Cough Medicine Abuse by Teens
Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a common
ingredient found in many cough and cold remedies. It helps stop a cough. Used as directed,
DXM products are safe and effective. But DXM has become popular among teens who want a
cheap, easy high. DXM was approved by the FDA in 1958. You can find it in at least 70
common over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines.
DXM has no serious side effects when
used in small doses. When taken in larger amounts, it can distort awareness and alter time
perception. It can also cause hallucinations.
Cold medicines with DXM also have
other ingredients that can be harmful in large amounts. These include acetaminophen or
decongestants. Combining high doses of DXM with alcohol is very unsafe, too. It can lead to
Less common is abuse of prescription
cough medicines containing codeine and promethazine. This has become glamorized by some hip
hop artists. The medicine is often mixed with soda and candy to decrease the bitter taste.
This form is often referred to as "syrup" or "sizzurp." Several hip hop artists have
reportedly been hospitalized after abusing this drink.
Abuse on the rise
Cough syrup abuse has been a
problem for decades. But the concern in the past had been about the alcohol and codeine
in cough and cold products. Because of that, the alcohol has been removed from most OTC
cough and cold remedies. State laws also restrict the sale of products that have
DXM seemed a good substitute to
codeine and alcohol. It had few, if any, side effects, when used as directed. And a
larger amount of DXM (such as drinking several bottles of cough syrup at one time) would
But today, teens have options to
drinking the syrup. DXM is available in powder, capsule, and pill forms. You can find it
online. These forms can be swallowed or snorted. Some websites even tell users how to
extract DXM from cough syrup. They also advise users how much DXM to take to get high.
Illegal users may take 240 mg to 1,500 mg of DXM at a time.
Slang terms for DXM include the
Effects of abuse
The effects of DXM have been
compared to PCP and the anesthetic ketamine. All 3 are called dissociative substances.
At high doses, they give the abuser a feeling of not being in one's own body. DXM also
causes hallucinations. The effects can last up to 6 hours. But that can vary. It depends
on how much DXM is taken and what other drugs or chemicals are taken along with it.
Other effects of DXM include:
Nausea, vomiting, and
Lack of coordination
Panic attack or seizures
Lethargy or drowsiness—or
High blood pressure
Rapid eye movement
Racing or pounding
Feeling of floating
Regular abuse of DXM at high doses
can lead to a chemical psychosis. That’s when a person loses contact with reality. He or
she may need to be hospitalized. The person may also need to take medicine.
What you can do
As a parent, you should warn your
children about the dangers of abusing over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Some teens
believe that OTC medicines are safer to abuse because they are legal.
Here are other suggestions:
Watch the OTC medicines in
your home. Keep track of how much medicine is in each bottle.
Don't buy extra OTC medicines
to stock up.
Don't allow your children to
keep OTC medicines in their bedroom, backpack, or school locker.
Watch your children's
internet use, keeping an eye out for websites visited that discuss OTC or other
Use OTC and prescription
medicines responsibly yourself.