Illegal drug abuse continues to be a problem in the United States. But what about over the counter drug abuse? Although many are aware of the various epidemics of illegal drug use, there are many legal substances that bring equally damaging consequences with abuse. There are numerous over the counter drugs available in countless retail locations across the country, and while they may be less dangerous than those behind the pharmacy counter, misuse can be just as risky. With ease of access and no prescription required, these substances can wind up in the wrong hands with little to no effort.
Over the counter drug abuse and the abuse of prescription medications contribute largely to the drug abuse epidemic. These medications are abused by a wide variety of people, and because they are legal, they are easier to acquire than many illicit substances. Abuse can begin for any number of reasons. Whether it is self-medication, recreational use, or simply developing tolerances and increasing dosages to achieve the same effects, using these medications in any way other than how they are intended is a sign of abuse.
Although there are numerous over the counter drugs that can be misused, the most common are cold and cough medicines, pain relievers, and diet pills. Studies indicate that about one in ten adolescents in the United States have abused an over the counter drug that contains DXM, a prominent ingredient in cough and cold medicines.
About Over the Counter Drug Abuse
Due to their availability, many believe that over the counter medications are safer than those that are prescribed. But misuse of any medication can come with risky side effects.
Cough, Cold & Flu Medications
The most commonly abused over the counter drugs are those which contain DXM, or dextromethorphan, an ingredient used in treating cough, cold, and flu symptoms. Both liquid and capsule forms of these medications can cause visual distortions, impaired sense of judgment, loss of coordination, dizziness, nausea, and hallucinations. Over a long period of misuse, DXM can become physically debilitating, especially when mixed with other drugs or alcohol. This combination can lead to an increased risk for overdose and death.
Weight Loss Medications
Weight loss medications—such as laxatives, diuretics, and diet pills—are also a key player in over the counter drug abuse. In most cases, those who misuse diet pills start by just experimenting, but it can quickly turn into addiction. One of the most dangerous components found in diet pills is ephedrine, a stimulant that can cause damaging side effects. Even those that claim to be “natural” weight loss products can contain ingredients that are equally dangerous. Diet pills can cause users to experience hair loss, insomnia, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, vomiting, blurred vision, and anxiety. Over long periods of time, the ingredients in diet pills can speed up heart rate, which is especially dangerous for those with pre-existing heart problems and high blood pressure. Even if a person is healthy, diet pills can lead to heart attack or stroke.
While misuse of these medications has been popular for some time, overdoses from anti-diarrhea medications has begun to rise. These medications can potential lead to deadly heart problems when taken in higher-than-recommended doses. The ingredients in anti-diarrhea medications can be processed to produce methamphetamine, and other reports indicate that these medications are used as substitutes to wean opioid users off other drugs.
“Legal” Drug Abuse Can Still Leads to Addiction
The likelihood of addiction developing from this type of substance abuse largely depends on what medication is being used, how much, and how frequently. In many cases, ceasing use of over the counter drugs can cause the individual to experience withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the severity of addiction, a person may experience more significant short-term and long-term problems.
When treating over the counter drug abuse or addiction, it is important to consider several factors such as the type of medication abused, the age and gender of the individual, the length and severity of abuse, as well as the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders. These factors can help determine whether a person would benefit more from outpatient or inpatient treatment. Additionally, with individual assessment, other techniques or therapies may be used. These include individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
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