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10 Most Commonly Abused Non-Prescription Drugs

By Wendy Melton ; Updated August 14, 2017

Prescription drugs are not the only medications that are abused or misused. Over-the-counter medications may not be habit forming, but that doesn't decrease the amount of damage that can be caused by mixing and misusing them. OTCs are readily available and can be purchased by almost anyone, including teenagers. Few of these drugs have regulations and restrictions.

Cough Syrup

Most cough syrups contain dextromethorphan as an active ingredient. Teens abuse cough syrup by quickly consuming the cough syrup in large amounts. Sometimes the whole bottle is ingested. Kids refer to the sensation they feel as being high or feeling stoned. Cough syrups that contain acetaminophen can also cause liver damage when taken in high amounts.

Asthma Inhalers

Allergy inhalers are OTC inhalants that are used to help open airways in asthma sufferers. They contain ingredients such as albuterol that can increase the heart rate, blood pressure and can cause heart palpitations.


Laxatives are used to relieve constipation caused by a variety of issues. Misuse of laxatives come into play when they are used to promote unhealthy weight loss. People with eating disorders commonly use laxatives as a way to rid themselves of unwanted weight. This causes major problems in the digestive tract because once the body is used to relying on laxatives, it stops producing the natural enzymes used in the digestion process.


Antacids work to reduce the level of acids in the stomach. They're used to eliminate the discomfort of heartburn and bloating caused by gas. Stress and anxiety can upset the stomach and cause indigestion. Instead of allowing their body to function on its own, many people take antacids constantly. Overuse of antacids can cause the body to stop producing the enzymes needed to digest food naturally. It can also harm the stomach lining and other parts of the digestive tract.

Diet Pills

Diet pills, such as Stacker lls, are often misused by dieters to curb their appetite and give them an extra burst of energy. At one time, these capsules contained ephedrine, but now they contain other ingredients similar to and including caffeine.

Cold Medicines

Cold medicines that contain pseudo-ephedrine are popular ingredients for the makers of methanphetamines. In rarer cases, misuse of cold medicines comes in the form of uninformed consumers who chose the wrong product for the symptoms they are experiencing.


Ephedrine is known in the body building community as something that increases the body's uptake of oxygen. Uninformed athletes use ephedrine to increase performance. Misuse of ephedrine in this way can be dangerous and sometimes fatal.

Sleeping Pills

OTC medications that are marketed to assist people in falling asleep are supposed to be used occasionally. Many people use them nightly and tend to build up a resistance to them. This causes a resistance to be acquired and the need for more to be taken for them to be effective.


Acetaminophen is a pain reliever/fever reducer. Used with the right intentions, it's a safe and effective pain reliever. Taking doses that are too close together or more than the recommended amount can be harmful. Acetaminophen can erode the stomach lining and cause severe and irreversible liver damage.


Benadryl's active ingredient is an antihistamine. Antihistamines are used to relieve itching from allergies and insect bites. They also cause drowsiness. Some Bendadryl users take the medication to help with falling asleep.

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