In Clearbrook Treatment Centers Pennsylvania, Family Resources, Personal Resources

Over-the-counter medications are those that can be sold to people without a prescription. OTC medicines treat a variety of illnesses and symptoms such as pain, cough, congestion, diarrhea, cold, flu symptoms, constipation, and more. As a drug rehab in Pennsylvania, we know that some OTC medicines contain active ingredients with the potential for abuse, misuse, and overdose. We’re sharing a list of the most abused over-the-counter drugs in the market. 

What Are the Most Abused Over-the-Counter Drugs?

Are over-the-counter drugs addictive? Yes, over-the-counter drugs can be addictive. Not only are they addictive, but people who abuse these medications are more likely to turn to more potent drugs of abuse like cocaine, heroin, meth, or prescription drugs in search of a stronger high. Below is a list of over-the-counter addictive drugs that are commonly abused. 

Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is an over-the-counter cough medication. It’s sold in syrup, tablet, spray, and lozenge forms in plenty of different drug stores and supermarkets. Dextromethorphan contains sedative, dissociative, and stimulant properties that make it one of the most commonly abused over-the-counter drugs in the U.S. Its mind-altering side effects are similar to those of drugs like ketamine and PCP. DXM is often mixed with opioids and soft drinks or hard candies to create a drink called “lean” or “purple drank”. In large doses, dextromethorphan can cause side effects like nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and impaired movement. One of the side effects of too much dextromethorphan is overdose. DXM overdose can occur if someone takes more than the recommended dose or mixes it with other substances, resulting in respiratory depression and brain damage. 

Some common side effects of dextromethorphan include: 

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness or dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulties urinating
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of balance
  • Impaired motor movement
  • Excitement or anxiety 
  • Irritability 

When mixed with other drugs like codeine, the person’s chances of addiction and overdose increase significantly. At Clearbrook Treatment Centers Pennsylvania, we offer a medical detox for individuals who are struggling with addiction to medications that can help safely wean them off of these drugs. 


Pseudoephedrine, also known as Sudafed or Galpseud Linctus, is a decongestant that’s present in a lot of non-prescription medicines. These medications are mostly used to treat cold or flu symptoms. While pseudoephedrine helps with decongestants, it’s also identified as an active ingredient in the illicit drug called methamphetamine (meth or crystal meth). Before restrictions were placed on the number of pseudoephedrine people could purchase, many people would purchase large amounts of it to make methamphetamine. To curb methamphetamine abuse in the U.S., laws were placed on the purchase of pseudoephedrine products. 

Some common side effects of pseudoephedrine include: 

  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Nervousness
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Restlessness 
  • Anxiety 


Dimenhydrinate is an OTC medication used to treat Meniere’s disease, motion sickness, morning sickness, nausea and vomiting, radiation sickness, and vertigo. When taken in high doses, it can cause hallucinations, ringing in the ears, irregular heart rate, seizures, and coma. Dimenhydrinate works by blocking H1 receptors, alleviating the symptoms that occur when histamines are activated. 

Some common side effects of dimenhydrinate include: 

  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Hyperactivity or increased energy
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dry mouth, nose, and throat
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Problems with balance and coordination

When a person overdoses on dimenhydrinate, they may experience symptoms like hallucinations, delirium, loss of consciousness, and dissociation (feeling out of touch with reality).  


Diphenhydramine is also an antihistamine that works by blocking histamines, which cause allergic reactions. Like the other OTC medications mentioned in this list, diphenhydramine can lead to dependence and can cause an overdose. Diphenhydramine can be found in common OTC medicines 

Some common side effects of diphenhydramine include: 

  • Dry mouth, nose, and throat
  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Constipation and stomach pains
  • Increased congestion in the chest 
  • Headache
  • Body and muscle weakness
  • Hyperactivity and excitement 
  • Nervousness and agitation 

A diphenhydramine overdose can be life-threatening. If you realize someone is experiencing an over-the-counter drug overdose, call 9-1-1 or your local poison control (Poison Control Help 1-800-222-1222). 

Signs of Over-The-Counter Drug Abuse 

When a person is engaging in over-the-counter drug abuse, they may exhibit some psychological and behavioral signs like: 

  • Socially withdrawn
  • Isolation from others
  • Noticeable changes in mood and behavior 
  • Slurred speed
  • Dilated pupils
  • Decreased appetite
  • Inhibited performance at school or work
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain 

The long-term effects of over-the-counter drug abuse include kidney failure, liver failure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. Not only is OTC drug abuse harmful, but it also often leads to more severe forms of substance abuse, which is why it’s important to recognize these signs. 

If you or a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol, we can help. Call Clearbrook Pennsylvania now at 570-536-9621 to learn more about our alcohol and drug treatment programs.

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