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Over The Counter Drug Addiction and Treatment

Much has been made about the troubling increase in prescription drug abuse in the past decade. But prescription drugs aren’t the only types of medications that are being abused by adolescents, teens, and adults in the United States.

Free E-Book: What Happens During Drug Rehab?Over-the-counter drug abuse (also referred to as OTC drug abuse) is also a serious problem in the United States. The abuse of over-the-counter medications is a form of substance abuse that can lead to addiction, myriad health problems, and even death.

A wide variety of the over-the-counter medications are misused and abused for a variety of reasons — from misguided attempts to self-medicate to recreational purposes. For purposes of this section, OTC drug abuse is classified as any use of an over-the-counter medication that does not conform with the stated purpose of the medication.

Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse

One of the primary problems in the effort to curb the rise in over-the-counter drug abuse is the ease with which over-the-counter medications can be accessed. Contrary to prescription drug abuse, in which a user needs to acquire the drugs via fraudulent or illicit means, over-the-counter medications can be legally purchased in pharmacies, grocery stores, convenience stores, and other retail locations throughout most communities.

All over-the-counter medications have a legitimate medical purpose; however, when used improperly (taking higher-than-recommended doses, using more frequently than directed, or combining with certain other legal or illegal substances), these drugs can produce a range of potentially damaging effects.

The following are the most commonly abused over-the-counter medications:

  • Cold and cough medicines — especially over-the-counter cold and cough medicines that contain cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan (DSM)
  • Pain relievers — over-the-counter pain relievers that contain acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be toxic when taken too frequently or in larger-than-recommended doses
  • Diet pills — Laxatives and diuretics can be abused in weight-loss efforts, while other types of over-the-counter diet medications may be abused for their stimulative effects, as well as their ability to suppress appetite.

The abuse of over-the-counter medications containing dextromethorphan (DSM) increased dramatically during the first decade of the 21st century. Studies indicate that as many as 1 in 10 U.S. teens has abused an over-the-counter medication that contains DXM.

According to WebMD, cases of DXM-related cases reported to poison control centers rose tenfold in California between 1999 and 2004. Among youth ages 9 to 11, DXM-related poisoning reports were 15 times higher in 2004 than in 1999.

Over-the-Counter Drug Addiction

The likelihood that a person will become addicted as the result of over-the-counter drug abuse depends upon several factors, not least of which is the type of over-the-counter medication that is being abused.

For example, DXM is an addictive substance. Those who have been abusing over-the-counter medications that contain DXM may experience emotional or cognitive withdrawal symptoms such as depression and difficulties processing thoughts and storing or retrieving memories.

Cough suppressants that contain the narcotic pain reliever codeine are also highly addictive. As is the case with addictions to other drugs, addiction to over-the-counter medications start with abuse, continue with the development of tolerance (needing increasingly larger doses to experience the same effects) and include the presence of withdrawal symptoms in the absence of the drug.

Even in the absence of a physical or psychological addiction, the abuse of over-the-counter medications can result in significant short-term and long-term problems. Some of these problems are the result of extended abuse of the over-the-counter medications, while other health risks can occur after an individual’s first experience abusing a certain drug.

Treatment for Over-the-Counter Medication Abuse or Addiction

Treatment for otc drug abuse or addiction to over-the-counter medications depends upon several factors, including the type of over-the-counter medication or medications being abused, the age and gender of the patient, the length and severity of the patient’s drug problems, and the presence of any co-occurring disorders.

Treatment for meth abuse or addiction may be done on an outpatient, residential, or partial hospitalization basis.

Treatment for the abuse of or addiction to over-the-counter medications may include the following therapies and techniques:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • 12-Step education
  • Relapse-prevention instruction
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)