Common Drugs That are Unexpectedly Abused

Health Professional

Everyone knows that morphine, oxycodone and Valium can be abused, but not everyone expects common drugs like cough medicine and allergy medicine, which are found in most medicine cabinets, can be abused too.  Every friend and family member needs to be aware of the potential dangers of seemingly harmless remedies that can hurl a loved one down into an abyss of chemical addiction.

Cough Medicines:  Most cough medicines contain dextromethrophan (DM) because it helps to suppress cough.  Unfortunately, this easily accessed drug is also abused, most commonly by young children ages 9-17.  Various doses of DM produce various levels of euphoria.  Parents beware: Coughing is easily faked by children seeking the cough medicine that unaware parents obtain. (1)

_Anti-Histamines: _  The most common anti-histamine available is Benadryl (diphenhydramine).  Although meant to suppress allergy symptoms, this drug can also produce nervous system stimulation or depression.  Because of its ability to act as an “upper” or a “downer”, Benadryl is sought by addicts when nothing else is available and the need to feel different is strong. (2)

Muscle Relaxants:  One of the most commonly prescribed “muscle relaxants” is Soma (carisoprodol).  However, this drug is really just a tranquilizer in disguise.  Carisoprodol is converted in the body into meprobamate, also known as Milltown.  Milltown was a highly abused prescription drug, particularly by women, in the 1900’s.  Essentially, Soma is really just Milltown in a clever disguise. (3)

_Sleep Aids: _  Many over-the counter sleep aides contain diphendydramine, which as stated above has the potential to be abused.  Furthermore, many prescribed sleep aids can be misused too.  Ambien (zolpidem) and Lunesta (eszopiclone) are frequently abused.  This means that these medications are not only used to help people sleep, but can also be abused throughout the day like a “downer”.

_Anti-emetics: _  Some drugs that help to prevent nausea and vomiting also make people feel different too.  Anytime a drug makes someone feel different, the abuse potential is there.  Drugs like Phenergan (promethazine) are abused like sedatives. (4)

_Laxatives: _  Drugs that help relieve constipation are abused by those that are obsessed about being skinny.  The weight loss produced by laxative is in the form of water weight.  This type of weight loss produces dehydration.  Laxative abuse is associated with eating disorders and is dangerous.

And that is the sad fact about seemingly safe drugs; even they can be abused in a potentially dangerous and life-threatening manner.  Parents, family members, friends and loved ones need to be aware of the potential dangers lurking in the medicine cabinet.  Because these common drugs are more accessible, the abuse of them is on the rise.  Unfortunately, this society has become comfortably numb to all types of chemical and drug use.  In turn, the incidence of drug abuse is exponentially increasing.  Education and awareness are the keys to solving the drug abuse epidemic.  So please share this information with a friend or two.  Sharing might be saving a life.

Thank you,

Christina Lasich, MD

Medical Director

Community Recovery Resources


1)  Bryner, J; et al; Dextromethrophan Abuse in Adolescence; Archives of Pediatric Adolescence Medicine; Dec. 2006 160(12) 1217-1222

2)  Thomas, A; et al; Diphenhydramine Abuse and Detoxification: a case report; Journal of Psychopharmacology; Jan. 2009 23(1):101-5

3)  Baily, D; et al; Carisoprodol: An Unrecognized Drug of Abuse; American Journal of Clinical Pathology; 2002; 117:396-400

  1. Shapiro, B; et al; Promethazine Misuse among Methadone Maintenance Patients and Community Based Injection Drug Users; Journal of Addiction Medicine; 2013 Mar/April 7(2): 96-101