Over The Counter Drug Abuse

over the counter drugs can be abused

What Is Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse?

We know about people abusing illegal drugs. Terms like “opioid crisis” populate the news. Many people even abuse their own prescriptions. But what about over-the-counter drug abuse? Do people become addicted to commonplace pharmacy medications?


Over-the-counter” (OTC) refers to medications you may obtain without a prescription. Think about the aisles of your local pharmacy. You do not need to go see a doctor to obtain aspirin. If you have a cough or cold, plenty of medications lie within reach.


In this blog article, Harmony Stuart digs into these topics:


  • What kinds of OTC medications can one get in a pharmacy?
  • What are some of the most commonly abused OTC drugs?
  • Why do people abuse OTC drugs?
  • Can someone get help for OTC drug abuse?
  • Where can I get more information about over-the-counter drug abuse?


What Kinds of OTC Medications Can One Get In A Pharmacy?

You need no prescription to get over-the-counter medicine. You need only money, and the means to enter a pharmacy. Additionally, many retail and grocery chains contain pharmacies. Name-brand pain relievers even line the shelves of gas stations and rest stops. One can acquire OTC medications just about anywhere.


Pharmacies contain medications that numb pain and discomfort. They sell cough and cold medicines that can make you drowsy. On the flipside, you can also buy stimulants like caffeine pills. One could get some of the same results as if one consumed illicit or prescription drugs. And without the legal worries.


What Are Some Of The Most Commonly Abused OTC Drugs?

We all want to feel good. We’d gladly trade feeling better over feeling worse. People engage in over-the-counter drug abuse to change the way they feel. And just like prescription or illicit drugs, OTC medications can provide just that. Below, find examples of some of the most commonly abused OTC drugs.


Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Dextromethorphan shows up in many cough and cold remedies. OTC medicines like Robitussin, Delsym, and Mucinex contain it. If the label says “DM,” it has dextromethorphan. You can find DXM in syrup, capsules, dissolvable strips and more. Taking too much can make one sleepy. Other side effects include hallucinations and slowed breathing.



Loperamide provides temporary relief for diarrhea. It comes in capsules, tablets, and in liquid form. You can find it as an ingredient in things like Immodium and Diamode. It slows movement in your stomach and intestines. Overdosing on loperamide can lead to nausea, a racing heartrate, and trouble breathing.



Pseudoephedrine helps with stuffy and runny noses. We refer to it as a “nasal decongestant,” and likewise a stimulant.  You may know it by the brand name Sudafed. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) forbids athletes from consuming pseudoephedrine prior to competing.


Why Do People Abuse OTC Drugs?

People use drugs to change their moods, emotions, or mental states. When a person cannot stop despite negative consequences, they may have developed substance use disorder (SUD). Not everyone who abuses OTC medications will become afflicted by SUD. But many do.


We cannot attribute abuse of OTC medications to a single cause. Every person’s life carries its own struggles. No one holds the exact same deck of cards. But, several factors in one’s life do seem to collectively influence substance abuse. These factors include:


  • Genetics, family history, and DNA
  • Early home life and upbringing
  • Mental and physical health
  • Quality of relationships
  • Prescence of trauma


Can Someone Get Help For OTC Drug Abuse?

Those struggling with addiction to OTC medications can get help. Their addiction need not be a life sentence. People incur SUD for a variety of reasons. Each of those reasons need addressing. Harmony Stuart extols sobriety. However, we do not view sobriety as an end by itself.


Sobriety clears the mind. With a clear mind, one has a better view of one’s life. The recovery process at Harmony Stuart aims to treat the whole person. We do not identify people with their addictions or choices. We view each individual person as having individual experiences.


Depending on your journey, Harmony Stuart has several recovery paths you may choose from. View our treatment programs page to learn more.


Where Can I Get More Information About Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse?

Someone abusing over-the-counter drugs likely abuses other drugs as well. Often, people in these situations have compromised their mental well-being. They may suffer a mental illness alongside their substance abuse disorder. Research literature calls this comorbidity. As mentioned earlier, Harmony Stuart’s programs treat mental wellness in addition to substance abuse.


Have you still got questions? Good! Harmony Stuart wants to hear them. We can provide all the answers you need (and some you didn’t know you needed). If you, or someone that you love, struggles with substance use disorder, speak with us now.

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