When it comes to drug abuse, we often think about street drugs. Therefore, it might come as a surprise that after marijuana, over the counter (OTC) medicines are the most commonly abused drugs.

Although their intended purpose is to help promote the health, a number of people increasingly use them for other reasons that are dangerous and addictive.

Studies show that abusing these medicines can pose serious health issues. The fact that these medicines are 100% legal makes things much worse. Furthermore, they can be sold directly to people without a prescription. This means there is no effective way to monitor who buys them and for what purpose they use it.

Before we look at some of the most commonly abused over the counter drugs, let’s have a look at how people misuse these medicines.  

Misuse of OTC Medicines

otc medication

Misusing a medicine means taking it when you don’t need it from a health standpoint, or consuming it in non-recommended doses. People misuse OTC medicines in a number of ways. Taking a medicine in a way or quantity that is not recommended on the packet is only one kind of misuse. A lot of people also take them for the effects that they cause. In fact, 90% of OTC drugs are abused for purposes such as feeling “high”.

Sometimes, people mix OTC medicines together to create new, more potent drugs that can produce a strong high. Irrespective of how an individual uses (or rather misuses) an OTC medicine, it is important to understand that this behavior can have grave consequences. This makes it important to steer clear of misusing OTC drugs and making sure your family and friends refrain from doing so as well.

It is important to realize that since medicinal drugs come in all forms, it is difficult to spot OTC drug abuse. You can use this guide to spot signs and medications indicating OTC drug abuse.


The sedative is the category of drugs that works by slowing down the brain activity. They are also known as tranquilizers or depressants. Generally, doctors suggest sedatives like barbiturates and benzodiazepines to help deal with panic and anxiety attacks. They are also prescribed to help with sleep problems and seizures.

1.    Barbiturates   

Barbiturates are closely related to pentobarbital, Phenobarbital, and secobarbital. Keep in mind that this drug is highly addictive. Consuming a higher dose than recommended can get you hooked. Plus, it has extreme withdrawal symptoms which, in some cases, can be dangerous. Moreover, mixing it with alcohol can have serious repercussions including difficulty breathing.

2.    Benzodiazepines  

You may be familiar with medicines like Xanax and Valium. Both of these OTC medicines are a form of benzodiazepine. It is often prescribed to people struggling with insomnia. Although benzodiazepine is relatively safer than most other sedatives, it is still addictive.

It is easy to become dependent on these drugs. This makes it important to realize that prescription drugs are not to be shared and they should be used only when a doctor suggests them to you. Here is a list of some examples of benzodiazepine.

  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Ativan
  • Librium
  • Halcyon
  • Serax
  • Rohypnol

Pain Killers

Pain killers are perhaps the most commonly abused OTC medicines. This is mainly because while they are intended to dull pain. If consumed in high doses, these medicinal drugs can cause a euphoric high. However, this short-lived high comes with a number of side effects that can have lifelong repercussions.

Let’s have a look at some of the most common types of painkillers.  

1.    Morphine and Codeine

Almost everyone takes these drugs at one point or another. You might even have them in your home right now! It is important to understand that there is nothing wrong with the medicine itself, instead, it is the way in which some people choose to misuse it. Some common brands of morphine include Kadian, MS Contin, and Avinza. Similarly, codeine is also present in a number of OTC medicines.

Keep in mind that your body can develop a tolerance for these drugs. This means that if you continue to use them for a long time, you will gradually have to increase the dosage. This further increases the chances of developing a dependency. Moreover, you are likely to experience serious withdrawal symptoms. This makes it very important to make sure that you use painkillers in moderation and never get hooked to them.

2.    Oxycodone

Oxycodone is a type of opioid painkiller. It is generally found in a number of drugs including the followings.

  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Percodan
  • Roxicodone

Oxycodone is fairly famous among people who misuse OTC medicines.  On the other hand, some people refer to it as “percs” for Percocet and Percodan.

While the most common way of misusing oxycodone is to ingest it in high dosage, some people take it a step further. They crush the tablets and snort the powder or even inject it directly in the bloodstream. It is important to realize that this is extremely dangerous and poses a high risk of overdose.

Sleep Medicines   

Sleep medicines or sleeping pills are tricky. Sure, they help you relax and sleep well but it is possible to become dependent on them even when you are not overdosing. Simply taking these medicines over an extended period of time can get you hooked. Once your body gets used to them, you may find it impossible to sleep without popping a pill. Some of the most common sleep medicines include the following.

  • Zolpidem  (Ambien)
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)

Generally, these medicines are suggested by doctors because they are not as addictive as some other sleeping drugs. However, doctors often recommend them for a short period of time. If you continue to take them after the prescribed time, you can easily become dependent on it!

If you think you are hooked to OTC medicines or know someone who might be abusing these drugs, it is advisable to immediately contact Arizona Addiction Recovery Center to get the proper treatment!

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Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 888.512.1705.

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