What is Pseudoephedrine?
Pseudoephedrine is a drug that has been most commonly used as an ingredient in the previously over-the-counter medication, Sudafed, which is used as a nasal decongestant. Pseudoephedrine is present in some medications without a prescription, and it is available in drugstores behind the pharmacy counter. The US Food and Drug Administration sets limits on how much pseudoephedrine consumers can purchase in a month-long period.
This drug was previously sold on the shelves at most drugstores. Consumers can still buy products with pseudoephedrine in them without a prescription; however, due to the increased use of the medication as an illicit ingredient for the manufacture of methamphetamines, pseudoephedrine is now kept behind pharmacy counters, and consumers must show a photo identification and sign a log to purchase the medication. This procedure varies state by state, but it was put into place after federal regulations were established to combat the misuse of the medication in illegal drug manufacturing.
How Is It Used?
When used as intended, this drug is considered safe and effective for combating nasal congestion, and it can relieve symptoms associated with swollen nasal passages and mucus buildups, such as pain and difficulty breathing. The medication works by shrinking the swollen tissue of the nasal passageway and allowing mucus buildup to drain out.
Side effects from typical use can include:
- Urinary retention
- Nervousness or anxiety
Signs of Overdose & Severe Side Effects
People who intentionally ingest more than the recommended amount of this drug may be at risk for overdose. Read the instructions on the box and take the recommended dosage only or consult your doctor to determine a safe dose.
Severe adverse reactions and/or overdose include:
- Dilated pupils
- Heart arrhythmias
- Skin reactions
People who have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, uncontrolled hypertension, hyperthyroidism, or who are pregnant should not use medications with pseudoephedrine.
How Is Pseudoephedrine Misused?
This drug can be misused as an ingredient for the illicit manufacture of methamphetamines. In 2005, the FDA created the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act, which banned over-the-counter sales of cold medicines that included the ingredient pseudoephedrine, requiring them to be sold behind the counter. The act also required consumers to present photo identification and for stores to keep records of purchasers for at least two years. The law limits the amount an individual can purchase in a 30-day period. These changes were made after a surge of reported methamphetamine abuse revealed that people were using easily accessible over-the-counter medications that contained this drug to manufacture methamphetamines in labs at home.
Pseudoephedrine does carry some risks of abuse on its own. Some people use the drug to promote alertness and as a stimulant. A study from Integrated Pharmacy Research and Practice notes that this drug is among other medications available without a prescription that can be used to self-medicate, leading to a risk of abuse or addiction. Another study from BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine notes that some athletes have abused this drug as a performance-enhancing drug.
Pseudoephedrine is most dangerous when it is used in the manufacture of methamphetamines. The conversion of pseudoephedrine into methamphetamine is the most common way for people to get high using this drug.
Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that can be highly addictive and easily abused. People who abuse methamphetamines take the drug by inhaling or smoking it, swallowing it in pill form, snorting crushed or powder forms of the drug, or injecting powder that has been dissolved in water.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that methamphetamine causes a quick high that fades soon after. Due to the relatively short duration of the high associated with the drug, many users take multiple doses over a long period of time, sometimes even using for days at a time. Methamphetamine increases the levels of the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain, causing a stimulation of the reward centers in the brain. This release of dopamine reinforces the drug-taking behavior, which can result in addiction and dependency.
Signs and Symptoms of Pseudoephedrine Addiction
In the past, teens were likely to abuse pseudoephedrine because it was cheap, and available over-the-counter via drugs like Sudafed. However, since access to this drug has been restricted, teens are now more likely to turn to other more easily accessible substances they can abuse to get high, such as herbal drugs, over-the-counter drugs like DXM, or prescription drugs they get from friends.
If someone is misusing this drug or is addicted to meth that is made using pseudoephedrine, he or she may display some of the following signs:
- Isolating from family and friends
- Purchasing large amounts of cold and flu medication containing pseudoephedrine
- Displaying sudden changes in appearance, hygiene, and/or social circles
- Losing interest in regular hobbies and activities
Although there is no scientific evidence that this drug produces withdrawal symptoms, some users may experience withdrawal symptoms that are similar to stimulant withdrawal, such as:
- Increased appetite
- Vivid nightmares
- Nasal congestion
- Drug cravings
Although none of these pseudoephedrine withdrawal symptoms are life-threatening, stimulant withdrawal can be very uncomfortable and the intense discomfort can make it very difficult to stay sober.
Are Regulations Helping to Curb Abuse?
According to the National Association of State Controlled Substances Authorities, nationwide meth-lab incidents decreased overall as a result of government attempts to restrict sales of precursor ingredients to methamphetamines. The study also found that regulations had some short-term effects on reducing the demand for methamphetamines.
However, controlling the supply of ingredients can only have limited effects on the overall demand for illicit substances. People with serious addiction problems may turn to other substances or other sources to obtain drugs if they lose access to their drug of choice.
Due to the risks associated with pseudoephedrine abuse, pharmaceutical companies have attempted to create alternatives for people with legitimate medical needs that were previously treated frequently with this drug. There are other nasal decongestants available on the shelves of drugstores that do not contain this drug and thus are not subject to the same restrictions as other medications with pseudoephedrine.
Sudafed PE is still available on shelves, and some drug manufacturers have voluntarily reformatted their medications to exclude the use of pseudoephedrine. Other medications are also available over the counter that does not contain stimulants such as pseudoephedrine.
A different variation of the original medication Sudafed, Sudafed PE contains phenylephrine rather than pseudoephedrine.
This study notes that since the implementation of laws restricting access to pseudoephedrine, new technology has produced forms of pseudoephedrine that limit the ability to convert pseudoephedrine to methamphetamine. The Nexafed tablets produced for the study were equally therapeutic to pseudoephedrine, thus highlighting a promising new tool to combat the illicit manufacture of methamphetamines.
While pseudoephedrine is still available for purchase as a nonprescription medication, some people may choose to use alternatives. Particularly if a person has a history of substance abuse, or has abused methamphetamine in the past, they may want to consider using alternatives to pseudoephedrine when they need relief from nasal congestion.
Treatment for Pseudoephedrine Addiction
Although there is no designated treatment process for people who are abusing cold medicines or are addicted to pseudoephedrine, there are several ways addiction treatment can help people who are ready to get sober. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):
- Individuals should receive treatment right away
- Individuals should receive treatment for both mental health issues and the substance use disorder
- Treatment professionals should use a combination of medication and evidence-based therapy
- Treatment professionals should encourage family members to be actively involved in a person’s recovery
- Treatment professionals should seek to ensure that the person remains in treatment for an adequate length of time
After completing a pseudoephedrine detox program, people who are struggling with substance abuse may greatly benefit from also completing a long-term rehab program that lasts at least 90 days. During pseudoephedrine rehab, clients will work closely with addiction treatment professionals and their peers to do the following things:
- Learn about the disease of addiction
- Work through a recovery program curriculum such as the 12-Step Program
- Gain life skills
- Learn how to cope with cravings, challenging life circumstances, triggers, and prevent relapse
- Heal both physically and emotionally.
Staff help clients achieve these objectives by providing various types of behavioral therapy, individual counseling, group counseling, educational lectures, family therapy, social activities for rehab clients, and more.
Reclaim Your Life From Pseudoephedrine Addiction
Pseudoephedrine addiction is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California Rehab Institute can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.