Alcohol and Substance Misuse

 Over-the-Counter Medication Misuse

Last Updated: June 15, 2020
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Over-the-counter medicine is also known as OTC or nonprescription medicine.  All these terms refer to medicine that you can buy without a prescription. They are safe and effective when you follow the directions on the label and as directed by your health care professional.  Sometimes it may be easy to forget that the OTC drugs are still drugs.   But they are, and the misuse of OTC drugs causes 178,000 hospitalizations a year.  According to the FDA, the best way to take your OTC is seriously.

OTCObey The Checklist: 

Always read and follow directions on the OTC Drug Facts label

Choose an OTC medicine that treats only the problem you have. Do not self-diagnose. See a medical professional for a full exam!

If your medicine is causing a side effect speak to your doctor or another healthcare professional.

If you have any questions or concerns about an OTC medicine ask a health care professional. Bring in the package or bottle.

Don't use expired medicines.

OTC Safety Considerations:

1.  OTC pain medications become prescription strength when taken in high enough doses.  The higher the dose, the greater the chance for a problem with the kidney or liver.

 2.  Many OTC medications should not be taken with alcohol (i.e. acetaminophen and alcohol taken simultaneously and at a large enough dose can cause liver failure.)

 3. Tell your primary care provider about all of the OTC medications that you take.  Many may interact with a prescription medication that you are taking or may in fact be the main ingredient in a prescription drug that you are taking.

 4. While herbal or nutritional supplements are not considered OTC medications, be aware that they also interact with OTC medications.  Inform your provider of any supplements that you are taking in addition to OTC medications.

 5. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drugs are the second-most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other substances. While prescription drug abuse is not a new problem, it deserves renewed attention because of its prevalence and how often it affects children. After tobacco and alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter medications are the most frequently abused substances by high-school seniors. 

Government Resources:

Federal Drug Administration: Prescription and OTC Drugs Q & A External Link

Federal Drug Administration Consumer Information: Safe Use of OTC Drug Products External Link

Dietary Supplements:  Prior to taking any dietary supplement, it is highly recommended to consult with your medical provider.  This page provides you with credible information on food and dietary supplements.