OTC drug addiction is, surprisingly, a lesser known type of addiction. In the world of addiction, or substance use disorders (SUD), most people instinctively think about substances like heroin or cocaine. In fact, OTC drugs are almost always overlooked. But they shouldn’t be.

Addiction or substance use disorders should always be taken seriously regardless of the substances being abused. Since addiction itself is a diagnosable condition recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) and by health care providers around the world, it’s a debilitating condition that affects millions. Substance use disorders are also chronic and progressive, meaning that they will continually impact those who suffer from them and will worsen with time.

Table of Contents
Image https://pathwaytohope.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/otctoc.jpg

Proper treatment is the only way to find relief from a substance use disorder. OTC drug addiction is a serious calamity that must be addressed with OTC drug addiction treatment to get your life back under control. If you or a loved one is currently struggling with an OTC drug addiction, read on to learn more about OTC drugs and what the OTC  drug addiction treatment entails. According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, as of 2015, the average American household reportedly spent roughly $338 a year on over-the-counter medication. And, as of 2018, 81 percent of U.S. adults use OTC drugs as their first line of treatment for minor illnesses.


Many people may be unclear of what constitutes as an OTC drug and which ones can cause addiction and dependence. You may not even think twice when you reach into your medicine cabinet to grab cold or allergy medication, but with the rise in OTC drug addiction, particularly among young people, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look.

Addiction doesn’t only pertain to street drugs or illicit drugs. In fact, the most commonly abused drugs in the United States are legal medicines. OTC drugs, or over-the-counter drugs, are a classification of substances readily available to the general public, which don’t require a prescription. This means that one could simply walk into any pharmacy or corner store and pick up a bottle of an OTC medication.

These drugs are considered “safe and effective” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, when taken incorrectly, the result can be achieving a high from these “safe” substances.

Some of the more commonly seen OTC drugs that people searching for a high reach for are cough medicines, allergy medications, decongestants, antihistamines, pain relievers, dietary supplements or laxatives, and motion sickness medications. These substances each contain certain ingredients that when taken in large quantities can result in the desired effects of a high.

OTC drug addiction is far more common than one would think and is often a serious problem from those affected. Much like those who struggle with alcoholism, an OTC drug addiction is particularly troublesome due to the legality and availability of these medications. Since obtaining street drugs and other prescription drugs is often far more difficult, children and teens are especially at-risk when it comes to OTC drug addiction.

over the counter medications


Like other substances, identifying an OTC drug addiction is important. Since many people can suffer from long-term physical side effects from prolonged OTC drug abuse, not to mention suffering from an overdose, time is of the essence.

Addiction is a unique condition in the sense that it may manifest differently from person to person. This means that how addiction impacts you may be different for another individual. The following are some of the more commonly noted OTC drug addiction symptoms that should stick out as red flags.

A person with an OTC drug addiction may exhibit some or all of the following OTC drug addiction symptoms:

  • Ordering OTC drugs in bulk online
  • Large collection of OTC medications in easily accessible places
  • Medicinal scents on breath or clothing
  • Negative performance in work or school activities
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Mood swings
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Slurred speech
  • Empty medicine bottles in the trash
  • Purchasing large amounts of OTC drugs when not necessary
  • Missing OTC medications in the medicine cabinet
  • Social withdrawal
  • Secretive behavior
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or hobbies
  • Personality changes
  • Depression
  • Memory impairment
  • Money and/or valuables missing

The OTC drug addiction symptoms can be physical, behavioral, or environmental. It’s important to keep an eye out for any of the above symptoms or sudden changes in yourself or a loved one. These can be the early warning signs that may seem minor but are actually indicative of a much deeper problem.

OTC drug addiction is a life-threatening condition that should always be taken seriously. If you believe you or a loved one may be currently struggling with an OTC drug addiction, taking active steps toward getting the help you need is crucial to prevent a tragedy.

OTC drug addiction treatment is the only way to successfully overcome an OTC drug addiction safely and effectively. Read on to learn more about what goes into OTC drug addiction treatment and what you can expect when you go to drug rehab.




If you or your loved one has been officially diagnosed with an OTC drug addiction, you can rest assured that there is help available. In recent years, further research has gone into substance abuse disorder treatment and has provided new evidence-based treatments and addiction therapy to help you get back to your normal life.

What’s important in OTC drug addiction treatment is being sure to undertake the full continuum of care. Without successfully following through all of the alcohol rehab or drug rehab, addicts and alcoholics are often destined to return to active addiction.

The full continuum of care refers to the multilevel approach to addiction treatment. By starting in higher levels of care, which contain more hands-on endeavors by the medical and clinical addiction professionals and slowly descending into lower levels (which have less intense medical/clinical intervention), you can allow yourself time to slowly regain personal freedom and responsibilities. By doing so, you can avoid overwhelming yourself too early in recovery and ultimately relapse.


The first step in the full continuum of care, detox is one of the most important stages of OTC drug addiction treatment. While OTC drugs are not physically addictive, meaning the body and brain do not develop a dependence on them, they are still psychologically addictive and can cause some intense health issues.

Many people who struggle with OTC drug addiction also engage in poly-drug use or using more than one substance at a time. In these cases, many times the person is using another substance that is physically addictive and requires medical detox services to overcome the potential withdrawal symptoms associated with their poly-drug use.

Whatever the case may be, detox is important since the overall goal is to provide medical stabilization to patients. Since abusing OTC drugs can cause a slew of health problems, getting hands-on medical care is crucial when attempting to stop using.

When you arrive at detox, you’ll be seen and assessed by the medical team. Detoxes possess a full medical staff, which consists of doctors, nurses, and other medical support staff members. The attending physician will conduct an overall assessment of your OTC drug addiction and physical health.

Upon completing your assessment, an individualized medical detox plan will be formulated and implemented for you. Detox plans often include different detox medications that combat detox side effects and specific therapy methods designed to meet your personal needs.

Throughout your stay in the detox program, you’ll be consistently monitored by the medical staff. Besides monitoring and dispensing your detox medications, your vitals and health will be checked 24-7 to ensure your safety and positive response to treatment. Since detox can put stress on the body, different underlying health conditions may flare up in addition to the different withdrawal symptoms you may experience.

Although most of the emphasis is put on the medical aspect of detox, particularly with OTC drug addiction treatment, attention must be paid to the clinical aspect as well. Therapists, case managers, and support staff are all present at the detox and ready to provide clinical and therapeutic services to patients.

Since the majority of OTC drug addiction withdrawal symptoms are emotional/mental, it makes having the clinical presence all the more important. They will work with you throughout your stay and begin helping you get to the bottom of your addiction and other emotional problems.


Following a successful detox, it’s important to keep going with your OTC drug addiction treatment plan and move into the next phase of the full continuum of care: inpatient or residential treatment. This level of care focuses less on the medical aspect and more on the therapeutic aspect of treatment.

In residential treatment, you’ll live on-site at the facility. Here, you’ll undergo a full-time curriculum of different addiction therapy techniques intended to get to the root causes of your addiction, address any additional mental health issues, and provide any dual diagnosis treatment you may need.

During your stay, which can be anywhere from 30 to 90 days varying on a case-by-case basis, you’ll learn different life skills and various coping mechanisms that will help you in recovery even after treatment ends. You’ll be subjected to both group and individual therapy sessions in which you’ll be able to process your addiction and any other underlying mental health needs.

Residential treatment is an important facet of OTC drug addiction treatment since this is where the heavy therapeutic lifting takes place. While the primary focus of residential treatment is the clinical portion, you’ll still have access to medical intervention in the form of a full medical staff. You will still see a physician, have access to medication management if necessary, and have your health continually monitored in case you may be suffering from Post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS.


After inpatient comes intensive outpatient or IOP. Similar to inpatient in regards to the intensity of the therapeutic methods used during this stage, the main difference here is that therapy no longer occurs on a full-time schedule. Rather than being in groups and therapy sessions all day, you’ll only have IOP sessions a few times a week for several hours at a time.

You’ll also need to find alternative housing. During IOP, you no longer live at the facility. Many people opt for the structured sober living homes (halfway houses), or you can choose to return to your own home.

While in IOP, you’ll have far more personal freedom and responsibility to your recovery. Many people begin to start working again and take up other extracurricular activities. At this stage of OTC drug addiction treatment, you will be medically stabilized and fairly self-sufficient in sobriety. However, to ensure you stay on track and accountable to your sobriety, you’ll be subjected to random weekly drug tests to be sure you’re remaining drug and alcohol-free.

IOP is usually shorter than residential treatment, as the typical IOP program only lasts six to eight weeks. This period of time can be strenuous for newly recovering addicts and alcoholics. IOP acts as a buffer between rehab and the community at large. By attending an IOP, you help solidify your foundation in recovery and give yourself more time to acclimate to your new life as a sober, recovering individual.


Outpatient programs, or OP, follows IOP. Similar to the fact that OP occurs on a part-time basis and requires alternative housing, the main difference is the length of the program and how frequently OP sessions occur.

OP sessions typically only occur once a week for approximately an hour at a time. Clients are usually well on their way in their personal recoveries at this point and only need minor clinical intervention and support. The majority of the responsibility for maintaining sobriety will rest on you, but you still maintain some clinical and therapeutic support.

OP programs last far longer than their IOP counterparts. OP programs will typically go on for several months following the completion of IOP, giving a long-lasting source of support as you navigate your way through life as a member of recovery. OP programs are excellent methods of relapse prevention.

Even though OP occurs on a fairly minimal basis, in order to help keep you accountable, you’ll be subjected to random drug testing. Maintaining complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol are requirements of all OP programs, so keeping yourself on track in recovery is important, even after rehab ends.


Despite being seemingly safe and innocuous on the surface, OTC drugs are actually fairly dangerous. The only way to achieve the high (the end result OTC drug abusers are searching for) is by taking large quantities of the drug. This leads to a greater chance of overdose. Overdose from OTC drugs is not only possible but also incredibly likely.

Another reason why OTC drugs are so dangerous is not only their readily available and cheap nature but also their target demographics. The primary demographics struggling with OTC drug addiction are kids, teens, and older adults. These demographics are also the most susceptible people to suffer overdose due to weakened immune systems.


Are you or a loved one currently struggling with an OTC drug addiction? Let Pathway to Hope help you! Fully staffed with medical and clinical professionals, Pathway to Hope uses multiple evidence-based practices and proven addiction treatment methods in sunny South Florida to help you get back on your feet.

With our admissions team standing by 24-7, we’re here to answer your call and any questions you may have. By calling 844-577-8575 now or contacting us online, you’ll be connected to one of our professional and caring staff members who can walk you through the admissions process and help you take the first step on your journey to recovery today!

Don’t delay. Make the call that will change your life and help you achieve your goal of living happy, healthy, and sober!