Over-the-Counter Drugs

OTC Drug Addiction

OTC addiction, or over the counter drugs, is a serious epidemic among adolescents, teens, and young adults. While these are the primary demographic affected by this condition, OTC addiction is still a widespread issue.

Having an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol can cause a slew of problems in multiple areas of one’s life. Typically, addiction affects your physical health, emotional/mental well-being, and your financial security.

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Addiction, or substance use disorder, is considered a disease by medical and mental health professionals. The diagnosis is given when certain criteria are met by the patient. Some of the criteria set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) for a substance use disorder are:

  • Taking the drug in larger amounts and for longer than intended
  • Wanting to cut down or quit but finding yourself unable to do so
  • Spending copious amounts of time to obtain the substance
  • Using the drug after continual physical/psychological difficulties
  • Finding yourself incapable of performing obligations
  • Continuing to use the substance despite consistent issues
  • Cessation of important activities
  • The habitual drug use in physically dangerous situations
  • Experiencing cravings for the drug
  • Building a physical tolerance to the drug
  • Undergoing withdrawal symptoms when drug use is stopped

Of the above criteria, a minimum of at least two must present in yourself or a loved one in order to receive your official diagnosis. There are also varying levels of severity associated with your diagnosis. If you meet two to three of the criteria, you qualify for a mild substance use disorder. Should you have four to five of the above criteria, you will receive a moderate substance use disorder diagnosis. If you have six or seven (or more) of the listed criteria, you will be diagnosed with a severe substance use disorder.

31 percent of teens agree that using OTC and Rx medications is okay “once in a while”.

OTC addiction can cause serious long-term physical damage. OTC drugs are notoriously easy to come by and may even seem harmless. However, despite their low propensity for abuse, many people still find themselves addicted to these over the counter medications. Read on to learn more about OTC drugs, OTC addiction, OTC addiction symptoms, and OTC addiction treatment so you or your loved one can get the help you so desperately need.

What Are OTC Drugs?

OTC drugs are types of medications that are readily available to the public without a prescription. There are many different types of these legal medications located at your local pharmacy. Each OTC drug has its own unique purpose and is available without a prescription due to its classification as “safe” and its “low propensity for abuse/addiction” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Despite the FDA’s seal of approval, OTC addiction is still an issue plaguing thousands in the United States alone. These drugs can have serious negative health side effects when taken incorrectly, and can even result in death.

As stated above, OTC drugs are a large category. Some individuals may be unclear what OTC drugs even are. 

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These are any medications that are sold directly to consumers without a prescription from a healthcare professional that act as nonprescription alternatives to other medications.

You probably have many of these OTC drugs in your very own medicine cabinet at home.

But, with so many people struggling with OTC addiction, it’s important to be wary of these seemingly harmless medications.

These medications may have any number of different uses.

Addicts around the world who are looking for a high may turn to these legal medicines.

Examples of over the counter drugs are cough medicines, decongestants, allergy medications, pain relievers, antihistamines, dietary supplements or laxatives, and even motion sickness medications to achieve intoxication. Each of these substances contains a unique set of ingredients that when taken incorrectly and in large doses may result in intoxication.

Also, OTC addiction is far more commonplace than you may initially think. OTC addiction is particularly troubling due to the ease with which one may acquire these medications. Since OTC drugs are legal, like alcohol, this can make it easily accessible to everyone, including adolescents and teens.  

56 percent of teens feel that getting OTC drugs is easier than getting illegal drugs.

What Are the Signs of OTC Addiction?

Since OTC addiction is such a serious issue, identifying OTC addiction symptoms is crucial. These medications are commonly present in nearly every household, so their presence alone is not enough to send up red-flags.

There are numerous different ways to tell if you or a loved one is struggling with OTC addiction. These OTC addiction symptoms may be subtle, so paying close attention to any stark changes in behavior and other environmental signs is key to catching OTC addiction.

Abusing OTC medications is particularly dangerous since typically large doses must be consumed to achieve the high you or your loved one is looking for. Taking larger doses of any medication is always dangerous, as an overdose is likely to occur. Addiction is a unique condition as well in the sense that the mannerisms and symptoms associated with a substance use disorder may vary from person to person.

There are certain commonly seen OTC addiction symptoms. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Empty medicine bottles in the trash
  • Ordering OTC drugs in bulk online
  • Purchasing large amounts of OTC drugs
  • Large collection of OTC medications
  • Missing OTC medications in the medicine cabinet
  • Medicinal scents on breath or clothing
  • Social withdrawal
  • Negative performance in work or school activities
  • Secretive behavior
  • Change in appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Mood swings
  • Personality changes
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Depression
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Memory impairment
  • Slurred speech
  • Money and/or valuables missing

Examples of over the counter drugs are cough medicines, decongestants, allergy medications, pain relievers, antihistamines, dietary supplements or laxatives, and even motion sickness medications to achieve intoxication. Each of these substances contains a unique set of ingredients that when taken incorrectly and in large doses may result in intoxication. OTC addiction symptoms may include a few, many, or all of these symptoms. The important thing to remember is that the primary indicator of an OTC addiction is a severe change in behavior. Even just minute changes can be the early warning signs of an OTC addiction that can worsen over time.

If you believe that you or a loved one may be currently struggling with an OTC addiction, seeking proper medical and clinical assistance is a must. OTC addiction treatment can get you or your loved one the help that you need to overcome your substance use disorder and prevent you from returning to active addiction in the future. Read on to learn more about OTC addiction treatment and what you should look for in your drug rehab.

What Are The Most Commonly Abused OTC Drugs?


Codeine cough syrup is one of the most widely abused OTC drugs. It has been the subject of abuse because it is the central ingredient in a drug cocktail known as sizzurp, purple drank, or lean.

This concoction, popularized in southern hip-hop circles in the 1990s, is made with codeine, promethazine (also found in cough medicine), soda, and Jolly Rancher candy. The sweet concoction, which could include OTC or prescription cough syrup, induces feelings of euphoria, lethargy, drowsiness, and disassociation. Sizzurp has been praised in song, and it even served as the inspiration behind an entire hip-hop subgenre.

But it can inflict a litany of dangers. Codeine can slow down breathing, and promethazine can arrest the central nervous system. In high enough doses, sizzurp can cause respiratory depression and death.

Nevertheless, prescription strength and some OTC medicines contain codeine, which is a naturally occurring alkaloid in poppy plants that has been used as a cough suppressant for generations. Codeine is similar to morphine but much less potent. Yet, OTC cough medicines contain so little codeine that regular use will not yield a discernible effect. In high doses, however, it can yield noticeable effects. This is why it’s so widely abused.


Dextromethorphan, or DXM, is also the subject of recreational use, especially in high doses.

DXM can produce dissociative effects like ketamine and PCP. A user who takes DXM in high doses can experience hallucinations, extreme panic, paranoia, aggression, anxiety, or feelings of physical distortion. DXM in high doses can cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms. When it is abused with alcoholormarijuana, the side effects of dizziness, sedation, confusion nausea, and vomiting can intensify.

When consumed orally, only 11 percent of the original concentration makes it into the bloodstream. This is why some users inject the drug directly into their veins. However, intravenous use has been linked to a condition known as Olney’s lesions, which is a form of brain damage.


When consumed in large amounts, loperamide, which is sold under the brand name Imodium, can produce mild euphoria. The feel-good sensation derives from the small amount of codeine contained in the diarrhea medication. Taking loperamide in large amounts can cause constipation, ulcers, and cardiotoxicity, which means it can damage the heart and cause serious cardiac symptoms. People who abuse Imodium have been observed to experience heart arrhythmias that can lead to cardiac arrest.

What Is Involved in OTC Addiction Treatment?

If you believe you or a loved one is currently battling an OTC addiction, then it’s time to seek professional help. Due to the precarious nature of an OTC addiction, getting help sooner than later is important. Finding the right OTC addiction treatment program for you is vital.

There are many different options when it comes to drug rehab or alcohol rehab. Each program will have its own unique features and amenities that are targeted to meet your individual needs. Some examples of different programs that you may consider are men’s drug rehab, women’s drug rehab, Christian rehab, dual diagnosis treatment, alumni programs, 12-step programs, long-term drug rehab, inpatient drug rehab, or outpatient drug rehab.

The full continuum of care is a crucial aspect of OTC addiction treatment. This is the process by which you follow each level of care and descend the full continuum of care into lower levels of care. Each level will have different amounts of hands-on clinical and medical intervention.

Higher levels of care will provide more medical and clinical intervention, while lower levels of care will have less. Completing the full continuum of care gives you a greater foundation in recovery and will increase the likelihood of you maintaining long-term sobriety.

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The first level of care in OTC addiction treatment is getting medical detox, which is the process by which you are medically stabilized after coming off of drugs and alcohol. While many OTC drugs are not physically addictive, meaning there are no physical withdrawal symptoms, many people still require detox.

OTC addiction can cause a psychological dependence on these substances. This means that while you may not physically require them in order to function, emotionally and mentally you have become dependant on them. Many people will face emotional withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideations when attempting to quit OTC drugs.

Detox may also be useful if you are engaging in polydrug use, or using multiple substances at one time. The other drugs and/or alcohol you are abusing may require a medical detox, so this remains an important step.

At detox, you’ll be given an evaluation by the medical team made up of doctors, nurses, and medical support staff. They will assess your addiction and your overall physical health. From there, a unique and individual detox plan will be created and implemented into your treatment throughout detox. This plan may include different detox medications. These medications will combat any detox side effects you may encounter throughout this level of care.

You will also be seen by the clinical team. The clinical team will typically have a full staff of therapists, case managers, and clinical support staff. They will engage in the beginning stages of OTC addiction treatment therapy and provide constant emotional/mental support during detox should you face any emotional withdrawal symptoms.


Next in the full continuum of care is intensive outpatient or IOP. This is different from inpatient, as you will no longer live at the facility. You will need to find your own housing, which can be returning home or heading off to a halfway house/sober living facility. These facilities offer structured living that requires you to follow certain rules regarding curfew and maintaining abstinence. Many addicts and alcoholics in early recovery find halfway houses very helpful in teaching them how to live life as a sober person.

IOP itself occurs on a part-time basis. This means that rather than engaging in therapy sessions full time, IOP sessions only occur a few times a week for several hours at a time. You are given far more freedom and subsequent responsibility to your recovery.

IOP acts as a way to still maintain intensive clinical care while slowly acclimating to life outside of inpatient rehab. IOP typically only lasts a few weeks, making it a fairly short portion of OTC addiction treatment. During this time, however, you will have access to continued therapy while beginning to have personal freedom and the ability to start working. You’re subjected to drug tests to keep you on track.


When you are medically stabilized by detox, it’s important to continue on with the full continuum of care. Since addiction affects individuals physically and emotionally, completing detox addresses only the physical aspect of the disease. Without treating the emotional portion, you may find yourself returning to active addiction.

Inpatient or residential treatment is the aspect of treatment that focuses most on the emotional aspect. Getting to the underlying causes of addiction and other mental health disorder/issues you may be facing is the primary goal of inpatient/residential treatment.

Here, you’ll live at the facility. You will have various addiction therapy methods used on a full-time basis to get to the root issues behind your substance use disorder. You will learn different coping mechanisms, life skills, and relapse prevention techniques to help you solidify your recovery and prepare you for life beyond rehab as a sober individual.

You will have different options when choosing an inpatient treatment facility. Each will have their own unique amenities and features that will meet your needs. It can be long-term or short-term and may offer more traditional approaches to addiction treatment or holistic methods.

This is an important step of treatment that should not be skipped. The majority of the therapeutic work is done during this stage of OTC addiction treatment, and it offers you time away from outside distractions and stressors. At an inpatient/residential program, you may more completely focus on your therapy sessions and overcome your addiction in a safe, recovery-oriented environment.


Following IOP is routine outpatient. These therapy sessions still occur on a part-time schedule, however, drop down to one session per week. Outpatient lasts longer than IOP to provide lingering clinical support for the first few months of your recovery, which is the most challenging time for an addict or alcoholic in recovery.

These therapy sessions are meant to provide any additional support you may still need during this final transition, and to keep you accountable for your recovery. Random drug tests are still required during your participation in an outpatient program, so maintaining abstinence from drugs and alcohol is still required.

How Dangerous are OTC Drugs? / OTC Overdose

OTC drugs are dangerous substances for multiple reasons like the high propensity for relapse during OTC addiction. Since you are taking large doses of these substances to achieve the high you’re looking for, you are at an increased risk of suffering from an overdose, which may or may not be fatal.

Typically, OTC addiction plagues a younger demographic. Adolescents and teens are the largest age group seen suffering from OTC addiction. This can not only cause serious health issues for these young individuals but struggling with an OTC addiction can also turn into using other dangerous substances in the future.

OTC drugs are also notoriously accessible. Since they are legal to buy and usually cheap, people can easily purchase large quantities of these drugs. They are also often already present in the household, making it a mere quick trip to the medicine cabinet in order to access them. OTC addiction may also be harder to detect than other addictions due to the fact they are normally expected to be seen in the household.

OTC Drug Statistics

  • 60 million people turn to OTC medicines for symptomatic relief, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.
  • An estimated 1 in 11 teens has abused cough medicine or other OTC products.
  • In 2017, OTC retail drug sales were estimated at $34.3 billion.
  • Nearly seven out of 10 parents had given their child an over-the-counter medicine to relieve a sudden medical symptom.

Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

If you are struggling with an addiction to over-the-counter drugs, we can help. One of our knowledgeable, addiction treatment specialists can get you the assistance you need.

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Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

Are you or a loved one currently struggling with an OTC addiction? Let us at Ocean Breeze Recovery help you get back on your feet! Our experts can use proven therapy methods and their years of experience to help you overcome your addiction!

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OTC addiction is a serious condition that can result in lifelong injury. Don’t delay, call (844)-554-9279 or contact us online and get connected to the help you need at deserve! Hope is only a phone call away!