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Over-the-counter (OTC) medication abuse can be a problematic issue because it typically occurs in younger individuals under the age of 26, and OTC medications are readily available. A 2008 research article published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine concluded that:
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Dimenhydrinate is a medication marketed in the United States under the brand name Dramamine. This medication is an over-the-counter antihistamine that is often used for the relief of nausea associated with numerous causes, but most often for motion sickness. As a result, dimenhydrinate is sometimes referred to as a “motion sickness pill.”
Abuse of dimenhydrinate has been reported in research literature and most often involves oral ingestion of extremely high doses to produce euphoria, hallucinations, and sedation (anti-anxiety effects). Most of the clinical literature consists of case studies of adolescents who have abused the drug. Most of these studies occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s.
There appears to be a potential for the development of physical dependence on the drug in individuals who chronically abuse it, although there are only a few cases reported in the literature of physical dependence on the drug. The anti-anxiety effects of taking large doses of dimenhydrinate make it an attractive drug of abuse for people who are diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety disorders, trauma- and stressor-related disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and even schizophrenia.
A recent study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health highlighted an extensive literature search that looked at cases of OTC medication abuse reported from January 1, 2005 through November 5, 2015. There were no research reports of dimenhydrinate abuse found in the literature search. A study was also conducted in 74 pharmacies in France that involved questionnaires completed by 530 patients. No cases of dimenhydrinate abuse were reported in the questionnaires. Although there is certainly case study evidence to support the notion that abuse of dimenhydrinate does occur, its abuse is most likely rare.
The book Drug Facts and Comparisons reports that the symptoms associated with abuse of dimenhydrinate can be quite variable from person to person. Case studies suggest that individuals use extremely high doses of the drug to get the desired psychoactive effects.
The side effects that can occur as a result of dimenhydrinate abuse include:
Using motion sickness pills in conjunction with alcohol can lead to significantly slurred speech, muscle weakness, lack of ordination, nausea and vomiting, and cognitive problems. Combining dimenhydrinate with alcohol can lead to a seriously confused state known as delirium that consists of confusion, disorientation, hyperactivity or hypoactivity, and psychosis.Long-term abuse of dimenhydrinate is associated with:
Using or abusing any type of motion sickness pill when operating machinery or while driving can be extremely dangerous.Symptoms of an overdose on dimenhydrinate include:
Overdose on dimenhydrinate can be fatal. Treatment for overdose includes having the stomach pumped, the use of activated charcoal, IV fluids, breathing support if needed, and other medications to address the symptoms associated with the overdose.
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Because there is some evidence that use of dimenhydrinate may produce physical dependence, a person suspected of using the drug would be initially treated by a physician who specializes in addiction medicine. The physician could use medications to address any withdrawal symptoms. This approach would most likely involve the physician managing the symptoms via medications. The antipsychotic medication Clozaril (clozapine) has been reported to reduce cravings in those with serious dimenhydrinate abuse issues.
Individuals with any type of substance use disorder should become involved in a long-term program of recovery that includes the following: