The Increasing Dangers of Over-the-counter Drug Abuse

The Increasing Dangers of Over-the-counter Drug Abuse

A growing number of people are turning to over-the-counter drugs to get high. Both cost and availability contribute to this trend, and teenagers are leading the way as these drugs are much easier to obtain than alcohol and other substances. Though most believe that over-the-counter drugs must be harmless, medical science proves otherwise: take a look at the real dangers posed by over-the-counter drug abuse.

The Dangers of Over-the-counter Drug Abuse

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are drugs that are available in supermarkets or drugstores without a prescription.

These medications are usually safe if taken at the recommended dosages. However, if abused, these drugs can be dangerous.

It is a common misconception that these medications are not addictive or harmful.

If abused, over-the-counter medications can be addictive and sometimes even deadly. People who abuse over-the-counter drugs are at a higher risk for addiction problems in the future.

Over-the-counter drug abuse can lead to numerous health problems including heart problems, memory loss, kidney failure, and more.


Commonly abused over-the-counter drugs include:

  1. Cough Medication (Dextromethorphan)

  2. Cold Medication (Pseudoephedrine)

  3. Motion Sickness Medication (Dimenhydrinate)

  4. Pain Relievers (Acetaminophen)

  5. Anti-inflammatory Medications (NSAIDs)

  6. Anti-Diarrheal (Loperamide)

More people than ever before are using over-the-counter drugs to get high. Abusing over-the-counter drugs is a popular trend amongst teenagers.

This growing trend is fueled by the affordability and availability of over-the-counter drugs. Plus, over-the-counter drugs are more accessible than other drugs. Teens tend to believe that over-the-counter drugs are harmless; however, science proves otherwise.

Cough Medication (Dextromethorphan) Abuse:

DXM or Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant that is used in over 100 over-the-counter medications. It is also an opioid derivative.

It is safe and not habit forming when taken appropriately. However, if abused it has the potential to be addictive.

Abuse can include taking excessive doses or administering it via an alternate route such as intranasally or intravenously.

When taken via an alternate route or in excessive doses Dextromethorphan will act as a dissociative anesthetic that mimics the effects of the “date-rape” drug Ketamine and PCP. Essentially, it causes hallucinogenic trips and poses a serious risk to our youth.

1 in 10 American teens has abused Dextromethorphan to get high, according to a 2008 study. This scary statistic makes it more popular among teenagers than ecstasy, LSD, meth, and cocaine.

Despite age regulations to purchase these medications teens are finding that it is easy to get this drug and it’s good for an inexpensive high or trip.

Part of the reason that so many American teens are using this drug recreationally is that their parents are simply unaware of its dangers.

While alarm bells might sound off if a parent found an empty beer can in their teen’s room, they wouldn’t think twice about an empty bottle of cough syrup of used package of pills.

At high doses Dextromethorphan can cause:

  1. Impaired or blurry vision

  2. Cold Sweats

  3. Fevers

  4. Irregular Heart Rate

  5. Increased Blood Pressure

  6. Diarrhea

  7. Vomiting

  8. Nausea

  9. Slurred Speech

  10. Impaired Mental Function

  11. Memory Loss

  12. Rapid Eye Movements

  13. Hallucinations

  14. & Coma

As a parent, the best thing you can do to keep your teen safe is to become educated about Dextromethorphan abuse.

The more you know about it and its dangers, the better equipped you’ll be to intervene if your teenager happens to start abusing Dextromethorphan.

Talking openly and honestly with your teen is going to be the best way to prevent Dextromethorphan from being a problem in your household.

Cold Medication (Pseudoephedrine) Abuse:

Pseudoephedrine is a common over-the-counter decongestant medication used to treat cold and allergy symptoms. It is most commonly referred to by its brand name Sudafed and can be found in any pharmacy.

Due to pseudoephedrine being so easily accessible there has been an increase in pseudoephedrine abuse, dependence, and addiction among teenagers and young adults.

The high that teens and young adults get from abusing pseudoephedrine is described as a short-lived energetic, euphoric experience.

When taken in excessive amounts pseudoephedrine is known to:

  1. Dangerously increase heart rate

  2. Produce an irregular heartbeat

  3. Can cause seizures

  4. Induces hallucinations

  5. & it also can raise blood pressure

Moreover abusing pseudoephedrine can cause your blood flow to be constricted. This reduction of blood flow in the bowel region can cause a case of appendicitis or gangrene. Both of which are excruciatingly painful.

If this occurs, and the abuser does not let their physician know about their usage of pseudoephedrine, that individual can risk death.  The mortality rate in these instances is roughly 90%.

Generally speaking when using this medication as directed the chances of developing problems with addiction are slim. Those who have a history of abusing methamphetamines are more likely to abuse pseudoephedrine.

In some cases, pseudoephedrine can be used as an ingredient to make meth.

Due to this fact, there are laws in the United States that prohibit you from buying more than a certain amount of pseudoephedrine monthly. You have to show your ID to purchase it to help regulate it and keep it off the streets.

Sometimes, however, people will resort to robbing their pharmacy or swiping it off the self to avoid these monthly purchase restrictions.

It is for this reason that often your pharmacy may lock up its supply of pseudoephedrine behind the counter where the customer will have more trouble getting to it.

Motion Sickness Medication (Dimenhydrinate) Abuse

Dimenhydrinate more commonly known as Dramamine is a motion sickness medication that when taken in large quantities can produce a euphoric and enjoyable experience for the user.

This is another one of those medications that are most abused by teenagers and young adults due to its abundant availability.

Dimenhydrinate used in high doses can cause delirium, hallucinations, amnesia, and confusion.

When used in high doses Dimenhydrinate can be very dangerous to your heart, kidneys, and stomach.

Dimenhydrinate Heart Dangers:

In high doses, Dimenhydrinate can cause a heart attack that sometimes will result in death. It causes you to develop an irregular, fast heartbeat, and when combined with ibuprofen, it can increase the risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke.

Dimenhydrinate Kidney Dangers:

Dimenhydrinate has been known to interfere with kidney function. The first sign of any kidney trouble is a reduction in urine output. If the drug is not immediately discontinued, the kidneys run the risk of failing and requiring dialysis or a transplant to save your life.

Dimenhydrinate Stomach Dangers:

Dimenhydrinate abuse is associated with stomach bleeding and ulcers. This is a very painful condition that requires a lot of intervention as well as discontinuation of the drug to prevent further complications.

Other symptoms and dangers of Dimenhydrinate abuse:

  1. Hyperactivity

  2. Poor Coordination

  3. Headaches

  4. Ringing in the Ears

  5. Confusion

  6. Drowsiness

  7. Hallucinations

  8. Irregular Heartbeat (Arrhythmia)

  9. Coma

  10. Seizures

  11. Heart Attack

  12. Death

The best way to prevent an addiction to Dimenhydrinate is to talk to your teen about their usage. Education is key.

Let your teen know that in general, it is never okay to take more medication than prescribed because as explained above it can be exceptionally dangerous.


Pain Relievers (Acetaminophen) Abuse

Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter pain medication that is used to manage minor pains such as headaches, muscle sprains, backaches and so forth.

It is available in large amounts over-the-counter without any identification. It is commonly known by its brand name Tylenol. It is generally considered to be a safe substance when taken as directed.

When taken in large quantities, however, it is very dangerous and is one of the most common causes of liver failure in the United States of America.

Overdosing on acetaminophen can lead to severe gastrointestinal distress, acute liver failure, liver damage, sever nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. In severe cases of acetaminophen abuse, a liver transplant may be required.

Recommended Dosage:

Just a few years ago the recommended daily dosage in adults was 4,000mg per day. However, it has been reduced to 3,000mg per day because when used regularly it can build up and cause liver toxicity.

Anti-inflammatory Medications (NSAIDs) Abuse

A lot like acetaminophen, NSAIDs are typically abused by mistakes. This is because when abused NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding, kidney trouble, and heart-related problems. When it comes to your stomach, ulcers can occur as well as bleeding.

It is recommended to take NSAIDs with food. As far as your kidneys go NSAIDs are known to speed up the advancement of kidney disease.

Also when it comes to your heart, excessive NSAID use can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Anti-Diarrheal (Loperamide) Abuse

Loperamide is an anti-diarrheal medication that works by slowing down the gastrointestinal system. It doesn’t treat the cause of diarrhea, just the symptoms.

When taken in recommended dosages, like all over-the-counter drugs, it is a safe medication to use.

Loperamide is a partial opioid agonist that binds to your pain receptors and can cause a similar high or euphoria as oxycodone, or other narcotics do when taken in higher quantities. As a result of this, it is very commonly abused by those addicted to opioids.

When abused, Loperamide can lead to serious problems including but not limited to:

  1. Constipation

  2. Stomach Pain

  3. Stomach Bloating

  4. Dizziness

  5. Rash

  6. Itchiness

  7. Drowsiness

  8. Heart Attack

  9. Coma

  10. Death

  11. Hepatic Dysfunction

  12. Arrhythmia

  13. Fainting

  14. Rapid Heartbeat

  15. Irregular Heartbeat

Over-the-counter drugs are most commonly abused by teenagers ranging in age from 13 to 16.

Misusing non-prescription drugs is not only dangerous when abused, but it can lead to a great risk of developing a more serious drug addiction problem in the future.

Many parents are completely clueless and are not concerned if their teen keeps over-the-counter medications around.

Every year 80,000 people visit the emergency room due to an acetaminophen overdose.

Every year as many as 1,000 people die from over-the-counter drug abuse and overdoses.  Some teens have died from misuse of Dextromethorphan as well.


Common reasons why your child may abuse over-the-counter drugs:

  1. Peer Pressure

  2. Stress

  3. Emotional Trouble

  4. A Desire to Escape

  5. & Curiosity

When it comes to your child’s safety, it is essential to be aware of the dangers of over-the-counter drugs. Know that recreational over-the-counter drug use changes the brain’s chemistry.

The user will eventually develop a tolerance to the drugs and will need more of them to get the same effects they once did at a lower dosage. Spotting teen over-the-counter drug abuse warning signs can be very difficult.

Common signs that your teen may be abusing drugs include:

  1. Bloodshot eyes

  2. Poor School Performance

  3. Laughing for No Reason

  4. Poor Hygiene and Personal Self Care

  5. Frequent Hunger

  6. Secretive Behavior

  7. Missing Curfew

  8. Unusual Tiredness

  9. Smelling of Smoke

If you notice this in your teen, it may be time to talk to them about drug abuse in general.

As a parent, you will want to make it clear to your teen that it is never okay to take more than the recommended dosage of medication.

You will also want to ensure these medications are locked away in the house and not kept in your teen’s medicine cabinet or bedroom.

Merely asking your teen about their drug usage can be the easiest way to start a conversation about what they may be going through and what they are at risk for.

It is critical that as a parent you are compassionate towards your teen. Otherwise, chances are they will never open up to you about their misuse of medications or drug addiction problems.

Once your teen opens up to you, you can begin to help your teen work through whatever problem they may be experiencing.

Yelling, screaming, and fighting with your teen will likely push your teen further into his or her addiction problem.

As a parent, you will need to be non-judgmental, stern, and compassionate.

If you recognize the signs of someone in your life with Over-the-counter drug abuse or addiction problems you can get in touch with the Hotline at your Recovery Center and discuss the issues and possible solutions.

It’s really important that you take action right away!

The staff at Chateau Recovery is always available to help you with your questions regarding addiction recovery and treatment.  Call anytime.

Chateau Recovery Center 375 Rainbow Lane

Midway, UT 84049, USA Phone: +1 435-654-1082

Please call our toll-free helpline which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by experienced and caring professionals who can answer your questions and help you navigate through the process of evaluating and securing a treatment program.

If you or someone you love has questions concerning the rehabilitation process, call our free helpline Phone: +1 888-971-2986 for more information. Calls are always confidential, private, and secure.


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