The Real Threat of Cough Medicine Abuse

Medicine used when Abusing Cough Medicine

Parents of teenage children may be underestimating the potential for abusing cough medicines that are readily available at most aisles of any pharmacy or grocery store. It is estimated 1 in 11 teens abuse cough medicines or other over-the-counter drugs.

The 2017 results of the annual survey of Monitoring the Future revealed the percentage of teens using over-the-counter cough medicine to get high remained at just 3 percent, the lowest level recorded for teen cough medicine abuse since 2015. Yet, it still presents a real threat to vulnerable teens.

How can cough syrup be abused?

Dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant and a common ingredient in most cough and cold medications, has become a mainstream substance of abuse by teenagers. Cough medications present a cheap and easily accessible high, making it even more attractive for teenagers.

Abuse of cough syrup has posed a major issue for several decades. This concern, however, mostly surrounded the inclusion of alcohol and codeine in the syrups. Since then, alcohol has been removed from most over-the-counter cold and cough remedies, and products containing codeine are restricted by state law.

DXM can be found present in at least 70 over-the-counter (OTC) products. If used as per the instructions on the label, DXM products are highly effective at curbing cough and safe to use. Approved by the FDA in 1958, DXM poses no serious side effects when used in recommended doses, typically 10 mg to 20 mg doses every 4 to 6 hours, or 30 mg every 6 to 8 hours.

However, when taken in disproportionately large doses, DXM distorts awareness, alters time perception and produces hallucinations. In combination with other drugs, like acetaminophen, can cause serious repercussions such as liver damage, heart attack, stroke or death.

Cough Cold MedicineDXM, on the other hand, presents a suitable alternative to codeine and alcohol, yielding fewer side effects if any, when used as directed. Consumption of large quantities of DXM can cause vomiting.

However, today there are several other alternatives available in the form of powder, capsules, and pills available even on the internet. These can be swallowed and snorted. Information is also available on how to extract DXM from cough syrup. Illicit users may consume 240 mg to 1500 mg of DXM at a time.

Effects of DXM abuse

At high doses, DXM renders an out-of-the-body experience for the abuser. It creates a sense of drunkenness, induces hallucinations and creates a sense of separation from one’s body and identity. Effects can last up to 6 hours but vary depending upon the quantity consumed and what other combinations of drugs are involved.

Other effects include hot flashes, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, panic attacks or seizures, impaired coordination, influenced judgment, sweating, lethargy or hyperactivity, slurred speech, high blood pressure, rapid eye movement, rash, escalated heartbeat, paranoia, hallucinations and/or feelings of floating.

Regular abuse of DXM can result in a chemical psychosis, causing an individual to lose contact with reality. Such conditions may require hospitalization and medication.

What can you do?

Teens facing substance use disorderIf you are a concerned parent, it may be imperative for you to educate your children regarding the dangers of abusing over-the-counter drugs. There is often the misperception that since these drugs are legal and readily available at stores, they may be safer to abuse.

Be vigilant in monitoring the consumption of over-the-counter drugs in your home. Avoid “stocking up” on such medications by buying additional quantities and refrain from keeping these supplies in the bedroom, bathroom or school lockers belonging to your children.

Furthermore, make sure to share what you learned with other parents, teachers, and community members. The more knowledge there is available, the easier is prevention and treatment.



About the Author:

Sana Ahmed photoSana Ahmed is a journalist and social media savvy content writer with extensive research, print, and on-air interview skills. She has previously worked as staff writer for a renowned rehabilitation institute, a content writer for a marketing agency, an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster.

Sana graduated with a Bachelors in Economics and Management from the London School of Economics and began a career of research and writing right after. Her recent work has largely been focused upon mental health and addiction recovery.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on March 25, 2019
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 25, 2019
Published on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.