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The Dangers of Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse

Many teens and even some parents wrongly believe that medications which can be purchased without a prescription are practically harmless. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are safe when taken according to the package directions. But even legal and readily accessible drugs and herbs can be dangerous when used outside of those parameters. The problem of OTC drug abuse is most rampant among teens ages 13 to 16.  For them the medications are easy to get — just grab them out of the bathroom cabinet — and there’s unlikely to be any parental suspicion. Or they can simply be purchased at the corner drugstore. When parents are aware of which OTC medications are dangerous they can then sit down for a discussion with their teens and preteens: 1. Dextromethorphan Dextromethorphan is the key ingredient in cough syrups like Robitussin. One-tenth of all teens say that they’ve abused cough medicine, making it the most commonly abused OTC drug. Taken in large amounts, cough and cold medications can make teens feel euphoric and experience hallucinogenic effects that can last for hours at a time. Taking large amounts of it can also lead to vomiting, frozen muscles, seizures, increased heart rate, blurry vision and shallow breathing. If teens mix cough syrup with alcohol or some other drug the result can be fatal. 2. Energy Drinks/Anti-Drowsiness Medication Energy drinks are loaded with caffeine, as are medications like NoDoz. Some pain relievers also contain caffeine. Teens will use these substances in excess to get a caffeine jolt and a buzz. The problem is that caffeine consumed in large doses leads to dehydration, anxiety attacks, gastric reflux and heart irregularities. If the teen happens to have an existing heart problem, abuse of caffeine can be deadly. 3. Pain Relievers One of the most common items for sale at the drugstore are pain relievers. Medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are very helpful when taken as directed. Taking too many pain relievers won’t improve their effectiveness since anything above the normal dose doesn’t help and can in fact be harmful, causing liver damage/failure, kidney damage, abdominal bleeding or heart problems. 4. Herbal Diuretics and Laxatives These substances are abused by teens looking to quickly shed a few pounds by losing water weight. The obvious risk from overusing these remedies is dehydration. With rapid water loss the body also faces the loss of necessary salts and minerals, impaired muscle function and abnormal blood acidity. 5. Diet Pills What starts out as a weight loss plan can wind up as a stimulant addiction. Overuse of diet pills can leave teens feeling edgy and tense, cause rapid heartbeat, tremors, insomnia and irritability, In extreme cases, stroke or death can result. Using too many diet pills can also be the start of an eating disorder. Other OTC medications which get abused are motion sickness pills like Dramamine, sexual performance medications and herbal supplements like herbal ecstasy/ephedra and salvia. Since talking with your teen about the dangers of OTC drug abuse lowers their risk of abusing by as much as 50 percent, it’s an important discussion for parents to initiate. It is also important to be aware of treatment options for OTC drug abuse should your teen find themselves addicted.

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