Liquid-filled capsules tend to be absorbed sooner than tablet pills; therefore, they begin working faster. This is because the body needs nutrients to be suspended in some form of a liquid before it can begin breaking them down and using them. When a capsule is already in liquid form, all the body has to do is break down the coating surrounding the liquid and then it can absorb the contents. Tablet pills will have to be broken down completely first, which can take longer.

On average, a liquid filled capsule may be broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream in only a few minutes while it can take 20-30 minutes for a tablet pill to be absorbed. For this reason, liquid-filled capsules are generally considered to be faster-acting and often more powerful than tablet pills. The contents may also be more completely absorbed than those of tablet pills. Liquid-filled capsules may also wear off more quickly, however. Liquid and coated tablet pills are generally easier to swallow than uncoated tablet pills and may not cause as much as an aftertaste or bad taste in the mouth.

Both liquid-filled capsules and tablet pills may be abused and used for nonmedical, or recreational, purposes. Liquid-filled capsules are generally swallowed as they take rapid effect this way. While tablet pills may be also be swallowed, this method will take longer to get high than chewing them or crushing the tablets to be injected, snorted, or smoked.

Any use of a medication without a necessary and legitimate prescription is a form of drug abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that around 20 percent of adults in the United States have abused a prescription drug at some point in their lifetime. In fact, NIDA warns that over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drugs are the third most commonly abused substances in America; only alcohol and marijuana have higher abuse rates.

Liquid-Filled Capsules

Liquid-filled capsules generally come in two main forms: those with hard shells and soft gel capsules. The hard-shelled capsules are typically formed in two pieces that are then fastened together with the liquid and active ingredients in the middle. Soft gel capsules are coated with a gelatin that consists primarily of a type of protein (usually derived from animals) that is easily digested in the intestinal tract. These soft gels are quickly broken down in the body; thus, the liquid contents reach the bloodstream very soon after ingestion. Soft gels also allow for the particles contained in the capsules to be smaller, the journal Natural Products Insider publishes, which can also make it easier for the body to absorb the medication and use it more effectively and quickly. Soft gel capsules are easy to swallow and have virtually no taste to them as well.

Liquid capsules may have a shorter shelf-life and expire sooner than tablets, and they may also have more synthetic ingredients as the particles contained in the liquid will need to be manufactured in a lab in very small sizes in order to work as intended. Liquid capsule active ingredients may not be as long-lasting as their tablet counterparts either.

Hard-shelled capsules have many advantages too. For instance, the liquid-filled hard capsule (LFHC) technology allows for dual-action drugs, or even for two different compounds, to be contained inside and delivered with a specialized delivery system. Medications can be manufactured to have a time-release component so the drug is slowly released into the bloodstream in a particular timeframe. This can be helpful for people who need pain relief around the clock, for instance.

These medications are vacuum-sealed inside the hard shell of the capsule and thus safe from the air and sunlight. They are also leak- and tamper-proof. If these capsules are penetrated, the liquid will spill out, and it will be evident that they were tampered with. Liquid-filled capsules can still be abused, however.

Vs.

Tablet Pills

Tablets are made from granulate or powder ingredients that are tightly pressed together during manufacturing to make a hard pill. Typically, these medications will contain one or two active ingredients and then several excipients, which are additives and substances that help to hold the pill together. Tablet pills may then have more additives and non-active ingredients than liquid capsules.

Tablets can be either coated with a sugar or film coating, or uncoated. Uncoated tablets are rougher, may be more difficult to swallow, and often leave a bad taste in the mouth when swallowed. A coated tablet generally goes down easier and with less aftertaste.

The coating on tablets can do more than just mask the taste; some pills are coated with a substance that protects them from the gastric acid produced in the stomach so they will not be broken down until they reach the small intestine. The journal Informed Health Online reports that tablets are fairly easy to make and they can keep for long time.

Tablets may also be easily abused. They may be swallowed and taken in higher doses more often than prescribed or without a prescription altogether. Tablets may also be chewed or, perhaps more frequently, crushed and the resulting powder can then be snorted, smoked, or dissolved in liquid and injected. This can be very dangerous as it bypasses the intended release method of the tablet; instead of the active ingredients being absorbed through the gastric system slowly, they now are sent straight into the bloodstream. If the drug has any time-release functions, these are circumvented, increasing the risk for a potentially fatal drug overdose.

The additives and excipients may also have negative side effects when taken in this manner. Many of these non-active ingredients are not meant to enter into the bloodstream at all, and introducing them in this manner may have life-threatening consequences. Tablets may contain artificial flavorings, colors, and preservatives that individuals may react to as well.

Prescription Drug Categories

Medication Abuse and Abuse-Deterrent Tablet Forms

Over 7 percent of Americans (aged 12 and older) abused a psychotherapeutic drug in 2014, NIDA reports.

Nonmedical use of a prescription or over-the-counter drug is considered abuse and may take the following forms:

  • Using a medication between doses
  • Continuing to take a medication after a prescription runs out or beyond its medical need
  • Taking more than the recommended or prescribed dose at one time
  • Exaggerating symptoms to receive a prescription
  • “Shopping” different doctors to fill prescriptions
  • Altering the medication to take it in a manner other than intended
  • Taking a medication for its mind-altering effects

Both liquid-filled and tablet pills can be abused; however, tablets may be more easily tampered with to inject, smoke, or snort the medication than capsules are. Manufacturers of many tablets containing controlled substances have invested in abuse-deterrent methods, however, which are intended to make tablets harder to tamper with and abuse. The popular painkiller OxyContin (oxycodone), for example, is now made with a plastic polymer that is impervious to crushing, and if dissolved for injection, it turns into a non-injectable gel, Business Insider explains. While these drugs may still be abused by ingestion, it does appear that abuse of them has declined with the introduction of abuse-deterrent formulations.

Individuals may instead be turning to other more accessible drug forms, such as heroin or other medications that are not made the same way. Prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse is a national epidemic with far-reaching consequences. There is help available, however. Specialized addiction treatment programs can provide individuals and families with supportive and professional care for sustained recovery.