Abuse of Over The Counter Medications

Abuse of Over The Counter Medications

Over The Counter Drugs

Over the counter medications are drugs that can be obtained without the prescription from a doctor. These medications provide effective relief for many ailments including headaches, nausea, colds and flu, inflammations, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux and pain relief. These medications should always be taken responsibly and under the guidance from a pharmacist. Many of the drugs can have serious interactions with other drugs or alcohol.

Drugs are considered safe enough by pharmaceutical and medical authorities to be sold as an over the counter medication when the risk of harm and addiction is low. However, this is not to infer that these drugs do not pose risks to a persons’ health if they are abused. Many of these medications can cause toxic and harmful reactions when used inappropriately and they can cause dangerous complications when taken with illicit drugs and alcohol. Long term use of any drug can cause a person to have serious health problems, including liver and kidney disease.

Dangers of Medications

Abusing over the counter medications can have serious consequences for a persons’ health. Many of the drugs that are able to be purchased in this way contain small amounts of active ingredients in combination with other ingredients. One of the most popular pain relieving medications worldwide is paracetamol which is used in many medications to reduce fevers, headaches and other symptoms. However, if this drug is taken in large doses over a long period, it can cause kidney and liver damage. Abuse of laxatives as a means to reduce weight or maintain a specific weight can cause serious dietary system problems.

Cough and cold medications and some allergy medications contain effective nasal and sinus decongestants like dextromethorphan and psudoephedrine. Used correctly, these drugs can quickly and effectively alleviate head colds, sinus and allergy symptoms. However, many people abuse these types of over the counter medications as dextromethorphan and psudoephedrine are known to be stimulants. The danger in doing this, however, is most medications do not only contain those active ingredients and the toxicity from the other ingredients can prove deadly.


Psudoephedrine is one of the most abused over the counter medications. It is sold as an effective nasal and sinus decongestant that relieves the symptoms of colds, flu and allergies. However, the drug also is a stimulant and many people will take large amounts of the drug to invoke the stimulative affects. Psudoephedrine is also misused in the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine.

Used regularly and in high doses, psudoephedrine can cause many adverse side effects. These include heart palpitations, nervousness, anxiety, loss of appetite, dizziness and nausea. The inclusion of chemicals such as paracetamol can also cause people who use this medication long term to suffer from kidney or liver damage.


Dextromethorphan or DXM is an active ingredient that is found in over-the-counter cough and cold medications. This effective cough suppressant has the ability to cause a psychoactive reaction when taken in sufficient quantities However, most cough medications contain other ingredients that when taken in high doses can cause a person to become very ill and cause severe long term health problems.

Dextromethorphan is typically abused by teens to illicit the psychedelic reaction. This may be because the drug is easily purchased in cough medicines in pharmacies or supermarkets. In large doses, the drug can cause a person to experience a reaction similar to ketamine or PCP. It can also affect motor function, cause vomiting, nausea, increase in blood pressure and feelings of numbness. In some rare cases, the drug has been found to cause severe respiratory depression which can lead to brain damage.

Long term, chronic use of dextromethorphan may cause a person to become addicted, but research suggests this is quite rare. For those who do have an addiction to the drug, permanent brain damage, psychosis, cognitive impairment and depression may occur if the drug is consumed at excessive levels. Long term regular use of the drug may cause other health problems such as damage to liver and kidneys.


Over the counter stimulants such as caffeine are used to reduce fatigue or drowsiness and to increase mental alertness. Caffeine can be found in a variety of food, drinks and medications including coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, herbal remedies, supplements and caffeine pills. Many young people drink high caffeine energy drinks such as Red Bull that are able to be purchased from supermarkets, cafes and bars to increase their alertness and energy. However, these drinks can cause very serious reactions, especially when taken in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs.

Many people abuse caffeine-medications such as No-Doz which a readily available over the counter. These medications contain up to 200mg caffeine per pill which is more than a cup of regular coffee. Although caffeine has been found to provide stimulative benefits to people at low doses, when abused at high doses there are many negative side effects. These include nausea, headaches, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, tremors and sleeplessness. Severe caffeine intoxication has been found to be toxic and may cause seizures.

Long term caffeine use has been found to be addictive in some people. Because caffeine is a stimulant drug, it can cause people to experience severe and painful withdrawals when they stop using it.


Laxative drugs are amongst the most widely abused over the counter medications. Individuals who take these drugs do so to reduce weight quickly and maintain low body weight. However, chronic long term use can lead to dependency, tolerance and very serious health problems. Essential vitamins and minerals are often at very low levels in the body of someone who abuses laxatives which can cause the body to not function correctly. Additionally, dehydration which causes tremors, blurred vision, dizziness, kidney damage and other issues is almost always present. The most serious side effect of laxative abuse is the damage that occurs to the colon – the body will become dependent on the use of laxatives to produce bowel movements, infections may occur and the risk of colon cancer is increased.

Many people who take laxatives ingest them after an eating binge in the belief that the drugs will rush food and calories out of the body before they can be absorbed. However, laxatives work by stimulating the large intestine which occurs after the small intestine has already absorbed nutrients, calories and fat. The resulting bowel movement will instead contain water, minerals, electrolytes and indigestible fibers and waste.