities for addiction. Over-the-counter drugs can be used for a variety of benefits; however, it is important to ensure we use them for the intended purposes and in moderation. It is still possible to become reliant on these medications which can negatively affect your long-term health. Dextromethorphan and Loperamide are the two most common OTC drugs that are abused. These are found in your common cold and cough medicine and in anti-diarrheal medication. The effects of taking more than the recommended amount can provide euphoric feelings, similar to opiates, but also have potential risks and the possibility of addiction occurring. To learn more about the danger of abusing over-the-counter medications, reach out to Dream Recovery at (949) 732-1960.

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