Over-the-Counter Drug Addiction: Abusing OTC Drugs North Jersey Recovery Center - A middle-aged woman is emotional while speaking about her over the counter drug abuse issues with an addiction specialist to determine if she needs treatment to break free from this substance abuse.

What is Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse?

While many people think that everyday medicines are harmless, over-the-counter drug abuse is becoming a growing problem in the United States. When taken as directed, over-the-counter, or OTC, medicines are safe and effective for many different health concerns.

They help treat everyday issues like colds, nausea, mild pain, and motion sickness.

It is when these drugs are taken in a way other than directed that they can become dangerous.

Despite being less potent than prescription medications over-the-counter drugs can still be addictive and dangerous.

Understanding Over-the-Counter Drug Addiction

Over-the-counter drug abuse happens when an OTC medicine is taken in any way other than it is prescribed or directed to be taken.

This can mean taking it more often than you are supposed to or in higher doses.

Some may take these drugs to chase a high mixing different OTC medicines together to get different effects.

Over-the-counter drug abuse is more common in young people because they are easier to purchase.

Much like illegal drugs, OTC drugs can cause serious negative effects to your body and your brain when abused.


How do You Abuse Them?

People end up with over-the-counter drug abuse problems when they decide to take OTC medicines inappropriately.

Some people abuse OTC medicines in order to treat issues like depression or anxiety.

Others take them with the intention of getting high or to have hallucinations.

Young people often mix these medicines with soda, while others simply take the medicine orally.

Some of the medicines most frequently taken in over-the-counter drug abuse situations are:

  • Cough medicines with dextromethorphan, or DXM. When taken in small doses, these are effective at helping cold symptoms. Taken in higher doses, however, DXM can cause mild to strong euphoria, hallucinations, and out-of-body sensations. But taking too high of doses can cause negative side effects, and even an overdose.
  • Cold medicines with pseudoephedrine. Pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in most cold medicines. It helps to relieve sinus congestion from colds or allergies. When taken in large doses it can cause hallucinations. More frequently, pseudoephedrine is used to make methamphetamine. It can also cause negative side effects when taken in too high of doses.
  • Motion sickness pills with dimenhydrinate. Dimenhydrinate is a medicine used to treat vertigo. People abuse this medicine because, when taken in high doses, it creates a psychedelic high and hallucinations.

The Physical Effects of Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse

Much like a prescription medication addiction, an over-the-counter drug addiction is dangerous to your health. In the short term, over-the-counter drug abuse can cause hyperactivity, loss of motor control, lack of energy, stomach pain, blurred vision, slurred speech, increased blood pressure, and sweating.

Long term OTC problems are more serious. It can cause damage to your internal organs or even an overdose. An overdose happens when someone takes enough OTC medicine to cause a life-threatening reaction.

With OTC drugs, this is usually extremely slow or stopped breathing. This can cause something called hypoxia, a condition where not enough oxygen reaches your brain.

Hypoxia can have both short and long term effects on your health, including brain damage, coma, and even death.

How do Over-the-Counter Drugs Affect the Brain?

Over-the-counter drug abuse not only poses a danger to your body. It can also cause negative effects on your brain. OTC abuse changes the way that your brain works by affecting your brain’s signaling system.

This means that when you abuse OTC drugs, your brain sends out chemicals that make you feel happy, relaxed, or have hallucinations. As you continue to abuse OTC drugs, your brain gets craves these changes, causing an addiction.

Breaking your OTC drug addiction can lead one to experience withdrawal symptoms including confusion, irritability, agitation, anxiety, and mood changes.

How to Take OTC Medicines Safely

The best way to ensure that you do not develop OTC problems like addiction is to take them as directed. Here are some tips on how to avoid OTC drug abuse:

  • Read the label for dosing information, as well as possible side effects.
  • Choose a medicine that treats only the symptoms you have, and not ones you do not have.
  • Ask your pharmacist or doctor before you use an OTC medicine if you are unsure of its safety.
  • Take the medicine only as it is recommended on the label.
  • Be careful not to mix OTC drugs when possible. Some medicines contain the same active ingredients in different doses.
  • Do not combine prescriptions and OTC drugs without talking to your doctor.
  • Keep a list of all the OTC medicines, prescription drugs, dietary supplements and herbal remedies you take.
  • Make sure that any children in the house are taking the right dosage according to their age and weight.
  • Dispose of expired medicines properly, where curious children cannot get them.

Treatment Options for OTC Problems

While there are not currently any medications to treat over-the-counter drug addiction, you still have options to get help. At North Jersey Recovery Center, we have specialized OTC drug addiction treatment plans to help you stop abusing and get healthy.

If your OTC problems are severe, it is best that you start with detox. This is the process during which your body gets all drugs out of your system. It can have a few different negative side effects, including nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and shakiness.

By detoxing at our facility, you have the option of getting medical support to minimize these effects. This makes the detox process more comfortable. Once you are done detoxing, we can begin treatment.

For those with over-the-counter drug addiction, we also recommend either Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This therapy helps clients identify and change the ways in which their thoughts and behaviors triggered their drug use.

You will also learn how to manage stress and avoid these drug triggers. Another option is contingency management (CM). This therapy gives you small rewards for following your treatment plan, which helps you associate being drug-free with positive things.


It is Time to Seek the Help of a Qualified Recovery Center

At North Jersey Recovery Center, we know that addiction does not just affect your physical health, it also affects your mental and spiritual health.

That is why we tailor all of our treatment programs to fit the unique needs of every client. We offer multiple levels of care, which allows us to help even those who have professional or educational commitments.

Our facility was designed with our clients’ comfort and success in mind, providing unique amenities, privacy and a supportive recovery environment.

You can trust our team of experienced, highly-qualified addiction professionals to help you through every step of your recovery journey.

We realize that many of our clients worry about how they are going to pay for their treatment. That is why we accept most private & commercial insurance plans.

Simply reach out to use and we will complete a free verification of your benefits and coverage for addiction treatment. If your insurance plan will not cover our services, we will not simply stop helping you on your recovery journey.

Instead, our admissions team will work with you to make sure you get directed to a rehab center that your insurance plan will be willing to cover.

No matter how serious your addiction is, or how long you have been abusing OTC drugs, you can still make the choice to get clean. At North Jersey Recovery Center, we are here to help you design your recovery plan for maximum success. Take the first step on your recovery journey, and give us a call today.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Laura-Riley-Cropped-Profile-150x150Laura Riley, MA, LCADC, CCS is an Administrator with North Jersey Recovery Center.