The Top 10 Over The Counter Medications Abused by Teens

Over the Counter Medication Dangers

Warning: Your medicine cabinet may be a source of your teen’s (and their friend’s) high. With no prescription necessary, many people are under the impression the over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are safer than street drugs and prescription ones, but they couldn’t be more mistaken.

Don’t be Fooled

Even when used as directed, OTC medicines can have lasting and potentially fatal side effects. According the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (NIDA), OTC medicine abuse is most common among teen ages 13 to 16, and these are the top 10 most commonly abused OTC’s today.


  1. Cough Medicine: Specifically those with dextromethorphan like Nyquil and Robitussin. High doses cause a temporary sense of euphoria, but can cause seizures, hallucinations, blurred vision, and a high heart rate.
  2. Pain Relievers: Often taken in high doses to get faster relief by both adults and teens without realizing the potential damage to the kidneys and heart, pain relievers are commonly abused without intentions of getting high.
  3. Energy Drinks/Caffeine: NoDoz, 5 Hour Energy and canned energy drinks have become the quick fix for teens looking for more get-up-and-go or a quick buzz. Risks include dehydration, stomach reflux, panic attacks and cardiac irregularities.
  4. Diuretics and Laxatives: Abused more by females looking to shed pounds than males, water pills and OTC laxatives can also cause dehydration and impede mineral absorption in the body, while also affecting muscle function and blood acidity.
  5. Diet Pills: Another one most used by females, but the trend is growing within males according to the NIDA. Although many ingredients in diet pills are banned by the FDA for certain uses, they are present in numerous herbals and diet pills.
  6. Motion Sickness Pills: Taken in large doses, motion sickness pills that contain Dramamine or Benadryl can be seriously harmful. Teens may take dozens of pill to get a euphoric high without realizing that this can result in cardiac arrest, coma, and even death.
  7. Pseudoephedrine: A nasal decongestant and stimulant that is sought out to make methamphetamine, most pseudoephedrines are locked behind the counter in stores due to FDA regulations.
  8. Sexual Enhancers: These are remarkably easy to buy on the Internet from foreign sources, and are typically used in combination with alcohol to counteract any effects on sexual performance. The greatest risk with these involves long and short-term cardiac problems.
  9. Synthetic Drugs: Legally sold in convenience stores and herbal shops and snorted or smoked, these synthetic drugs have different effects for everyone. Unregulated and inconsistent in content, strokes, muscle spasms, seizures, heart attack and death have been reported from the use of these stimulants.
  10. Other Herbals: Many offer hallucinogenic and euphoric effects and are completely legal. Lack of regulation again makes the side effects of herbals unpredictable.

Be Proactive for Your Kids

If you have children in the home, it’s best to keep these OTC medicines out of reach and keep any eye on your youngster for any signs that they are using legal herbals. Explain to your teen the dangers of these drugs and include them in your talks about illegal street drugs so they are aware of the risks.


I work in the addiction treatment field, and have 4 years experience writing primarily for the addiction treatment industry.

One thought on “The Top 10 Over The Counter Medications Abused by Teens

  • May 31, 2013 at 6:59 am

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