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. However, even legal and readily accessible drugs and herbs can be dangerous when used outside of those parameters. Over-the-counter drug abuse can lead to addiction, but substance abuse treatment programs can make a difference.

What Parents Need to Know About OTC Drug Abuse

The problem of over-the-counter drug abuse is most rampant among teens ages 13 to 16. For them, the medications can be 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.

The Most Commonly Abused Over-The-Counter Medications

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
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Impaired coordination
  • High blood pressure
  • Faster heart rate
  • Memory problems

If teens mix cough syrup with alcohol or other substances, severe side effects can result.

2. Energy Drinks and 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

Some of the most commonly misused over-the-counter medications are pain relievers. Medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are very helpful when taken as directed. However, 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 or 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 and 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.

Treatment for Over-The-Counter Drug Abuse

Those who struggle with OTC drug abuse can find hope and healing in a substance abuse treatment program. Participating in therapy sessions and support groups can help teens understand the reasons behind their abuse and develop new coping skills. If you suspect your teen is abusing OTC drugs, don’t wait to get help. Early intervention can make all the difference.

Contact The Right Step Today

The Right Step provides a wide variety of evidence-based programs for those struggling with addiction, dual diagnosis disorders, and eating disorders. We offer inpatient and outpatient treatment options at our locations across Texas. Our caring and compassionate team will work with you to create a treatment plan that meets your unique needs. Contact us today at 17135283709 to get started on the road to recovery.

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