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How Common is over-The-Counter Drug Abuse?

Over-the-counter drug abuse is common, especially among teens. Most people are familiar with the abuse of prescription drugs but are surprised to learn that the abuse of over-the-counter medications, such as cough medicines and allergy treatments, is a growing problem. While over-the-counter drugs do have important uses, such as relieving pain or temporarily clearing a stuffy nose, some people use them chiefly for the purpose of feeling good or getting a high. Even such over-the-counter medications as laxatives are abused in some cases.

Among the most commonly abused over-the-counter drugs are those that are used to treat colds, sinus issues, and flu-like symptoms. Many of these medications contain an active ingredient called dextromethorphan. This active ingredient can be critical for relieving a person’s unpleasant symptoms. When it is taken in high doses, however, it may also give the person a feeling of being high. Unfortunately, however, the people who abuse drugs that contain this ingredient often fail to realize the seriousness of their actions; this ingredient can be dangerous when taken in excessive doses.

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Over-the-counter drug abuse may also involve medications intended for relieving constipation, suppressing one's appetite, or removing excess water from the body. Instead of taking these medications as the manufacturer intended, some people use them to encourage extreme levels of weight loss. This can be dangerous, as it may leave the body without adequate nutrients for survival or even cause the patient to face life-threatening dehydration. In some cases, a person who abuses these types of drugs may even become dependent on them or cause permanent injury to his vital organs.

Some people speculate that over-the-counter drug abuse is not as worrisome as prescription drug abuse. This may be due to the fact that prescription drugs are often more potent than their over-the-counter counterparts. In truth, however, any medication has the potential to alter a person’s body chemistry, and in some cases, the changes may be serious or permanent. For example, some of the common types of over-the-counter drug abuse have the potential to lead to insomnia, blood pressure changes, breathing problems, and comas. Sometimes an overdose of these drugs may even prove fatal.

One of the reasons over-the-counter drug abuse is so common is the fact that these medications are easy to obtain. In some jurisdictions, people do have to show identification to obtain medications that contain dextromethorphan, but many household have them readily available in their medicine cabinets. Additionally, many other potentially dangerous over-the-counter drugs are not regulated at all.

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Discuss this Article

burcidi
Post 3

There are actually organizations that survey high school students every year to determine drug abuse. I keep up with this information because I'm a teacher and it's my duty to warn my students about the dangers of using over-the counter medicines and other drugs.

Anyway, a report I read recently said that high school students abuse marijuana the most. Over-the-counter drugs are the most abused after that. That's how serious this problem is, just wanted to point this information out.

ddljohn
Post 2

I had no idea that over-the-counter drugs are abused so much. Maybe they should require prescriptions for the most abused drugs.

I'm looking at the cold and flu medications and pain relievers I have at home and some of them have codeine in it. Isn't codeine addictive? I would not want to go to the doctor for a pain reliever but maybe pharmacies can require parental approval to prevent teenage drug abuse.

Any other ideas for preventing abuse without making these drugs available by prescription only?

bear78
Post 1

I have friends who take diet pills when they have to do an all-nighter to study for exams or finish a project. I guess it has caffeine and some other things that help them keep awake. Most students have energy drinks a lot too so they can stay up all night.

I can't even have energy drinks because I feel really anxious and worked up when I do. The most I can have is coffee. I think a lot of students who have a higher tolerance for caffeine are using over-the-counter stimulants.

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