8 Frequently Abused OTC Medicines

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8 frequently abused OTC medicines

8 frequently abused OTC medicines though legal are the most commonly abused aside from street drugs like marijuana.  Although over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are treatments for common colds, coughs, pain, insomnia, or depression, some can become addictive and dangerous if the prescription dose is not followed.  So in other to keep you and your family safe, read on to find 8 frequently abused OTC medicines. And what you can do about them.


These are sedatives to help with anxiety, sleep problems, and some seizures. But if you take more than prescribed, you can get addicted. In addition to barbiturate overdose potential, high doses can also affect your breathing, especially if you use them when you drink alcohol. So, if you can’t function without barbiturates, get help. Because going into withdrawal can be dangerous.


8 frequently abused OTC medicines

Benzodiazepines, often called “Benzos” are prescribed to treat anxiety and insomnia. These medicines are highly addictive and overuse can lead to dangerous conditions like low blood pressure, the liver and kidney damage. Similarly, you can accidentally overdose particularly when you combine Benzos with other depressants like opioids and alcohol. Safer examples of Benzos that can work well are Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium. At least they are safer than barbiturates. However, they also lead to physical dependence and addiction. Besides stopping these medications abruptly can be dangerous.  Therefore if you feel dependent on these medications, talk to your doctor. Remember prescription drugs shouldn’t be shared, and only meant for the person with the prescription. 

Sleep Medicines

Sleeping pills are Sedative-Hypnotics often prescribed for insomnia. Unfortunately, many people become dependent on them and develop an addiction. Sleeping medicines like Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata can help you get the sleep you need. But keep in mind that practicing sleep hygiene skills are the best way to deal with insomnia.

Codeine and Morphine

Some of the most commonly abused prescription medicines are painkillers, particularly opioids (the most addictive substance of them all). Your doctor will usually prescribe morphine for severe pain and codeine for milder pain or coughing. These painkillers dull your pain, but in large doses, they can also give you a euphoric high along with dangerous side effects. For instance, opioids can cause drowsiness and constipation, while high doses can cause dangerous breathing problems.


8 frequently abused OTC medicines

When prescribed, stimulants like amphetamines can help people with ADHD. However, some people use amphetamines to get high, to boost energy and alertness, or to keep their weight down. You can get addicted to stimulants. High doses can cause a dangerous rise in body temperature, irregular heartbeat, and even cardiac arrest. Nicknames for amphetamines include “bennies,” “black beauties,” and “speed.”

Dextromethorphan (Cough Medicines)

8 frequently abused OTC medicines

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold and cough medicines which helps stop the cough. However large doses can get you high and cause hallucinations. It’s popular among teens since cough syrup is so easy to find in medicine cabinets at home. High doses also cause vomiting, rapid heart rate, and, rarely, brain damage.

Pseudoephedrine (Cold Medicines)

8 frequently abused OTC medicines

Pseudoephedrine is a stimulant and an active ingredient in many cold medicines. It’s used to relieve nasal and sinus congestion from colds or allergies and may also relieve congestion. In rare cases, may abuse pseudoephedrine for hallucinations or an intense “body high.”

Pseudoephedrine is also used to create illicit drugs like methamphetamine. Abusing pseudoephedrine can cause irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, dizziness, and seizures.


Tramadol is a specific type of narcotic medicine called an opioid. It’s approved to treat moderate to moderately severe pain in adults. As a narcotic painkiller, Tramadol has the potential for abuse and can be dangerous in large doses. The risk of developing an addiction to Tramadol is higher when the drug is taken with other depressants like alcohol, opioids, and sleeping pills. The dangerous part is that mixing these substances can lead to respiratory depression and increase your risk of seizure or overdose.


Bottom Line

8 frequently abused OTC medicines isolated the most common medicines often abused, overdosed, and potentially dangerous to your health. Since there are hundreds of medicines in pills, gels, and tablets of shapes and colors, you may need the help of a pharmacist to identify them.

So, the bottom line is to talk with your doctor if you have been abusing OTC medicines. And if someone close to you is a drug abuser, ask directly. Continue to keep an eye out for signs of abuse, such as behavior changes or disappearing medicines. Then enlighten on the risks of medicine abuse. And don’t forget to get rid of the medicines you don’t take while keeping an eye on the ones still in use.

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Photo Credit: Creative Commons

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