OTC Medicine Abuse: What it Looks Like and How you Can Prevent it


When most parents think of drug use, their first thoughts go to illegal drugs for teens like marijuana, cocaine or methamphetamine. Some parents may hide their prescriptions narcotics to prevent their troubled teens from abusing them.

The sad truth is, your teen could be abusing OTC medicines to get high. Unlike illegal drugs, which are hard to obtain, OTC medicines are available at home or at the local drug store without a prescription. Their use is most common among those between the ages of 13 and 16.

Most Common OTC Medicines Abused

One of the most common types of OTC medications used by teens to get high is Dextromethorphan. This ingredient is found in over 100 cough medicines. According to the DEA, approximately 1 in 10 teens have used cough medicine to get high. It isn’t as simple as taking a regular dose, however. Teens consume as much as 250 milliliters of cough syrup to get high- about the amount of a full coffee mug.

Other over-the-counter medicines teens take to get high are:

  • – Pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • – Diet pills
  • – Caffeine pills and energy drinks
  • – Motion sickness pills
  • – Pseudoephedrine

Signs of OTC Medicine Abuse

If your daughter is acting strange, and you think she might be taking drugs, take a look at her actions and certain situations at home to determine if she is using OTC medication. Some signs include:

  • – Empty medicine bottles in the trash
  • – Memory lapses
  • – A drop in school productivity
  • – Periods where she seems intoxicated, including impaired motor skills and slurred speech
  • – Different sleep patterns
  • – Changes in appetite
  • – OTC medicine disappearing from your medicine cabinet
  • – Frequent purchases of cough medicine when not necessary

Preventing OTC Medicine Abuse in Teens

While marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs are the most common abused drugs by Americans, OTC aren’t far behind. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that behind these three, OTC medicines are most commonly abused by teens age 14 and older.

So how do you prevent this from happening to your teen?

First, Talk to Her. She may not listen, but you have to try. The truth is, most teens don’t realize the serious physical and mental consequences of abusing non-prescription drugs. Talk to her and try to help her understand what could happen if she uses more than recommended.

Keep an Eye on Your Medicine Cabinet. Know what you have and how much you have. Check regularly. If you find something missing, don’t just let it go. Address it. As hard as it is, doing so can prevent legal complications from her use, illness and even death.

Know When You’re in Over Your Head. Sometimes, you need help, and that’s okay. Our boarding school for girls offers an environment where your daughter can discover the reasons behind her use of OTC drugs while also catching up on any education she might have missed out on due to her OTC medicine abuse.

Talk to your daughter today and help her understand the dangers of using OTC medications. Watch for warning signs that she may be abusing this type of medicine and know when you need to get help.

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