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Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse

over the counter drug abuse

Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are medications you can buy at a drugstore, supermarket, or pharmacy without a prescription. OTC drugs are usually safe when taken according to their doses. However, as an addiction treatment center in Palm Springs, we know that these medications can be dangerous when misused or abused. We’re sharing the dangers of over-the-counter drug abuse and why you should be careful when taking these medications.


Why Are Over-the-Counter Drugs Often Abused?

Over-the-counter drugs are commonly used to relieve pain, itching, cold symptoms, toothaches, migraines, and allergic reactions. Most of these medications can also promote sleep, making it easier for individuals experiencing any of these symptoms to fall asleep. However, OTC drug addiction is a real thing. People abuse over-the-counter medicines because they also produce a euphoric high and other symptoms like relaxation and hallucinations. A high from OTC drugs of abuse can occur when a person takes more than the recommended dose or mixes it with other substances. For instance, people may abuse OTC drugs by either taking a large dose or mixing them with alcohol and candy to make drinks called “lean.”


The commonly abused over-the-counter drugs include:

  • Dextromethorphan/DXM (cough medicines like NyQuil, Robitussin, and Vicks Formula 44)
  • Pseudoephedrine/Phenylephrine (cold medicines like Advil, Aleve, and Tylenol)
  • Dimenhydrinate (motion sickness medicines like Benadryl and Dramamine)
  • Loperamide (diarrhea medication)
  • Diphenhydramine/DPH (antihistamines like Advil, Benadryl, Bayer Aspirin, and Unisom)
  • Acetaminophen (pain medications like Tylenol)


Long-term abuse of over-the-counter medications can lead to dependence, addiction, and serious health repercussions. If you find yourself becoming dependent on OTC drugs or notice a loved one’s OTC abuse, our partial hospitalization program at Banyan Treatment Centers Palm Springs can help.


Side Effects of OTC Drugs


OTC medicines can produce a euphoric high in addition to other side effects. It’s these symptoms that drive users to continue taking these substances. Some common symptoms of OTC drug addiction include:

  • Euphoria
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Relaxation
  • Muscle twitching
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Blacking out
  • Increased or decreased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Blurred vision


Brain damage, dependence, and addiction can occur as a result of long-term OTC drug abuse. Because these drugs are not regulated by doctors or prescriptions, many people tend to misuse them. Overdosing on over-the-counter medications is possible and can cause breathing problems, increased heart rate, blackouts, brain damage, and more. If you recognize the symptoms of OTC drug overdose in someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.


Signs of Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse

A person who has abused OTC drugs for a long time may exhibit certain signs of addiction. Recreational OTC drug use can change the chemistry of the brain over time, which is why people crave drugs after long periods of abuse. These brain changes can also affect basic functions like memory and learning.


Some common signs of OTC drug addiction include:


  • Extreme changes in eating habits (overeating or undereating)
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Jerky movements or twitching
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Suspicious behavior
  • Being defensive
  • Memory problems
  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Mood swings and emotional outburst
  • Poor performance at school or work


Also, pay attention to how your friends or family members use OTC medication. Some major red flags of abuse include:


  • Taking more than the recommended dose
  • Taking doses more frequently than recommended in the directions
  • Mixing these medications with alcohol or drugs
  • Continuing to take the medication once the ailment has healed
  • Combining different OTC medicines without being advised to do so by a doctor


Spotting an OTC drug addiction in your loved ones can be difficult. Medications like Tylenol and Benadryl aren’t as recognized for their dangers as drugs like cocaine and heroin. Not all people understand that OTC drugs can be addictive and harmful, and therefore practice less caution when taking them.


If you’ve become addicted to drugs or alcohol, we can help. Banyan Palm Springs offers different rehab programs, including medically monitored detox programs, substance abuse programs, and addiction therapies. Call us now at 888-280-4763 to speak to a team member about our addiction services.


Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse
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