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Which OTC Medications Are Addictive?

Over-the-counter medications can be purchased without a prescription from a doctor. For this reason, they are known as non-prescription medications. There is minimal risk of abuse when OTC drugs are taken according to their labels. Also, there are approximately 100 different OTC drugs that are sold without a prescription in the U.S. This includes cold tablets, cough syrups, allergy drugs, and pain medications. However, many non-suspecting over-the-counter medicines can cause individuals to feel high. Again, many of these will not lead to drug addiction. When any drug or substance is used excessively, the risk of addiction can very quickly occur. 

Why Are OTC Medications More Likely to be Abused Than Prescription Medications?

OTC medications can often be abused more often than prescription medications. The first reason is the easy access. These medications can be purchased without a prescription. Second, they can be taken without drug paraphernalia, as most of these medicines are available in tablets, syrups, or oral preparations; all someone needs to do is swallow them or crush and snort. Lastly, abusers may just combine multiple OTC meds together to create a drug cocktail. Or take more of a readily available OTC drug concoction such as cold tablets that contain pseudoephedrine and allergy medication. Both these ingredients are well known for causing euphoria.

What Does The National Institute of Drug Abuse Say About OTC Medications and Abuse?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains what an OTC drug is and why people abuse them. They also name which OTC medications are most addictive.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are those that can be sold directly to people without a prescription. Some OTC medicines have active ingredients with the potential for misuse at higher-than-recommended dosages. Misuse of an OTC medicine means the person is taking medicine in a way or dose other than directed on the package, taking medicine for the effect it causes- for example, to get high, or mixing OTC medicines together to create new products. Those that have the potential for misuse include Dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant found in many OTC cold medicines, and Loperamide, an anti-diarrheal (NIDA)

Which OTC Medications are Addictive?

It is vital to understand that although many OTC medications will cause a person to feel high, they may not get addicted. However, the drugs that change how someone feels can cause addiction if the person is susceptible to addiction. The following list is OTC medications that alter how a person feels and that can cause addiction.

  • Dextromethorphan (cough syrup, cough suppressants)
  • Pseudoephedrine in Cold Medications ( are no longer OTC, but available without a prescription but a person must show identification)
  • Cetirizine and Chlorpheniramine are Allergy Medications and cause sleepiness and euphoria
  • Caffeine Pills or Drinks are a stimulant and addictive
  • Dimenhydrinate as Motion Sickness Pills are often abused
  • Propylhexedrine ingredients in Nasal inhalers are abused to get high
  • Loperamide is an anti-diarrheal that causes opioid-like effects in large amounts

Identifying OTC Drug Abuse

The brain and behavior are always affected by drug misuse. Therefore, a sure sign of OTC abuse is a sudden change in the behavior, such as increased nervousness or aggression, or the opposite without any apparent cause. Another way to identify OTC drug use is a lack of communication from the individual and seeming detached from their surroundings. Isolation is a warning sign that your loved one could be addicted to drugs. Whether or not the person is engaging in self-care, people who abuse drugs are less concerned about their health and hygiene. Further, if their health is diminishing, it can be because of the OTC medications. The most solid indication of OTC abuse is the disappearance of OTC medications from the medicine cabinet or home.  

Help Is Here at Evoke Wellness at Cohasset For OTC Abuse and Addiction

The resources for getting and staying sober are available at Evoke Wellness in Massachusetts. We have expert inpatient and outpatient rehab programs for those needing help for their addiction or abuse of OTC drugs. Enrolling in one of our evidence-based rehab programs will help you or a loved one get free of the need to use drugs to feel better. So call today to start. We are here to help you!