It may seem like a harmless remedy for a sore throat, but cough syrup can be dangerous, even life-threatening when abused. For decades, teens have turned to the medicine cabinet for an easy high without knowing the consequences. Parents and guardians should understand the risks of cough syrup abuse and communicate with their teens openly about the risks.
Why Do Kids Abuse Cough Syrup?
Since the 1970s, teens have turned to cough medicine to get high. Today, research shows that roughly one in three teens knows someone who abuses or has abused prescription cough medicine. Why the craze? The key ingredient in modern over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine is dextromethorphan (DXM). DXM medicines are widely available in pharmacies and supermarket drug stores and cost just a few dollars – perfect criteria for teens to capitalize on.
In many households, getting cough syrup involves no more than sliding open the medicine cabinet. Teens under the legal driving age can easily order cough syrup online or even purchase DXM in pure powder or tablet form. When taken in large doses, cough medicine produces psychoactive symptoms that can jeopardize a child’s life.
Signs of Teen Cough Syrup Abuse
There are many telltale signs that your teen may be taking cough syrup to get high. If you notice any of the following, it may be time to talk to your teen about the consequences of substance abuse:
- Unusual credit card bills from unrecognized vendors
- Disappearing money from your wallet, purse, or storage box
- Missing or empty containers of cough syrup from the medicine cabinet
- Suspicious drug websites in the search history of your child’s computer, phone, or tablet
- Empty containers of medicine in trash bins, or in your child’s belongings
- Strange chemical odors in your child’s room on on your child’s clothes
- Unexpected packages delivered to your home
- Sudden changes in your child’s appearance or social groups
- Poor academic performance
It may be a good idea to ask a doctor, teacher, or someone your teen trusts speak with them in your stead. Aim to inform, not confront.
Consequences of Cough Syrup Abuse
When abused, cough syrup affects the brain in ways that resemble illegal drugs. High doses of DXM interfere with receptors in the brain, causing hallucinations, euphoria, and loss of motor control. As with other drugs such as cocaine and opioids, DXM triggers the release of dopamine, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. By knowing the risks and opening the lines of communication, parents and teens can work together to avoid the dangers of cough syrup addiction.
DXM is commonly sold at dance parties and raves under the guise of PCP. When taken in hot settings or during periods of intense physical activity.
DXM can induce:
- Potentially life-threatening fever
- Organ failure.
The dangers of cough syrup extend beyond just DXM. Many DXM-based cough medicines also contain antihistamines, expectorants, decongestants, analgesics, and other potentially harmful chemicals. Acetaminophen, a widely used pain reliever in DXM medicines, can cause fatal liver damage when taken in large doses. Combining large doses of DXM with decongestants can cut off oxygen to the brain, resulting in permanent damage.
Other severe consequences include sedation, blurred vision, hypertension, extreme fatigue, seizures, heart failure, and death. When DXM is taken with alcohol or other drugs, the risk of these severe symptoms increases drastically.
Understanding the Importance of Communication
It’s important for parents to talk with their children about the dangers of cough syrup and other addictive substances. If you suspect your teen has been abusing cough medicine, it’s not too late to seek help.
An individualized addiction treatment program can help your family recover as a whole and teach your teen the skills they need to stay addiction-free in the long run. Many teens have graduated from inpatient treatment to live happy, healthy lives, and so can your teen.
Contact us at 877-466-0620 to learn more about the dangers of cough syrup abuse and how we can help you overcome addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse, DrugFacts: Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse, Drugabuse.gov, May 2014, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cough-cold-medicine-abuse
- Crandell, Christy, What Does Abuse Look Like?, Stop Medicine Abuse, http://stopmedicineabuse.org/what-does-abuse-look-like
- KidsHealth, Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse, KidsHealth.org, http://kidshealth.org/parent/h1n1_center/h1n1_center_treatment/cough_cold_medicine_abuse.html#