Over-the-Counter (OTC) Anxiety Medication: An Overview

Anxiety medication effects
Anxiety medication

Not everyone has the benefit of securing healthcare for their condition. Sometimes, people’s illnesses go undiagnosed, so it’s up to them to seek self-treatment. Thankfully, this is what over-the-counter (OTC) medicine is for.

OTC drugs are medications readily available at drug stores and supermarkets without the need for a doctor’s prescription. These products provide relief for a range of minor medical conditions, from sore throat to muscle pain. However, these drugs can also treat more complex illnesses, even for neurological conditions like anxiety.


Why Does Anxiety Medication Need a Doctor’s Prescription?

Anxiety medications are controlled substances because they don’t provide a typical form of relief like certain pain medications. This is because anxiety is a complex condition that doesn’t go away after taking medicine and bed rest like a fever or flu. Without taking the right prescription and dosage, a person could suffer from side effects that can compromise a person’s health.

Additionally, having anxiety isn’t a condition that just happens; it continuously affects a person’s mental state, influencing how they think and feel. This means they can have an anxiety attack due to certain triggers, which can have long or short intervals, depending on the person.

Unlike most illnesses, this condition also cannot be simply cured by taking prescription drugs. This is why taking anxiety medication is necessary to minimize its effects, but not as a long-term cure.


What Are Known OTC Meds for Anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress factors. This is a familiar feeling to going to the first day in school or preparing to deliver a speech. Although it may seem like a natural phenomenon, other people can have extreme levels of anxiety that can compromise their thoughts and feelings. This leads to an anxiety-driven panic attack that results in restlessness, sweating, hyperventilation, and increased heart rate.

Unfortunately, there is no OTC medicine for anxiety since the proper relief for this mental state requires the right dosage of chemicals. Otherwise, a person could suffer severe consequences without the proper prescription. This is why people without a diagnosis of chronic anxiety turn to other OTC medicine to simulate the benefits of proper anxiety medicine.


What OTC Medication is Being Misused to Help with Anxiety?

OTC meds aren’t meant to be used regularly, even if they effectively treat mild forms of pain. While some drugs don’t directly manage anxiety symptoms, they can still induce a form of numbness or euphoric “high” to mitigate anxiety’s effects. Listed below are some OTC medications that people use to help with anxiety.

  1. Pseudoephedrine

Cold medicine like pseudoephedrine functions as a stimulant to relieve nasal and sinus congestion. While this may seem unrelated to anxiety, high doses of cold medicine can lead to an intense “body high.” Because of this level of numbness, a person may have a reduced feeling of anxiety’s effects.

Unfortunately, pseudoephedrine comes with potential risks. Besides inducing a high, a person may develop hallucinations. Additionally, abusing pseudoephedrine can lead to irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, dizziness, and even seizures. These side effects aren’t surprising, seeing as pseudoephedrine is one of the many OTC medicines that can be used to chemically manufacture illegal, addictive drugs like methamphetamine.

  1. Dextromethorphan

Like cold medicine, cough medicine such as dextromethorphan is among the readily accessible OTC medicine in place of proper anxiety medication. Cough medicine should only be taken at a dosage of 120 mg. However, people who want to seek relief from anxiety may take dangerous amounts of cough medicine. This leads to hallucinations and a potent high, which could have lethal side effects or withdrawal symptoms.

  1. Benadryl

Benadryl, or known as diphenhydramine, induces a sedating effect as a form of antihistamine. Beyond its practical use, research on addiction studies reveals that it’s also one of the most common OTC drugs misused by Americans as a form of sleeping aid. This is because people with anxiety tend to take Benadryl because of its sedating effects.

Instead of numbing a person to a high, people see Benadryl as a less dangerous alternative. This is because its effects are lighter than other numbing medicine like benzodiazepines. However, regular intake of diphenhydramine can lead to addiction. While there’s no chemical proof to developing substance abuse disorder, a person with pressing neurological needs may have a psychological dependency on the drug.

  1. Dimenhydrinate

Dimenhydrinate is a common medicine used for vertigo and motion sickness. However, people without these illnesses can abuse the drug to experience psychedelic encounters. High doses of dimenhydrinate lead to hallucinations since it can be a deliriant at doses between 200-1200 mg.

Unfortunately, its high can come at a steep price. A person taking dimenhydrinate can also experience seizures, nausea, irregular heartbeats, and even coma. In fatal situations, they could even die through an overdose.

Since these drugs aren’t designed to treat anxiety, there’s a high risk of endangering a person’s body when taking them regularly. Additionally, they can develop an addiction to some of the items on the list.

Anxiety medication

Could Misusing OTC Medication Lead to Substance Abuse Disorder?

Since anxiety can mentally impair a person’s decision-making, it can be dangerous to pair this state with unregulated doses of OTC medication. Since taking these drugs off label can directly impact your brain, your neurotransmitters are more likely to be confused than relieved with the signals it receives. Over time, the short-term relief from taking these drugs can have significant side effects that enhance instead of reducing anxiety.

Recreational OTC use alters the brand’s chemistry over time. Since the human body eventually develops a tolerance to any drug, a person with anxiety will need more of a specific substance to maintain the same effects of the drug they’re using.

It’s not uncommon for people with complex medical illnesses to develop an addiction to prescription or OTC medicine. This includes people suffering from anxiety and other neurological conditions. Since developing a dependence on a drug can provide immediate relief for their pains, they may think of it as an ideal solution. However, it’s important to remember that a straightforward answer is rarely the solution.

While people focus on the damage illegal narcotics like heroin and methamphetamine can bring, OTC drug addiction can also have fatal effects on the human body. The grave consequence of being too ill to take even OTC medication can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. This includes confusion, irritability, agitation, and a more severe level of anxiety. Additionally, a person can swap from one OTC drug to another to experience the same high, leading to further damage to a person’s physiology.



Developing dependence on a certain drug is nothing to be ashamed of. Even if it’s a bad habit, a person is only limited by the choices they have. For example, they could not have enough money to seek professional healthcare services. This is why many people develop substance abuse disorder by avoiding the proper remedies to their problems.

Thankfully, you can still make the right choice by deciding to abandon your unhealthy habits. Remember that this decision is something you should take gradually. Otherwise, you could suffer severe withdrawal symptoms, depending on the drugs you’re currently taking. It’s best to seek a professional opinion from rehab facilities on your long road to sobriety.

Source: https://www.addictiongroup.org/drugs/other/otc/benadryl-overdose/