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Over-the-Counter Drugs: Addiction, Overdose, Detox & Treatment
Almost everyone has taken an over-the-counter (OTC) drug at some point in their lives. Whether it’s ibuprofen for a headache or cold medicine to get through a sickness, OTC drugs are ubiquitous and often considered harmless.
However, while they may be available without a prescription, that doesn’t mean they’re without risk. Did you know that many over-the-counter drugs can be addictive? Misuse of OTC drugs can lead to addiction, withdrawal symptoms, and overdose.
If you’re struggling with addiction to over-the-counter medications, or if you’re worried about someone you love who might be addicted, it’s important to understand the risks and treatment options available. Keep reading to learn more about the dangers of OTC drugs and how to stay safe.
What Are OTC Drugs?
Over-the-counter drugs are medications that can readily be bought in stores and pharmacies without the need for any prescription.
These drugs are very different from the health supplement, dietary pills, and powders because their major purpose is to treat common illnesses such as fever, headaches, colds, allergies, and others.
Before being declared an OTC drug, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates and balances the medicinal effect and side effects of the drug.
Many years ago, several substances and medications were sold without any prescription which led to serious issues of selling dangerous drugs to the community. As a result, the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act was enacted in 1938.
This law gave the United States’ FDA the authority to evaluate and regulate drugs, cosmetics, and substances sold in stores and pharmacies. Likewise, another agency called the Drug Efficacy Study Implementation was created to monitor and study the effectiveness of drugs and substances in the country.
Along with this progression, the government made a distinction between OTC and prescription drugs. Drugs that aim to cure a specific disease need to have a prescription to regulate their usage and distribution.
In line with this, certain criteria must be met before allowing the drug to be readily sold without any prescription:
- First, the drug must have been used for quite some time by the public without any serious complaints from it.
- Second, the side effects of misusing and abusing the drug must be stipulated to determine its intensity.
- Third, the drug must not form an addiction or unhealthy behavior from using it, whether for short or long-term usage.
- Lastly, the benefits derived from using the said medication must be greater compared to its minor side effects.
Before purchasing any OTC drug, you need to ensure its safety by doing some steps to know more about this drug.
Here are some steps to check the safety of any drug:
- Read the label to know its components, dosage, and the specific illness it aims to cure.
- Be aware of the contraindications when taking a certain drug. Ask a pharmacist or doctor about the various side effects of a drug before taking them.
- Never take multiple drugs at the same time without knowing the compatibility of those certain medications.
- Check the specified dosage for a certain age and weight of a person.
What Are OTC Drugs Used For and How Do They Work?
These kinds of medications work in different ways depending on what specific illness it intends to cure. Some of the common illnesses it cures include headaches, pain, fever, cough, allergies, skin rashes, and diarrhea.
For headaches and body pain, the common OTC drug used is acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Acetaminophen works on the pain receptors by inhibiting the brain to feel painful sensations. NSAIDs work on the joints where inflammation takes place.
For fever, the common medications used are Tylenol, Motrin, and Advil. These medications are applied to fever. Likewise, these drugs are taken at various intervals. Tylenol is taken every 4 to 6 hours. Ibuprofen is taken every 6 to 8 hours but not for kids below 6 months of age.
For soothing sore throat and cough, the common medications are cough syrup, lozenges, and Guaifenesin. In general, these medications provide a cooling sensation in the throat and thin out mucus build-up. Another medicine for sore throat is the spray-type drug.
Meanwhile, nasal decongestants can be orally taken or sprayed directly into one’s nostrils. The spray type works faster in thinning out the mucus layer inside the nasal cavity.
Antihistamines are used to counter or prevent allergic reactions by binding themselves to the histamine receptors. Once bound, it prevents the histamine from interacting with the receptor sites. However, the common side effects of these medications are drowsiness or sleepiness of the patient. Antihistamines are also the same medicine used for people suffering from skin rashes.
For diarrhea, the OTC drug commonly used is loperamide or drugs containing bismuth. The general effect of these drugs is to decrease bowel and intestinal movements.
What are the Short and Long-term Effects of OTC Drugs?
Despite their huge medicinal benefits, these types of drugs still induce serious side effects when misused and abused. Each type of medication abused has its specific side effects.
For instance, pain relievers when abused can cause serious damage to the liver, stomach pains, vomiting, and cold sweaty skin.
Medications for colds when abused can cause irregular heartbeat, confusion, delusions, tremors, and elevated blood pressure.
Meanwhile, medicines used as cough suppressants can cause several health consequences. Some of the common side effects include bleary vision, convulsions, euphoria, inability to focus, and cardiac arrest.
For medicines used in treating sea sickness or motion sickness, the active ingredients of these drugs when abused can cause damage to the normal functioning of the brain. Some of the more serious side effects include tremors, abnormal heart rhythm, and depressed breathing.
Are OTC Drugs Addictive?
While OTC drugs are usually less potent, they can still cause addiction. Teens typically turn to OTC drugs for recreational use because these are more readily available.
Commonly abused OTC drugs include those used for colds, coughs, allergies, and pain relievers.
For instance, DXM or dextromethorphan is an ingredient found in cough suppressants. When taken in large doses, it can cause hallucinations and even out-of-body experiences. Taking large amounts of DXM can also lead to addiction.
Pseudoephedrine is another ingredient found in cold medications. When abused, it can cause side effects such as racing heartbeat, paranoia, and anxiety.
Acetaminophen is an ingredient found in pain relievers and fever reducers. When taken in large doses, it can damage the liver or even cause death.
What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms?
If you have been taking OTC drugs for a long time, you may experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. These withdrawal symptoms can be both physical and psychological.
Physical withdrawal symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, confusion, headache, and cravings. Psychological withdrawal symptoms may include anxiety, depression, irritability, agitation, and insomnia.
What Causes OTC Drug Overdose?
OTC drug overdose typically occurs when the person takes more than the recommended dosage. In some cases, people may intentionally take large amounts of OTC drugs to get high.
Overdose can also occur when people combine OTC drugs with alcohol or other prescription medications. Taking multiple drugs at the same time can increase the risk of overdose because each drug can interact with the other.
How Do You Treat OTC Drug Overdose?
If you suspect that someone has overdosed on OTC drugs, it is important to seek medical help immediately.
To treat an overdose, the person will be given activated charcoal. This helps to absorb the toxins in the stomach and prevent them from being absorbed into the bloodstream.
In some cases, a person may also need to be given fluids or other medications to treat the side effects of the overdose.
How Do You Treat OTC Drug Addiction? Detox & Treatment
Treatment for OTC drug addiction typically starts with detoxification. This is followed by counseling and behavioral therapies.
During detox, the person will be closely monitored by medical professionals to ensure that they are safe and comfortable. After detox, the person will undergo counseling and other therapies to help them recover from their addiction.
A personalized drug treatment plan will be created for the person based on their needs. This may include inpatient or outpatient treatment, as well as medication-assisted treatment.
Final Thoughts: Addressing OTC Drug Abuse and Addiction
OTC drugs are widely available and can be easily abused. If you or someone you know is struggling with OTC drug abuse or addiction, it is important to seek professional help.
With proper treatment, it is possible to recover from an OTC drug addiction and live a substance-free life.