Over the counter drugs can be detrimental to recovery at any stage, but especially early recovery.  The side effects can cause a “high” and can trigger relapse.  There are so many medications available without a prescription. Walking through just the cold medicine aisle of any pharmacy is an intimidating experience.  There are name brands, generics, cough, cold, sleep, headache, combo meds, and the list goes on.

How do you know what over the counter medications are safe and which ones you should avoid in early recovery?

Dextramethorphan (DXM).    This is an active ingredient in cough medicine, found in cough and cold medicines.  It effects the brain to suppress cough.  It causes euphoria, distorted perceptions, even hallucinations.   It is being used now recreationally and it is easy to obtain.  This medication will alter brain chemistry, even in small doses.  Avoid it, period!  It is unsafe for any individual in early recovery.

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl).  This is an antihistamine.  By nature, it is a very effective drug for any allergic reactions (bee stings, hives).   However, it has harmful side effects that are detrimental to recovery.  It causes profound drowsiness, dry mouth, lack of coordination and even hallucinations in larger doses.  It is found in numerous over the counter medications.  There may be medical indications to take Benadryl, but it should be used with extreme caution and with medical supervision.

Pseudoephedrine.  This is a very effective decongestant cold medication.  It is a stimulant, used to produce Methamphetamine and is highly abused.  While it is over the counter, it is controlled.  It is found behind the counter and requires a signature.  Many brand name and generic products, along with combination products contain this drug.  This drug is detrimental to anyone in early recovery.  Its stimulant effects are dangerous and it will show up positive on a urine drug screen.

Alcohol containing products.  Many over the counter products contain alcohol.  Some are obvious, but many are not.  Night time cold medicine, cough medicine, sleep aids and mouth wash commonly contain alcohol. The effects of the alcohol in combination with the medication contained in the product make this even more harmful.   Always check labels of liquid medications to identify whether alcohol is included.  Ingesting these products causes a “high” and will effect a breathalyzer and urine drug screen.  Any product containing alcohol is absolutely contraindicated in early recovery.

The key to safely taking any over the counter medication is to read the label.  Many products contain numerous medications, which can be quite confusing.  Avoiding any products with the above mentioned drug ingredients is best.  Never take any medication you do not need, regardless of the side effects.   While in treatment, ask your nurse or physician if you have questions and always report any medication you take.

New Hope Recovery Center provides workshops to our clients about medications and their potential side effects because this is a common question our clients face in treatment. It is important to talk to a medical professional when asking about drug ingredients preferably someone who is knowledgeable about addiction. If you have any questions about or need help contact us!

Written by: New Hope Recovery Center