How Do Drugs Work?

You’re here for a reason. No, I don’t mean in the existential, “Why are we all here?” sense. I mean, you’ve traveled all the way from Log-in to Google to Healthversed (that’s if you haven’t made us your homepage yet) to learn about your body and what goes in to it. Slow clap. Welcome, and thanks again for stopping by!

Today, we’re going to look at a handful of every-day, over the counter drugs and do our best to explain the “how” in the most entertaining and informative way possible. From Wikipedia:

“A drug is an substance other than food, that when inhaled, injected, smoked, consumer, absorbed via a patch on the skin or dissolved under the tongue causes a physiological change in the body.”

Time to channel my inner science guy.


Acetaminophen, or Tylenol, falls under the Non-Opioid Analgesic category, just like Aspirin, Advil, and Celebrex. I know, enough with the big words. So… how does it work? Sigh… we don’t really know. And no, I don’t mean Healthversed doesn’t know. I mean science… science doesn’t really know yet. You’ll find that’s the case with a surprising number of common drugs.

What we do know is that Tylenol prevents your body’s Prostaglandins from producing a natural enzyme that produces pain, fever and inflammation. We’re still working on the rest of it… but hey, as long as it works, right?

Niloo /
Niloo /

Cough Medicine

So, you’ve called in sick to work and your deep breaths sound a lot like your iPhone’s vibrate setting. Time for a little over the counter cough medicine.

Let me preface this by saying that a lot of people don’t believe that cough medicine works at all. But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that it does. There are a few varieties, so I’m just going to give you the Cliff Notes on each one:

  • Antitussives are used to suppress your cough reflex, and treat dry coughs.
  • Expectorants are increase the amount of phlegm made by the lungs to flush them of the trouble stuff.
  • Antihistamines reduce the production of (spoiler alert) histamines, and are typically used to treat allergies.
  • And finally, Decongestants narrow the blood vessels in your lungs to help reduce congestion.
antoniodiaz /
antoniodiaz /

Pepto Bismol

Nausea, heartburn, indigestion… Bismuth, the active ingredient in Pepto, is a naturally occurring mineral and has been used since the early 19th century to treat a wide variety of stomach ailments. It’s considered an antacid/absorbent. That’s the easy part.

Pepto Bismol coats your stomach and intestines to protect them from stomach acid. The why, again, is still relatively unknown. What we do know is that in small doses, and for most people, Pepto Bismol really eases discomfort.

Jiri Vaclavek /
Jiri Vaclavek /
1 of 3