My Experience Misusing OTC Medicines

By Enrique Posted July 13, 2022 under Guest Authors, Personal Stories

This blog post was written by a teen who abused OTC medicines, following in the footsteps of his mom, Cecilia. Read Cecilia’s story.

I first started misusing medicine when I was 15.

I told my mom I hadn’t slept through the night in weeks. I knew she could relate because I could hear her awake late at night through the walls of our apartment. With shame in her eyes, she showed me her medicine cabinet. It was filled to the brim with over-the-counter (OTC) medications of all varieties. She allowed me to drink the end of a bottle of liquid medication that she had also been taking. I fell asleep within 10 minutes, which was awesome, considering it was previously taking me hours to fall asleep.

Over time, I began to ask my mom for more. She gave me a spiel about the dangers of becoming reliant on medicine but gave it to me anyway. It took a couple years for me to understand that medicines are safe and effective if used properly but can also be dangerous if not.

One night, a couple months after I first used the medicine, I went to my mom’s medicine cabinet again. I had stopped asking her permission at this point; we were both using medicine pretty frequently. I knew she wouldn’t mind. That time I took much more medicine than the label allowed and I slugged back to my bed and curled up in my blankets, waiting for the sleep to hit me. But it didn’t. I just laid there, staring at my popcorn ceiling. After a while, the popcorns started to look like mountain ranges. Then they started to look like rivers and then like human veins. That’s when I knew I was high. I was seeing all these different earthly elements on my ceiling; it was like a hologram was projected above me. My eyes felt so heavy, but my head felt so light. I knew I felt funny, but I didn’t realize until much later that it was the active ingredients in the medicine that made me feel this way.

The next day, I woke up, went to school, came home, ate dinner, and repeated my routine from the night before. This time, I took just the recommended amount of medication and went to bed. I waited and waited for the mountain ranges to reappear. I kept my tired eyes open, searching for the rivers. But they didn’t show up. After a couple hours of tossing and turning, I tiptoed to my mother’s medicine cabinet. This time, I took even more medicine. It tasted gross but I really wanted to see what I saw the night before. Eventually, “the woozies” hit me. Crawling into bed is what made me realize I was high again; I practically fell into my mattress. My body felt so heavy, almost as if I was under a weighted blanket. I began taking pretty much any medicine I found. I didn’t want to get into bed without taking something. I finished all my mom’s medicine bottles and all her pill packets. Since the medicine could be purchased over the counter, she sent me to the store to get more. No one gave a second look to a teenager buying cough medicine and sleeping aids. I spent all the money my mom gave me and most of the money I earned flipping burgers on these substances, until it got ugly.

After two years of daily misuse and abuse, I was practically a zombie. I couldn’t keep my eyes open at school or work. I even burned my hand on the burger grill one day because I fell asleep while working. I knew I should stop but I got into a routine I didn’t think I could get out of. I even coerced my friends into doing it with me when we’d have sleepovers. It was watching them turn into zombies themselves that really opened my eyes. I watched one friend go from a perfect-attendance, straight-A student to skipping school and sitting in the back of a car getting high on whatever he could get his hands on. I had forced him to stay awake with me so he could get high and feel the effects. I wish I never did that. It’s been six years since that happened and I’ve stopped abusing medicine now, but that friend is still chasing even stronger highs. I feel responsible for bringing him into that ugly life.

I wish someone had told me more about what safe use of medicine means, versus unsafe use. I thought I needed it – and so did my mom. We finally helped each other get clean and we now practice conscious breathing and meditation to help us fall asleep rather than relying on substances.

I want to offer another suggestion I wish someone offered me. My recommendation for anyone being peer-pressured into ingesting substances they’re uncomfortable with is to let go of the idea of “being cool.” You’re not cool if you misuse and abuse substances and you’re definitely not cool if you pressure other people into it. And if you’re a parent or guardian, be aware of the influence you have on your children, pre-teens, and teens. Kids model themselves after the adults in their lives and you should be a positive example for them.

I want to be clear that using medicine for its intended purpose and as instructed on the label is perfectly okay. Using medicine excessively and against label instructions, like I did, is when problems occur.

I offered to write this post because I want to do everything I can to prevent others from walking down the same path I did. I welcome any questions you have about medicine misuse, addiction in general, or my experiences. I promise to answer with the honesty necessary to prevent you from making the same mistakes I made.

Enrique is currently a young adult living in Maryland. Enrique started misusing dextromethorphan when he was 15 and continued until he was 19. He hopes his story will prevent others from having to learn the hard way like he did.

Take Action

Increased awareness can only mean increased prevention. Join us in the fight against teen cough medicine abuse by exploring and sharing our free resources.