4 Over-The-Counter Meds You Shouldn’t Keep In Your Medicine Cabinet

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications provide a convenient way to treat many common ailments, such as headaches, muscle pain, and allergies. These meds can be purchased without a prescription because they are generally considered safe for most people.

However, some OTC medications have the potential to be dangerously misused or abused. So it may not be a great idea to keep them around, especially if you have young children, teens, or others in your home who may be tempted to use them for non-medical purposes.

Dextromethorphan Cough Medicines

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is the main ingredient in many popular cough suppressant medicines. When used as directed, DXM is relatively safe. However, when taken in higher doses, DXM may cause dangerous changes in blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, difficulty breathing, loss of muscle control, and seizures.

Despite these serious risks, DXM is sometimes abused by people chasing the neurobehavioral effects it can produce, such as hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, mania, and dissociative states.

Diphenhydramine Antihistamines

Antihistamines can be very helpful for someone dealing with seasonal allergies or a cold, but they also have the potential to be misused or abused. Diphenhydramine, an active ingredient in many OTC antihistamines, can cause drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, and altered mental status when taken at high doses. These high doses have also been linked to dependence and may cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms if a person becomes addicted.

Pseudoephedrine Cold Medicines

Pseudoephedrine is an ingredient in many popular decongestant medications. In addition to its ability to relieve nasal congestion, pseudoephedrine can also cause a range of other side effects when taken at unsafe doses, such as a diminished sense of fatigue, disordered thinking, hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and other disorganized behaviors.

Pseudoephedrine is no longer an OTC medication in many places because of its relationship to the illegal drug methamphetamine.


Laxatives are useful for constipated people, but some attempt to use them for weight loss. Laxative abuse can lead to severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, irregular heartbeat, and organ damage. And despite what some people may believe, laxatives will not help you lose weight, as they act on the large intestine—after the calories and nutrients have already been absorbed.

If you or someone you know is misusing or abusing any medications, it’s essential to seek professional help as soon as possible. There are many effective treatment options available that can help you get on the path to recovery.