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Cold Medicine Abuse and Addiction

By: Carol Morriscey

OTC cough and cold medications containing DXM pose a significant risk of abuse and addiction, given their euphoric effects, and low cost.What is Dextromethorphan?

Hundreds of Over-the-Counter (OTC) cough and cold medications are sold, in order to lessen the symptoms of the common cold. Many of these medications include a cough suppressant called dextromethorphan, or DXM. At the recommended dose, these medications are highly effective at treating the symptoms of a cold. However, when taken at higher doses the DXM present in these medication produces euphoria and dissociative effects similar to those of ketamine, resulting in the possibility of abuse and addiction.

Who Abuses Dextromethorphan?

Like other drugs, there is a wide-range of individuals who abuse DXM. However, its legal status, over-the-counter accessibility, and affordable price put teens looking for a cheap high at particular risk for abuse and addiction. Both teenagers and their parents have the false belief that because these drugs can be bought easily, and are commonly used, that they are safer and less addictive than illegal street drugs, further increasing the likelihood that teens will abuse OTC cough and cold medications.

What Are the Risks Associated with Dextromethorphan Abuse?

Despite the fact that at the recommended dose OTC cough and cold medications are extremely safe and effective, at higher doses they pose many risks. High doses of DXM produce slurred speech, loss of coordination, dissociative effects, and hallucinations. Further, it is common for cough and cold medications to contain other substances such as acetaminophen and chlorpheniramine. When used at higher than recommended doses, these substances can result in liver damage, rapid heart rate, seizures, coma, and other health problems. The presence of DXM and these other medications create an array of risks associated with cough and cold medication abuse and addiction.

The Warning Signs of Abuse and Addiction

The warning signs of a DXM addiction may be difficult to spot. OTC medications which contain DXM are cheap and easy to obtain. Further, the mere presence or use of these medications is not in itself a warning sign, as its use is prevalent for the treatment of cold symptoms. Therefore, it is important to educate both teens and their parents on the risks of DXM abuse, and the warning signs of abuse and addiction. Warning signs may include long-term use of medications, continuing after symptoms of a cold have subsided, cough and cold medications going missing from the medicine cabinet, cough and cold medication packages in a teen’s room, car, or backpack, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, or changes in friend groups and activities.

Where to Seek Help

An OTC medication may seem like a harmless vice, however there are many risks associated with the abuse of such medications. If you or someone you know is struggling with DXM abuse or addiction, treatment should be sought. After excessive or prolonged use, cessation and withdrawal may be distressing, and in some cases even dangerous. Therefore, a supervised detox is recommended for those who wish to address their DXM addiction. Sobriety Home’s goal is to ensure your comfort and sobriety, through our home-like environment and personalized treatment plans, leading you to an addiction-free life.

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