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Article Summary

A Guide To Over The Counter Drug Addiction

NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that, after alcohol and marijuana, over the counter (or OTC) drugs are among the most commonly abused substances by Americans older than 14. In the medical field, any use of drugs for non-medical purposes - such as for the achievement of mind-altering effects - can be considered as abuse.

More particularly, over the counter drugs are popular particularly among teens and young adults because they are easily accessible, fairly inexpensive, and legal to buy. In fact, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) reports that 1 in every 10 teens admits to have abused cold and cough medications to get high.

Most of these substances - including Dimetapp DM, Triaminic DM, Robitussin DM, and NyQuil - contain DXM (or Dextromethorphan), which may cause psychoactive effects if ingested in large quantities. The products also contain OTC analgesics such as acetaminophen and aspirin, which may cause kidney or liver damage after regular abuse.

In other instances, users combine over the counter drugs with alcohol and other drugs. By so doing, they inadvertently increase the potential risk factors, side effects, and potential for an overdose. Users should also be aware that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recently announced that drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental fatality or death in the US.

If you are an user, the chances are high that you might have subscribed to the false notice that only illicit drugs are dangerous. The fact of the matter is that most OTC medications with mind-altering or psychoactive properties may lead to different adverse mental health and medical consequences especially if you use them to get high.

In the following guide, you will learn more about over the counter drugs, their common uses, effects, side effects, dangers, potential for addiction, and more:

Understanding Over The Counter Drugs

Over the counter drugs (otherwise referred to as OTC medications) are drugs sold at supermarkets, convenience stores, and drugstores without requiring a prescription. Since you don't need doctors to write a prescription to get these products, most people believe that this means that they are less dangerous or harmful than those you would buy from a pharmacy counter. However, the truth is that it is risky to abuse any kind of drug - prescription or not.

As mentioned above, OTC drugs with DXM as an active ingredient are the most commonly abused. These medications are typically used to treat flu, cold, and cough symptoms.

In the same way, those OTC medications that people believe are effective at helping with weight loss - including diet pills, diuretics, and laxatives - are commonly abused. Irrespective of the type of drug you abuse, however, you should know that the medication might have severe and potential fatal effects over time.

When used at the recommended doses, most OTC drugs are quite safe. However, they are similar to prescription and illegal drugs in the sense that they carry a risk for abuse and addiction. Even though they might be less potent that the other drugs, they are still dangerous and should only be used for medical purposes.

That said, some of the most commonly abused over the counter drugs include:

  • Pain relievers
  • Stimulants used to treat ADHD
  • CNS (central nervous system) depressants for treating anxiety
  • Cough medicines (DXM or Dextromethorphan)
  • Cold medicines (such as Pseudoephedrine)
  • Motion sickness pills (like Dimenhydrinate)
  • Pain relievers (like Acetaminophen)

Most of these drugs may increase your risk of suffering other severe health effects, including overdose - particularly if you combine them with other substances or alcohol.

The abuse of these medications is often referred to as dexing, skittlng, or robo-tripping. Users also turn to the internet to learn about common abuse techniques and to order for the products directly.

More particularly, since teens and adolescents spend so much of their time online and they are particularly susceptible to the information they glean during this team, it is vital that they are educated on the dangers of abusing over the counter drugs.

In particular, those who abuse these medications at a young age may increase their odds of developing substance dependency and abuse problems later in life. To this end, early interventions are important if these kinds of problems are to be avoided.

Over The Counter Drug Uses

There are many ways in which users get over the counter drugs:

  • Purchasing them from a drug store, grocery store, or convenience store
  • Receiving them from friends
  • Buying them online

Over the counter drugs are commonly abused by teens who are experimenting with drug use and searching for a quick high. Since OTC medications can be purchased for relatively cheap from any supermarket or pharmacy, teens can easily access these medications.

In many cases, abusers end up taking more of the drug than is directed. They also crush the tablets and inject or snort the powder to increase its entry into the brain and the bloodstream as well as amplify its effects.

More particularly, students tend to abuse stimulant alergy medicines and diet pills to improve their performance in class and in academics. That said, over the counter drugs come with various medical uses, but are commonly abused for the side-effects they produce.

Over time, those who abuse over the counter drugs may move on to illicit or more dangerous drugs.

Among the most commonly used over the counter drugs include:

  1. Cough Medicines (DXM, or Dextromethorphan)

    Cough medications tend to cause hallucinations and a potent high when abused. However, they are still popular particularly among the young because of their ease of access and affordability. A high dose may cause brain damage, vomiting, rapid heart rate, and blurred vision.

  2. Cold Medicines (like Pseudoephedrine)

    Pseudoephedrine is a popular stimulant used as the active ingredient in most cold medications. This drug is abused for the intense body high and hallucinations it causes. However, the substance may also be used to create such illicit drugs as methamphetamine. Abusing the drug tends to cause seizures, dizziness, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeat.

  3. Motion Sickness Pills (such as Dimenhydrinate)

    Dimenhydrinate is commonly used for the treatment of vertigo and motion sickness. When abused in high doses, it may cause coma, seizures, irregular heartbeat, nausea, ringing in the ears, hallucinations, and death. The drug is typically abused because of the psychedelic effects it causes.

  4. Pain Relievers (such as Acetaminophen)

    Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in most pain relievers, including Tylenol. Long term use and high doses may lead to severe health problems (such as permanent liver damage). Other side effects include stomach pain, nausea, sweating, and diarrhea. That said, this over the counter drug is commonly abused for its pain relief properties, with some using it for the treatment of chronic pain.

Over The Counter Drug Effects

As mentioned above, most people who abuse over the counter drugs consider them to be safer than prescription medications and illicit drugs. This may be because they are easily accessible at most grocery and drug stores, are found in medicine cabinets, and are legal.

When taken according to the direction in the box, these drugs are generally safe. However, those who abuse them soon find that they carry a host of adverse effects and risk factors. For instance, the medicines may cause heart problems, organ damage, and potential interference with normal brain functioning if abused on a regular basis.

DXM, in particular, may prove to be so physically debilitating that it will make activity you engage in potentially dangerous. Further, it may lead to overdose and certain death particularly if you combine it with other drugs and alcohol.

On the other hand, the stimulant drugs found in most diet pills are likely to affect the CNS and increase your heart beats and metabolism. These effects are particularly dangerous for people with high blood pressure and pre-existing heart problems. However, even in health people, diet pill abuse sometimes leads to strokes and heart attacks.

Over The Counter Drug Side Effects

Abusing over the counter drugs causes a host of side effects. These include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Coordination problems
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Dissociative states
  • Dizziness
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Heart attack
  • Heart palpitations
  • Heat stroke
  • Impaired judgment
  • Kidney stones
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Nausea
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Seizures
  • Sleep problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Stomach irritation
  • Stroke
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Over The Counter Drug Addictive Qualities

In most cases, using OTC drugs recreationally has been found to alter the brain's chemistry. With time, you may build tolerance to the substances you have been abusing. At this point, you will need more of the drug to achieve the desired effects.

Used as intended, over the counter drugs are effective at treating specific physical and mental symptoms. However, when you take them when these symptoms are non-existent or in different quantities, these drugs are likely to affect your brain in the same way that prescription and illicit substances would.

When abused, all classes of over the counter drugs can indirectly or directly clause euphoria or pleasure. With time, you may repeatedly use these medications to repeat this experience. Eventually, you can become addicted to these pleasurable effects.

Over The Counter Drug Overdose

Abusing OTC drugs can lead to overdose and in some cases death. The nature of the overdose will mostly depend on the type of drug you abused, what you mixed it with, how much you took, how quickly you used the drug, and your individual body composition.

Taking too much of any over the counter drug will commonly produce the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizzyness
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive sweating

Over The Counter Drug Withdrawal

OTC drugs won't typically produce physical withdrawal symptoms, however psychological addiction to over the counter drugs and produce behavioral and emoptional withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hostility
  • Mood changes

Over The Counter Drug Dangers

All types of cough medications (including capsules, tablets, and liquid syrups) may distort your visual perceptions while also damaging your judgment. Taken at high doses, over the counter drugs may also lead to hallucinations, hot flashes, nausea, dizziness, and loss of coordination.

Diet pills, on the other hand, may tempt you to start using them in a bid to lose weight. However, with time, you may eventually become fully addicted to them as well as to other substances.

More particularly, the ephedrine component in most of these pills is a dangerous stimulant that carries a high potential for abuse and eventual addiction. Among the effects it may cause include anxiety, blurred vision, vomiting, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, menstrual cycle disturbances, insomnia, and hair loss.

Other dangers that come with abusing over the counter drugs include death, heart problems, kidney failure, acute liver failure, and memory loss.

Signs And Symptoms Of Over The Counter Drug Abuse

Apart from dying or suffering an overdose from over the counter drugs, abusers often suffer such health-related problems as addiction, mood swings, anxiety, dizziness, nervousness, severe weight loss, and nausea.

However, you need to watch out for the following signs and symptoms to tell if someone is abusing over the counter drugs:

1. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Collections of medicine bottles
  • Empty medicine bottles
  • Mood swings
  • Personality shifts
  • Periods of intoxication
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Altered cognitive abilities
  • Memory lapses
  • A drop in workplace or school productivity
  • Withdrawal from most social situations
  • Lack of apparent interest in those activities you previously used to enjoy
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Changed sleeping patterns
  • Appetite changes
  • Strange packages delivered in the mail
  • Disappearance of OTC drugs from the medicine cabinet
  • Regularly purchasing cold and cough medications in large doses even when not needed
  • Medicinal odor or smell on clothing and breath

Treatment For Over The Counter Drug Addiction

If have been abusing over the counter drugs for sometime or you feel that you are addicted, you may require treatment and medical attention. This way, you will be able to deal with the adverse effects of the medications, quell its symptoms, and reduce your chances of suffering an overdose or any other dangerous symptom.

The treatment options available include detoxification, psychotherapies, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) mental health counseling, and group and individual therapy - as well as medically assisted withdrawal.

If possible, get started on treatment as soon as possible. Whether you check into an inpatient facility or choose to go for outpatient rehab, the opportunities for recovery are many. The secret is to start early so you have more time to kick your addiction to over the counter drugs.

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