How Addictive Is Cough Medicine?

How Addictive Is Cough Medicine?

When you think of addictive or abused drugs, you probably think of street drugs like cocaine or heroin. But the most commonly used drugs in America may already be in your house, innocently disguised as cough medicine.

In the past, cough medicine abuse mainly involved prescription cough medicines in the same drug family as heroin. However, it now includes over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines with dextromethorphan (DXM). In large doses, DXM can cause hallucinations, making it a common drug of abuse for teens looking for a cheap and manageable high. Lets know how Addictive Is Cough Medicine.

Codeine in cough medicines

Codeine is a narcotic derived from opium similar to heroin, and these drugs are called opiates. Codeine leads to a feeling of well-being, known as euphoria. It can lead to physical and psychological addiction. People who become addicted to these drugs show withdrawal symptoms similar to heroin users if they stop.

Codeine acts as a powerful cough suppressant. Cough syrups having codeine are available without a prescription after registering with the pharmacy in most states, but some states require a prescription. These drugs commonly used brand names such as Guiatussin with Codeine, Tussi-Organidin-S NR, Robitussin AC, and Mytussin AC.

Codeine is the most commonly ingested opiate globally, partly because of its use in cough syrups. One out of every six teenagers uses these as abuse drugs — usually before the age of 15. In large doses, codeine can cause itching, nausea, headache, low blood pressure, and trouble breathing.

Hydrocodone in cough medicines

Hydrocodone is another powerful opiate often used as cough medicine. As per the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), it is the most commonly prescribed opiate in the United States and the second most common drug of abuse. Hydrocodone is available on the street and Internet sites illegally. Cough medicines with hydrocodone come under the brand name, including Tussionex, Donatussin MAX, Entuss, Hycotuss, and Kwelcof.

According to a 2012 report, close to 4% of 12th graders in the United States abuse hydrocodone. If a person becomes addicted to hydrocodone, the body builds up a tolerance to the drug quickly and requires more to get high. In 2011, there were more than 82,000 emergency room visits due to hydrocodone overdose.

Dextromethorphan in Cough Medicines

Dextromethorphan is available over the counter and is not a narcotic. It came to market in 1958 as an OTC alternative to codeine. Now in nearly 100 cough and cold preparations, DXM is an ingredient that includes popular cough syrups, such as Triaminic and Robitussin. However, it is not physically addictive like opiates but is dangerous when abused. 1 out of every 20 teens admits to using DXM cough medicine to get high.

Taking too much acetaminophen along with DXM is a hidden danger of abusing DXM. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol along with many OTC cough and cold medicines. Acetaminophen can cause irreversible liver damage if taken in large dosages.

At a usual dose, DXM is a safe cough suppressant. At 25 to 50 times the usual amount, DXM can cause hallucinations and an altered state of consciousness similar to the effects of phencyclidine (PCP). It’s hard to take that much cough syrup without gagging or vomiting. But pure forms of DXM powder are now available on the street with names like red devils, Dextro, Robo, and skittles. Some websites tell kids how to extract pure DXM from OTC drugs.

DXM side effects in large doses may include nausea, vomiting, seizures, high blood pressure, panic attacks, and impaired judgment and cast last for upto 6 hours. Regular abuse of DXM can lead to psychosis (break from reality) that may require hospitalization.

Effects and Dangers of Cough Syrup Abuse

Here are some of the effects of cough syrup abuse:

  • Sedation
  • Euphoria
  • Loss of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Cravings and addiction
  • Dissociation
  • Memory loss

Keeping cough medicine abuse and addiction at bay

When your doctor prescribes you a cough medicine, take it only as directed. When buying an OTC cough and cold preparation, use it only as instructed on the label. Check with your child’s doctor before giving cough medicine to a young child.

Here are some of the other tips to keep you safe and sound:

  • Look out for warning signs of cough medicine abuse, such as empty cough medicine boxes, missing medications from medicine cabinets, behavior changes, and unexplained requests for money.
  • Keep a check on the websites your children are visiting.
  • Note down all cough medicines at home, and don’t stock up.
  • Never allow kids to keep medications in their room, backpack, or school locker.
  • Make your kids aware of the potential dangers of cough medicines. Many kids and adults assume that it must be safe because it is a cough medicine or OTC medicine.
  • Try setting a good example by using all medications, including cough medicines, responsibly.

Key Points

  • Cough syrup abuse is more common among teens.
  • Dextromethorphan (DXM) is one of the active ingredients in cough syrup that causes intoxication. OTC cough medicines with dextromethorphan are not narcotics, but they can cause hallucinations and are familiar sources of OTC drug abuse in teens.
  • DXM effects are dose-dependent, lower recreational doses cause intoxication similar to that of alcohol, and higher doses cause hallucinations and dissociative effects.
  • DXM can cause addiction, dependency, and shows withdrawal symptoms.
  • Other OTC drugs, including Dramamine and loperamide, are frequently misused.
  • Prescription cough medicines with codeine and hydrocodone are narcotics. They can cause physical and psychological addiction.
  • Keep track of cough medicines in your home, watch for signs of drug abuse, and monitor your computer for the use of websites that sell or promote cough medicine abuse.
  • DXM overdose is a medical emergency that can be lethal. Call 911 immediately if you suspect an overdose.

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