The answer is a resounding no. However, many young adults seem to think that abusing over-the-counter drugs. is safer than using illegal drugs or safer than trying to get high on prescription medications since a doctor’s prescription isn’t needed. That could not be further from the truth. In the past few years, emergency rooms have seen an increase in overdoses and deaths as a result of over-the-counter drug abuse. Cough medicines, caffeine pills, sleep or diet aids, and pain medications are among the most commonly abused over-the-counter medications. Even over-the-counter herbal medications fall into this dangerous category if they are not used as directed.

Young adults age 19 – 24 abuse over-the-counter medications for different reasons. Some are trying to find a cheap way to get high, while others are just trying to adjust to the newfound stress and pressure of college or a competitive career. If you realize that your usage of over-the-counter drugs has gotten out of control, call us at Cornerstone Recovery Center. We can customize a program just for you and help you learn how to adjust and live a healthy and productive lifestyle.

The 10 Over-the-Counter Medications Abused Most Often

Maybe you don’t realize that an over-the-counter (OTC) medication you are using is a problem, or perhaps you are concerned about a loved one. The following is a list of some of the most often abused over-the-counter medications that can easily be found in any medicine cabinet or bought at a grocery store or pharmacy without any prescription. Getting help to stop this type of abuse is important because the side effects can lead to some serious health risks such as heart conditions, stomach bleeding, ulcers, organ damage, overdose, and more.

  1. Dextromethorphan: This is the active ingredient in over 100 different OTC cold and cough medicines including Robitussin, NyQuil and the like. When candy, sugar, and other flavoring is added to cough medicine, it is known as Sizzurp. Other street names or nicknames for cold and cough medicines include Robo, Skittles, Triple C, Dex, Vitamin D, and Tussin. Dextromethorphan is addictive and withdrawal symptoms can be felt only after a few incidences of abuse. There have been reports of bone marrow damage, nerve cell damage, high blood pressure, heart damage, and permanent brain damage as a result of long term abuse of drugs containing Dextromethorphan.
  2. Pain Relievers: Almost everyone has taken over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (active ingredient in Tylenol) and ibuprofen (active ingredient in Advil); but it is one of the most abused medicines found in a medicine cabinet. Many people believe that taking a few extra pills when in pain or not waiting the allotted time to take more medicine will help to relieve pain faster. More pills really do not relieve pain any better or faster, it only increases health risks such as stomach bleeding, kidney failure, and heart problems.
  3. Caffeine Medicines and Energy Drinks: Caffeine pills like NoDoz have been around for much longer than the new wave of energy drinks. They are both dangerous if abused whether it is to try to stay awake to cram for a college exam or in an effort to experience a type of “energy high”. Side effects from large doses of caffeine include serious dehydration, gastric reflux, panic attacks, and can lead to death in people who already have an underlying heart condition.
  4. Diet Pills: Diet pills are sometimes abused to achieve a mild buzz. In most cases of OTC diet pill abuse, it is because of actually trying to lose weight. The problem is that many of the stimulants used in diet pills are very addictive. The dangerous stimulants that are most often an ingredient in diet pills are phenylpropanolamine, ephedrine, and ephedra. The FDA has banned these from over-the-counter medicines, but the ban does not apply to herbal remedies including teas, which can contain those addictive stimulants or other ingredients that cause the same problems as the stimulants do. The side effects from abusing over-the-counter diet pills include digestive problems, hair loss, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, extreme paranoia, blurred vision, kidney problems, and dehydration. You should even beware of diet medications that are “all natural” because abusing those can lead to the same problems. In addition, abuse of diet pills can indicate a potential eating disorder.
  5. Laxatives and Herbal Diuretics: Many young adults feel pressure to lose weight. In addition to diet pills, they often turn to laxatives or herbal diuretics in an effort to lose weight. Like diet pills, these can be abused and that abuse can lead to some very serious and dangerous side effects including extreme dehydration and life-threatening loss of the minerals and salts that your body needs to regulate water, acidity in the blood, and muscle function.
  6. Motion Sickness Pills: In an effort to get high, some young adults have been known to take large amounts of dimenhydrinate (the active ingredient in Dramamine) or diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl) to get high and experience hallucinations. The dose needed to achieve a high varies greatly and depends on factors such as body weight and tolerance. High doses of these OTC motion sickness pills can cause serious health risks including irregular heartbeats, coma, heart attack, and even result in death. Long term abuse has been known to cause depression, liver and kidney damage, memory loss, eye pain, itchy skin, urine retention, and stomach pain.
  7. Sexual Performance Medicines: Over-the-counter sexual performance medicines have been known to be abused by young adults while drinking in an attempt to counteract the negative effect of alcohol on sexual performance. When combined with alcohol or other drugs or taken in large amounts, they can cause heart problems.
  8. Pseudoephedrine: This is a stimulant that is a nasal decongestant and is an ingredient in many different OTC cold medicines. It is so dangerously close to amphetamines that there is a federal law requiring pharmacies and grocery stores to keep them behind the counter, limit the quantity purchased, and require photo identification when buying it to log frequency. Besides trying to get high using this drug, some people have used it to try to lose weight, and some athletes have misused it in an effort to help enhance performance during competitions. There are dangerous side effects associated with pseudoephedrine including heart palpitations, irregular heartbeats, and heart attacks. In cases where it has been combined with other drugs, such as narcotics, is has been reported to trigger episodes of paranoid psychosis.
  9. Herbal Ecstasy: This combination of herbs are sold legally and supposed to produce euphoria, increase awareness, or enhance sexual situations when ingested, snorted, or smoked. It is often labeled or marketed as a “natural high” but the main ingredient is ma huang, or ephedra, which we mentioned earlier and explained the dangers of this over-the-counter medication ingredient. The herb is banned in the US, but only in dietary supplements. If it is labeled otherwise, it can still be sold and still be abused. One of the problems is that the dose needed varies widely which can lead to accidental overdose. Side effects include muscle spasms, increase in blood pressure, seizures, heart attacks, stroke, and even death.
  10. Other Herbals: There are other herbal products that have been found to cause hallucinations, euphoria, or stimulate young adults in different ways. Just because they are legal does not mean that they are good for you. Abusing them can cause a multitude of health problems and risks to your physical well-being.

Cornerstone Recovery Center Can Help Identify and Treat Over-the-counter Drug Abuse

Over-the-counter drug abuse can often become a problem for young adults. Cornerstone is here to help and our staff is made up of very understanding professionals who share the same goals of returning you back to your life happy, healthy, and drug free.  If you would like to learn more about our Ft. Lauderdale facilities, call Cornerstone Recovery Center at 888-711-0354 or contact us online.