If it’s available over the counter, a drug can’t be too dangerous or addictive, right? Unfortunately, very very wrong. Using certain over the counter drugs in greater quantities than directed can produce desirable psychological effects, or highs, just as illegal and certain prescription drugs can, and can result in permanent physical damage or life-altering addiction in much the same way as well. So here’s a round up of some of the most commonly abused over the counter medications, as well as a little about what they do and what their dangers are. 

Cough Medicines Containing Dextromethorphan

A bottle of cold medicine poured into a spoon

Also known simply as “DXM,” dextromorphan is a psychoactive substance found in several over the counter cough medications, including NyQuil, Robitussin, and Vicks Formula 44. It can be sold in forms including syrup, capsule, spray, tablet, or lozenge.

If taken at higher doses than recommended, the drug can produce intoxicating effects that some describe as similar to the ones induced by PCP. Its symptoms rangefrom mild stimulation and euphoria at a relatively low dose to hallucinations, loss of motor coordination, and out of body sensations at higher doses.

Unfortunately, the drug can also cause side effects including nausea and vomiting, paranoia or panic attacks, extreme drowsiness, muscle twitching, loss of consciousness, and blackouts. In the worst case scenario, it can even cause acutely dangerous symptoms like breathing problems, rapid heart rate, or changes in blood pressure, so be sure to contact emergency services if you are worried about someone who has been getting high on DXM. If used for longer periods of time, DXM can also cause brain damage and resulting cognitive problems, liver damage, and psychological addiction. 

Cold Medicines Containing Pseudoephedrine (And Other Over The Counter Stimulants)

Pseudoephedrine is a stimulant drug that can be found in over the counter cold and other medications including some formulations of Advil, Aleve, Claritin, Mucinex, Sudafed, Triaminic, Tylenol, Dramamine, Antivert (Bonine), Promethegan Phenergan (promethazine), and Benadryl.

In appropriate doses, it can help relieve nasal and sinus congestion from colds and allergies, but if taken in excess, it can cause psychological effects that some users find desirable, including euphoria, restlessness, increased energy, and hallucinations. However, it can also cause dangerous and unpleasant physical symptoms, like nausea, gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, and seizures. In the long term, it can also lead to cardiovascular damage. 

Pseudoephedrine can also be used to create the illegal drug methamphetamine, which is why drugs containing it sometimes require an ID to purchase. Other over the counter medications that have a stimulant effect, such as diet pills, caffeine pills, and some herbal remedies, can also be abused and can cause similar symptoms, as well as potential liver or kidney damage. 

Motion Sickness Pills

Over the counter motion sickness drugs, such as Dramamine, can contain dimenhydrinate. Used in proper doses, this drug can treat mild nausea, but it can also be abused for its hallucinogenic and euphoric effects.  However, abuse of dimenhydrinate comes with the risk of heart attack, seizures, and coma, as well as damage to the liver, kidneys, and brain, which could result in cognitive and psychological problems. 

Imodium (Loperamide)

While Imodium abuse is rare among people who are not already addicted to opioids, some heroin addicts use excessive amounts of the drug, which contains as its active ingredient loperamide, to overwhelm the brain into producing a similar effect to the one heroin does. They may do this either to get high or simply to stave off withdrawal.

Also called “lope dope” or the “poor man’s methadone,” loperamide abuse can result in dangerous physical symptoms like fainting, stomach pain, constipation, loss of consciousness, cardiovascular toxicity, pupil dilation, drowsiness, dizziness, and can cause long term damage to the kidneys, cardiovascular system, and gastrointestinal system. Withdrawal from loperamide can also result in unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea, anxiety, and vomiting. 

Seek Help For An Over The Counter Drug Addiction

Though they are not typically used to get high, some over the counter pain killers can cause hazardous addictions if they are used inappropriately as a chronic pain treatment, and can result in similarly dangerous long term effects like organ damage. Along with being hazardous in and of themselves, the aforementioned drugs also pose the risk of becoming gateway drugs to illegal and even more dangerous substances if addicts find that they can no longer attain sufficient highs from their over the counter drug abuse. 

As with any other serious addiction, medical and psychological treatment may be necessary to help someone overcome an over the counter drug problem. If you or someone you love is currently struggling with an addiction to or withdrawal from over the counter medications or any other drug, feel free to reach out to us today at (833) 489-5577. 

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