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Drug Rehab and Alcohol Treatment - Over-the-Counter Abuse: the Drugs, the Addiction

What is over-the-counter drug abuse?


Over-the-counter-drugs are commonly bought medications, typically cough or cold medications, that people can buy at drugs stores, without a prescription from a doctor, when they have a minor flu, cold or other illness. Over-the-counter medicines do have potent drugs, including opiates such as Codeine, Acetaminophen, and Dextromethorphan (DXM). These active drugs are at such low doses that, when used properly, they do not pose any major risk of a person becoming addicted. However, when a person takes more than the suggested amount (known as recreational use) the active ingredients of drugs such as Nyquil, Robitussin, and Vicks Formula 44, are abused, have drug-inducing effects, and can lead to physical dependence or addiction.


Although you can buy medication in a drug store or grocery store without a prescription from a doctor, they are still drugs. This means if they are used in an inappropriate way, such as overused or used for any reason other than helping the symptoms of the an illness, there is a possibility that the user can become addicted to the drug.


What over-the-counter drugs can be abused?


There are many over-the-counter drugs that can be abused. Particularly, anything that is used over and above its suggestion amount is substance abuse and may have severe and harmful side effects and/or can become addictive. Several over-the-counter drugs that are typically abused and lead to addiction are:


 - NyQuil – NyQuil contains sedatives that cause drowsiness, hypnotics, and alcohol.

 - Robitussin – The main ingredient in Robitussin is DMX, which when abused principally causes hallucinations. 


Other drugs that people, especially teenagers abuse are diet pills, sleep aids, and motion sickness medication.


What are the active ingredients in over-the-counter-drugs that are addictive?


Over-the-counter-drugs have highly addictive drugs in them but they are at such low doses that, when used properly and for appropriate symptoms, there is less of a risk that a person will develop a dependency or addiction to the drug. The addictive chemicals in the over-the-counter-drugs can be found on the box under the heading of “Active Ingredients”.


Several active ingredients commonly used in over-the-counter-drugs are: 




Acetaminophen is also called a paracetamol. This is a pain reliever (analgesic) and a fever reducer (antipyretic). When used over the suggestion dosage, acetaminophen can cause severe damage to the liver and kidneys, especially when used in conjunction with alcohol.  


Dextropmethorphan (DMX)  

Dextropmethorphan is a sedative that is used in replacement for, but has the same function as, codeine. Codeine has more sedative side effects, stronger potential for abuse, and physically addictive properties than DMX. Therefore, now, in cough suppressants like Nyquil or Robitussin, DMX is used. However, the effectiveness of dextropmethorphan relieving the symptoms it is labeled to alleviate is being questions.


Dextromethorphan is classified as a dissociative psychedelic drug, with visible effects that are similar to those of ketamine and phencyclidine (PCP), which is a side effect of using too much over-the-counter-medicine and is one of the effects that addicts get from abuse of over-the-counter drugs.



Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine, which means it is used in over-the-counter drugs to treat symptoms of allergies such as runny nose, itching, etc. One of its main effects as a drug is a hypnotic effect, which is why it is used in over-the-counter sleep aides and cold medicine that does not have any caffeine for anti-drowsiness.


Side effects of diphenhydramine are extreme drowsiness, dry mouth and throat, increased heart rate, blurred vision and may cause hallucinations. 


Beware: Over-the-Counter Drugs Are Cheap


There are a couple of main reasons why over-the-counter drugs get abused.


  1. They are very cheap compared to other illegal drugs.
  2. They are easy to access. Although most drug stores as to see identification that a person is 18 or older before they buy it, cold and cough medicine is easy to obtain.
  3. It is “legal”. Because over-the-counter drugs are legal, there is not a stigma of caution or of those who abuse over-the-counter drugs to get high. Therefore, this can lead people to believe, or subconsciously justify, their use.


Street Names for Over-the-Counter Drugs


Street names or slang for over the-counter drugs are: DXM, ROBO, skittles, triple c, tussin.


Side Effects


Side effects when doing over-the-counter drugs are:




  • Hallucinations
  • Euphoria
  • Dizzy
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Muscle spasms




  • Liver failure
  • Increased heart rate – this may lead to cardiac arrest.

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