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Over-the-counter drug abuse is a serious problem which is sometimes either unacknowledged because these drugs are legal or because individuals are unaware of the risks involved. Over-the-counter drugs can be purchased very easily by anyone and typically at very little cost when compared to prescription drugs or illegal street drugs. However, over-the-counter drugs can be abused much in the same way as these other drugs and cause similar risks. Because they are easily accessible, youth for example may abuse certain types of over-the-counter drugs to get high. Whatever the age, it is important for anyone abusing over-the-counter drugs to understand that they are putting themselves in danger of many health complications and other consequences. In some cases, it may even be necessary for individuals to receive proper treatment for over-the-counter drug abuse if the problem cannot be resolved easily.
Cough and cold/flu remedies and over-the-counter drugs used to treat sinus congestion and headaches are some of the most commonly abused over-the-counter drugs. The main ingredient in many of these cough and cold remedies is dextromethorphan (DXM), which can be found in common brands such as Robitussin and NyQuil. Some users will drink up to a bottle of this type of over-the-counter cough and cold medicine to get high, with large doses causing euphoria, distortions of color and sound, and severe hallucinations. Some of these effects can last up to 6 hours. This is known colloquially among youth as "robo tripping", and is becoming a more and more common practice. While dextromethorphan can be used to get high, the amount which needs to be taken to achieve these effects can cause serious side effects including high blood pressure, coma and even death. When combined with alcohol or other drugs, the risk of these side effects is significantly greater. Dextromethorphan is also known to cause withdrawal symptoms, so individuals can become dependent to it much like any other illicit street drug and may even require drug rehab to overcome this. Because 1 in 10 high school students reports abusing cough and cold medicines in this way, parents should be aware of these facts and statistics so that they can help their child avoid any negative outcomes which may affect them now and in the future.
Other over-the-counter drugs of abuse include laxatives and diuretics which can be used to relieve constipation or as a weight loss aid. Diuretics can easily be purchased at any drug store or supermarket and are popular amongst teens and young adults who have poor body image or those with eating disorders. Laxatives and diuretics help purge excess fluid from the body, but also can result in severe hydration and malnutrition because it is likely that crucial nutrients and minerals are also being purged at the same time. Individuals can very easily die from dehydration and malnutrition, so it is important that they get help for whatever disorder is prompting them to abuse these types of over-the-counter drugs before they pay the ultimate price for this abuse.
Another category of over-the-counter diet aids which are commonly abused are stimulants. Some diet pills which can be purchased without a prescription contain substances which stimulate and cause a buzz or a high. While sometimes effective in curbing hunger for those who may use them as recommended, individuals who abuse these types of over-the-counter stimulants use them for an energy boost and to try and get high. Little is known about some of the ingredients in these types of diet pills even though they are described as "herbal". So it is very risky to use them in the first place. Some stimulants which are available over-the-counter have been known to cause nervousness and tremor, heart problems including heart failure, and death.
Acetaminophen, also commonly known as Tylenol, is an over-the-counter drug which can be very dangerous when overused. While acetaminophen or Tylenol is not commonly abused to get high, acetaminophen is often used as a pain relieving agent for mild to moderate pain. What some individuals may not be aware of is that acetaminophen is also solely metabolized by the liver, so if too much is taken too often over an extended period of time the user is at risk of severe liver damage. Some over-the-counter cough medicines contain acetaminophen for example. So someone who abuses over-the-counter cough syrup may drink a bunch thinking they will catch a buzz from the DXM, not realizing they have taken a harmful or lethal dose of acetaminophen.
As with all drug of abuse, all risks are significantly more pronounced and serious when mixing them with other over-the-counter, prescription, illegal drugs and/or alcohol. These risks should not be taken lightly, because people die every day either unaware of or because of ignoring such risks. Because of these risks, over-the-counter drug abuse should be taken very seriously as a very real problem. Teens and their parents in particular should be made aware of these risks so that these types of drugs are only taken when completely necessary, and not abuse for pleasure.
If someone is abusing over the counter drugs it may be necessary for them to receive treatment for drug addiction and possibly even some other co-occurring disorder which may have prompted them to abuse these drugs such as an eating disorder or other issue. There are many programs which can help individuals of all ages including teens receive the counseling and other treatment they will need to recovery from this type of substance abuse so they can go on with their lives. Approaching treatment for over-the-counter drug abuse is very similar to any other drug of choice, and treatment counselors understand why this happens and how to address it effectively. For teens in particular, this will ensure that the abuse stops here and doesn't carry over into more hard core drugs which could ultimately destroy their future. Contact a professional treatment counselor in your area if you or someone you know if involved in over the counter drug abuse to get help today.
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