Top 10 Most-Commonly Abused Over-The-Counter Medications - AspenRidge

Top 10 Most-Commonly Abused Over-The-Counter Medications

Are you curious if any of the OTC medications in your home have a potential for abuse? Find out which over-the-counter-drugs may jeopardize sobriety.

“While these medicines may seem innocent enough, more and more people are intentionally misusing them. Instead of seeking the drugs’ medicinal benefits, users want to experience the highs that accompany taking large doses of some OTC drugs. Unfortunately, these habits are detrimental to users’ health. In fact, they can be just as serious as illegal drug abuse.”

~Kim Etingoff, Abusing Over-The-Counter Drugs: Illicit Uses for Everyday Drugs

If you are like most people, when you think of the meaning of the term “drug abuse” you probably picture someone using illegal “street” drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin, or cocaine.

If you are thinking a little outside the box, you might expand your definition to include the misuse of prescription medications like opioid painkillers or benzodiazepines – OxyContin or Xanax, for example.

The majority of people fail to realize that there are several over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that can be diverted for recreational use as well. Creative addicts can get high for just a few dollars, without a prescription. For these reasons, OTC drugs are most often abused by teenagers. Take a look at the statistics:

  • Approximately 5 BILLION OTC drugs are purchased annually in this country.
  • This number accounts for 60% of all health-related drug purchases.
  • Teenagers are 18 times more likely to fatally overdose on OTC medications than illicit street drugs.
  • Despite this, 40% of US teens think OTC medicines are safer than illegal drugs.
  • Almost one-third of American teenagers think that it is perfectly safe to occasionally abuse OTC drugs.

Why is it so Important to know Which OTC Medications Are Most-Commonly Abused?

If you want to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of OTC misuse, you have to be able to recognize which medications provide the highest potential of abuse. This way, you can keep a watchful eye open for any signs of drug diversion.

Here are the most-abused OTC drugs:


Also called DXM, this drug is found in hundreds of cough syrup brands, including Robotussin, NyQuil, and Coricidin. When a person intentionally consumes excessive amounts of DXM, the effects can progress from euphoric intoxication, hallucinations, to out-of-body experiences. 1 out of every 10 teenagers has abused DXM.


Typically found in OTC cold medicines, this is a nasal decongestant that is abused for its stimulant properties. The most recognizable brand name is Sudafed. Certain formulations can also be used in the manufacture of methamphetamines.


Better known as Tylenol, this drug is the #1 cause of liver failure in America. 50,000 people a year will go to the ER because of acetaminophen overdose.


Recognizable brand names for this anti-inflammatory drug are Motrin and Advil. As with other OTC painkillers, the largest risk comes from people taking higher-than-recommended amounts, thinking that the medicine will work faster or better.

Acetylsalicylic Acid (Aspirin)

Often marketed as Bayer or Excedrin, this pain reliever/fever reducer can trigger aspirin poisoning when taken in too-high doses or for too long a period.


The largest risk comes from people taking higher-than-recommended amounts, thinking that the me–Best known in the US as Dramamine, a motion-sickness drug, this medicine can be taken in massive amounts to induce a hallucinatory intoxication. Although the normal dose can be as low as 50 mg, some abusers might take up to 1250 mg to reach the desired plateau.


Frequently sold under the brand name Benadryl, this antihistamine is abused at higher doses for its euphoric, sedating properties.

Diet Pills

Sold in many formulations under many brand names, diet pills can be abused recreationally when high doses are taken to generate a mild “buzz”. But the true danger lies in the physical damage – dehydration, unhealthy weight loss, increased risk of stroke, and even cardiac arrest. 1 out of every 7 teenage girls will use diet pills. By age 20, that number will rise to 1 in 5.


Laxatives aren’t usually taken for an intoxicating effect, but they can be deadly, nonetheless. They can help support the progression of an eating disorder, which at its most severe can prove fatal.


Found in such wakefulness medicines as No-Doz and in energy drinks such as 5-Hour Energy, high doses of caffeine are desirable for the energy and focus provided. However, when excessive amounts are consumed, dehydration, panic attacks, and tachycardia can result. Deaths have been reported where there was an underlying heart condition present.

“Drug abuse” doesn’t have to mean shambling, stumbling intoxication – it can mean the misuse of the product to such a degree that one’s normal life is disrupted and one’s health is negatively affected.

If you live in Colorado and you or someone in your family is abusing over-the-counter products, you can get the help and hope you need by contacting AspenRidge Recovery. Their trained clinical staff has both the experience and the expertise necessary to help you or your loved one regain control.

About the Author

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply