Over The Counter Drugs Use & Abuse

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What Are Over the Counter Drugs?

More commonly described as OTC, over the counter drugs are medications that are safe to use without treatment by a health professional. There are more than 80 classes of OTC drugs in the United States, and these drugs are typically very accessible.

You can find over the counter drugs on the shelves in pharmacies, grocery stores, or gas stations. They treat typical everyday symptoms of pain, coughs, colds, heartburn, acne, or constipation. OTC problems are often found in young people, due to their accessibility compared to illegal street drugs, or prescription drugs.

OTC Use Vs. Over the Counter Drug Abuse

Although most over the counter drugs have no negative side effects, some lead to over the counter drug abuse. Even though OTC drugs are less intense or dangerous than other substances, they pose a risk for OTC drug abuse and addiction.

Drugs that have a higher risk of over the counter drug abuse:

  • Cough medicines (Dextromethorphan, or DXM)
  • Cold medicines (Pseudoephedrine)
  • Motion sickness pills (Dimenhydrinate)

These are a more restricted class of OTC drugs and are sold explicitly behind the pharmacy counter. A pharmacist can only dispense these OTC drugs. Pseudoephedrine is commonly subject to over the counter drug abuse, and often requires an ID, as well as a signature. Naloxone is a life-saving drug that can help to reduce the negative effects of an opioid overdose.

These over the counter narcotics reversal drugs, as well as over the counter opioid reversal drugs do save lives. All pharmacists are legally allowed to give out naloxone, which helps reduce the effect of fentanyl and prevents death by this drug.

What is RX to OTC Switch?

Different OTC drugs were once available as a prescription before switching to OTC. One example would be proton-pump inhibitors like esomeprazole, or stomach acid blockers used for heartburn.

Another famous example is the “morning-after pill” known as Plan B. Plan B is used to prevent pregnancy, and was once only accessible through a doctor, but is now available for purchase from any pharmacy.

Examples of OTC Drugs

Cough Medicines (Dextromethorphan, or DXM)

Many cough medicines can cause hallucinations or a very strong high when abused. Cough medicines are particularly popular among young people because they are extremely accessible. There are specific dose-dependent plateaus as described by the DEA, regarding those who practice over the counter drug abuse with DXM.

Since the maximum recommended daily dose of DXM is 120 mg, anything past that is dangerous and OTC drug abuse.

100-200 mg dose: induces mild stimulation and euphoria.

200-400 mg dose: euphoria and possible hallucinations.

300-600 mg dose: loss of motor coordination and visual distortions.

500-1500 mg dose: out of body experience.

High doses of DXM are extremely dangerous. Over the counter drug abuse of this medication can cause:

  • Irregular or slow breathing
  • Blackouts
  • Muscle twitches
  • Intense drowsiness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heart rate
  • Blurred vision
  • Brain damage

Cold Medicines (Pseudoephedrine)

Pseudoephedrine is a stimulant, but it is the active ingredient in many cold medicines. The use of pseudoephedrine is to relieve nasal and sinus congestion caused by colds or allergies. The over the counter drug abuse of pseudoephedrine can lead to hallucinations or an intense “body high.”

Pseudoephedrine is also one of the main ingredients used to create the illegal drug methamphetamine. Abusing pseudoephedrine is extremely dangerous; it can cause irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, dizziness, and seizures.

Motion Sickness Pills (Dimenhydrinate)

Dimenhydrinate treats motion sickness or vertigo. In very high doses, over the counter drug abuse of dimenhydrinate can cause:

  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Coma or even death

When taken in doses of 200-1200mg, this drug can be psychedelic. The effect of this drug has a lot to do with the bodyweight of the individual abusing it.

Mental Illness and Over The Counter Drug Abuse

Recreational over the counter drug abuse can change the chemistry of your brain over long periods of use. The abuse can cause not only mental illness but also the chance for physical dependence. This physical dependence is known as withdrawal, similar to those you find with other prescription or illegal drug addictions.

Over The Counter Drug Abuse Withdrawal

After prolonged periods of over the counter drug abuse, you will build a tolerance. You will need to increase your dosage to obtain the same effects as before. In turn, you might experience withdrawal symptoms once the drug usage stops.

Over the counter drug withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Being confused
  • Feeling irritable
  • Intense agitation
  • Increase of anxiety, or crippling anxiety
  • Mood swings

Learning to spot an OTC drug addiction can be difficult. Even though OTC drugs like Tylenol or DXM may not have the same image as cocaine or methamphetamine, they are addictive. Many people do not see them as addictive, so they are even more dangerous.

There are a few signs that someone you love may have an OTC drug addiction. The main sign is continuing to use the drug even though they understand the consequences.

Another sign of an OTC addiction is spending a huge amount of time or money either using the drug or obtaining them. Always lookout for these signs, and you may be able to catch an addiction before it is too late.

Treatment For Over The Counter Drug Abuse

Drug abuse is not only about street drugs. OTC medicine can seem safe. Unfortunately, simply because it does not require a prescription from a doctor does not mean it’s safe. Over the counter drug abuse is more common than you might think. Besides marijuana, OTC drugs are the most commonly abused drugs in the United States.

Although OTC drugs can be helpful, over the counter drug abuse is real and dangerous. There are many treatment options for those who struggle with over the counter drug abuse and addiction. Psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, known as CBT, are extremely effective. Whether you begin taking individual or group therapy, getting into treatment is the first step towards recovery and healthy life.

There are also options for both inpatient and outpatient rehab programs. These allow those recovering from over the counter drug abuse to stay sober, and have support along the way. Drug rehab is not only for illicit drugs; it is for anyone who needs it.

Stepping Towards Your Drug-Free Future

Overcoming an over the counter drug abuse addiction is difficult, but it is easier with Resurgence Behavioral Health on your side. Find out about our easy free insurance verification program. This program will allow you to understand your options, and see if you are fully covered.

Whether you are looking for an inpatient drug treatment program with 24-hour medical care or an outpatient program to maintain your routine, we offer it all. Contact us to find out how we can help you take a step towards overcoming your over the counter drug abuse addiction.