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Over-the-Counter Drug Addiction Facts and Statistics

by | Last updated Apr 26, 2021 at 10:27AM | Published on Oct 15, 2014 | Drug Addiction

Over-the-Counter Drug Addiction Facts and Statistics

Because most over-the-counter medications are widely available to the public and have safety labels, most people believe they’re safe. However, children and teenagers are among the majority of people struggling with over-the-counter drug addiction. Unfortunately, many OTC medications contain active ingredients that come with a high potential for abuse. Understanding over-the-counter drug addiction facts and statistics gives us a complete understanding of this dangerous trend.

What are Over-the-Counter Drugs?

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are drugs most people can buy without a prescription. OTC medicines help with pain relief, coughs and colds, allergies, diarrhea, heartburn, acne, constipation, and more. In the United States, there are over 80 different types of over-the-counter medications. These often feature one active ingredient and are available in generic or brand-name presentations.

Types of OTC Drugs 

Although countless OTC medications are safe and pose no risk of dependency or addiction, three specific ones are commonly misused by teenagers. These substances produce euphoric or “high” effects similar to potent illicit drugs like meth and cocaine. The most commonly abused over-the-counter medications include:

Over-the-Counter Drug Addiction

5 Interesting Facts About OTC Drugs You Should Know

If you walk into your local supermarket or pharmacy, you’ll find hundreds of different OTC medications that you can grab and purchase. Some of these items don’t even require an ID for the purchase. So, any twelve years old can walk into any store and buy these potentially dangerous medications.

1. Many OTC Drugs Have Addictive Ingredients

While these drugs are safe when used as directed, they contain active ingredients that can be addictive. For example, most cough medicines contain dextromethorphan. When kids take more than the suggested amount, they can experience a “high” that could lead to intoxication. High doses of any medication, even natural remedies, can be toxic.

Dimenhydrinate, the active ingredient for motion sickness drugs, also causes a “high” when people exceed the dose amount. Finally, pseudoephedrine available in cough medications causes intense euphoric feelings, and people even use it to make methamphetamines.

2. OTC Dose Makes All the Difference

As you can see, the problem with these medications isn’t their ingredients but the dose. Most teenagers looking to get high from OTC medications now have to exceed the daily dosage to experience the effects they want. For example, the maximum recommended daily dose of DXM is 120 mg, but kids sometimes can take up to 1500 mg in a single dose, experiencing out-of-body sensations.

3. Children and Teenagers Are at Higher Risk

Because these medications are easily accessible, children and teenagers looking to experiment are at higher risk. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that children starting at the age of 12 are among the first ones trying OTC drugs to get high. Nearly 3.1 million people aged 12 and older have misused OTC medications in their lifetime. Plus, close to 6% of high school seniors report abusing cough medicines containing dextromethorphan.

4. OTC Withdrawal Symptoms Can Happen

Even recreational OTC drug addiction can lead to withdrawal symptoms. When people misuse and abuse these substances in the mid to long term, it can rewire the brain’s chemistry. Eventually, people develop a physical dependence, which then leads to withdrawal symptoms when they quit. Common OTC withdrawal symptoms include confusion, irritability and agitation, anxiety, and even mood changes.

5. OTC Addiction Is Difficult to Spot

Unlike other drug addictions, most parents don’t notice OTC addiction signs. First of all, parents don’t doubt when they see a packet of acetaminophen or cough medicine in their kid’s rooms. After all, these are supposed to be harmless. But, abusing OTC drugs can be hazardous, especially for small children.

However, if parents start noticing their kids faking sickness symptoms to get more and more of these medications, that’s a warning sign. Changes in moods and a strong dependency to take these medications no matter what are also red flags.

Over-the-Counter Drug Addiction Statistics

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicines Addiction Statistics

While OTC medications don’t have the same monitoring as prescription drugs, some agencies keep OTC drug addiction statistics. Thanks to these numbers, we can learn how extensive and severe the problem is in reality. When you read the drug facts of these medications, you can see how they have side effects, which can be mildly stimulating and lead to high blood pressure or other consequences.

  • You can find DXM in more than 125 over-the-counter products.
  • Close to 750,000 retail outlets sell OTC products.
  • Around 80,000 people visit the emergency room each year due to acetaminophen overdose.
  • In 2005, the FDA issued a warning about dextromethorphan abuse after a series of incidents caused by the drug.
  • Approximately 3.1 million young people aged 12 to 25 have used a nonprescription cough and cold medication to get high.
  • About 4 percent of 12th graders have abused some form of cough medicine.
  • One in eight teenagers, or approximately 12%, admit to abusing OTC cough syrup.

Over-the-Counter Drug Addiction Treatment Options

Addiction to OTC drugs is possible, but those ready to break the addiction cycle can find hope in treatment. However, once people become addicts, cutting these drugs, cold-turkey can be life-threatening, so most people start with a partial hospitalization program (PHP) in conjunction with detox programs to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms.

It’s paramount to speak with an addiction treatment specialist to determine the best way to start seeking help for addiction. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, our drug addiction recovery programs include:

  • Medical Detox: In this clinically supervised detox process at treatment centers, we ensure the patient’s safety and make the withdrawal phase as comfortable as possible by minimizing withdrawal symptoms and using medication-assisted treatment services to guarantee a complete detoxification process.
  • Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Since many long-term addicts often struggle with mental health disorders, a dual diagnosis program can get them the help needed to treat both conditions simultaneously.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Most of the time, these sorts of addictions develop due to compulsive behaviors that must be treated at the source. CBT is one of the most popular evidence-based treatments to treat addiction.
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment Programs: When patients are looking to seek addiction treatment while maintaining daily obligations like work, school, or caregiving, IOPs are a more flexible option that still gives people access to the help they need.
  • Long-term Recovery Programs: With long-term recovery assistance, patients can have the ongoing support they need to maintain long-lasting sobriety. Recovery programs are crucial to relapse prevention. These also provide a safe space to attend support groups and share stories about their struggles.

Get Help Today

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, seek help immediately. Call Lighthouse Recovery Institute today and speak with our addiction center specialists to learn more about our comprehensive and personalized addiction treatment programs.

Our philosophy revolves around treating each patient in a case-by-case scenario because we know no two addiction stories are alike. Start walking towards your recovery, and we’ll be here supporting you and your family every step of the way. Please don’t wait another day to start addiction treatment–your life depends on it.

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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