Cough Syrup Addiction and Abuse

Teenagers and young adults are known for being popular abusers of cough medicine. Data from Stop Medicine Abuse shows that one in ten children above the age of 12 has abused cough syrup. Over the counter medicine is cheap, easy to obtain and provides the ‘high’ effect they chase. Dextromethorphan (DXM) is one of the most commonly abused over the counter medicines. It is a cough suppressant that comes in the form of gel capsules, cough syrups and tablets. They also contain decongestants and antihistamines.

When taken as directed, DXM is not habit-forming and is, in fact, safe for ingestion, but consuming the medicine in higher doses or for recreational use has negative effects.

After a while, you’ll start craving more of the drug and feel the urge to increase your regular dose to feel the original effect of cough syrups. If you mix DXM with alcohol and other substances – or snort or inject the syrup directly into your bloodstream -this accelerates the addiction timeline and increases side effects of the drug in your system.

What Is Cough Syrup? An Overview

DXM is a primary cough suppressant. You don’t need a prescription to obtain the drug and it generally poses just a few common risks when taken in the recommended doses. It was developed to replace the opioid drug codeine, but it has since become an abused medication.

Cough syrup is a dissociative anaesthetic that produces psychedelic effects when taken in high doses. At lower doses, it reduces coughing, sedates and helps you relax. DXM is currently found in over 120 over-the-counter medicines.

Types of Cough Syrup Abuse

Cough suppressants or antitussives: these medications suppress coughing itself. Examples include dextromethorphan, codeine and pholcodine.

Expectorants: they make coughing easier and enhance production of phlegm and mucus. Examples include guaifenesin and acetylcysteine.

Decongestants to relieve nasal congestion.

Codeine, DXM and Robitussin: Differences and similarities

All of them are cough medications. Codeine is the most addictive, as it contains opioids, while Robitussin is a brand name for DXM, meaning they perform the same function. The similarity is that they are all cough medicines, but codeine is different, as it is a prescription medication, while Robitussin and DXM are over the counter drugs.

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Cough Syrup: Abuse and Addiction Causes

The major reason why you abuse DXM is that it’s easy to access. You don’t need a prescription and can easily walk into a pharmacy to purchase a bottle. It’s also a cheap ‘high’ to maintain. Other causes include self-medicating for mental health problems and growing up in an environment where drug use was common.

Addiction Risk Factors

Codeine was once viewed as the gold standard, though many countries have now regulated its use because of the risk of abuse and addiction. DXM is not found to be effective in children but is able to reduce coughing in adults.

Risk factors include the possibility of addiction when abused because the active ingredient can cause conditions similar to being drunk: hallucinations, lack of balance or problems with the vestibular apparatus, and a sense of being separated from one’s body and identity.

Why Is Cough Syrup Addictive?

Cough medicine might seem attractive to you as a recreation drug, because of its addictive property. This chemical suppresses signals in the brain that trigger cough reflexes, whilst providing some therapeutic effects of hallucinations and euphoria. DMX is a psychoactive drug that makes you ‘high’ when taken in large quantities. You might soak it in marijuana to increase the potency or mix it with soda to make it easier to swallow.

Addictive properties of cough syrup

The reactions to DXM are similar to the ones we express when we consume PCP, a very heavy drug. They include a euphoric effect as low doses, hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, and full-on psychosis reported at higher doses.

These hallucinations have no similarity to the ones felt when smoking marijuana – they are heavier and more realistic; even psychotic.

Methods of usage

When prescribed, the drug is taken orally. Abusers may also inject it.

Cough Syrup Abuse & Addiction Signs, Effects & Symptoms:

It is important, if you want to help a loved one or are concerned about your own use of DXM, to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cough syrup addiction.

Cough syrup abuse

Abusing cough syrup means taking the tablets out of prescription or without having any cough issues in the first place. If you continue using more than the recommended time listed in the leaflet, you are probably abusing it. If you take it otherwise than the method given in the leaflet or by your GP, you are most probably abusing it.

Signs and symptoms of cough syrup abuse

  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Laboured breathing
  • Itchiness
  • Muscle twitches
  • Rashes
  • Loss of memory
  • Extreme numbness
  • Stomach spasms
  • Slurred speech

The dangers of cough syrup abuse

In large quantities, DXM causes hallucinations, drunkenness and a feeling of disassociation from your body. Prescription cough syrups like codeine contain pseudoephedrine, which is damaging on the body and very addictive. After a while, you may develop tolerance, dependence and addiction to cough syrup, which affects your school/work performance.

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Physical, Emotional and Social Effects of Cough Syrup Abuse

A major effect of abusing cough medicine is the risk of experiencing seizures, coma and respiratory depression as a result of an overdose. Addiction affects your emotions. Negative emotions associated with drug use are irritability, erratic mood and depression. This can make you a social pariah, as your friends and loved ones shy away from spending time with you. This is why addiction is also an isolating disease. You will lose touch with family, ignore responsibilities and work performance in favour of using drugs. The effects of all these lead to further cough medicine abuse.

Long-TermEffects of Cough Syrup Abuse

Long-term effects of cough syrup abuse include mood changes such as mania and a probable crippling depression, delusions, agitation, liver damage, problems with memory consolidation and attention, addiction, and severe withdrawal symptoms when you decide to quit cough syrup abuse.

Short-TermEffects of Cough Syrup Abuse

The immediate, short-term, effects of abusing cough syrup include:

  • Sedation
  • Hallucinations
  • Intoxication/euphoria
  • Detachment
  • Seizures
  • Temporary memory loss
  • Laboured breathing
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion

Cough Syrup Addiction Treatment

It is vital to your mental and physical health that you seek treatment for cough syrup abuse.  Abusing cough syrup at a young age could prevent you from reaching full academic performance, isolates you from friends and disrupts natural brain function.

This is why you could benefit from a full-blown addiction treatment. This includes detox, rehab, aftercare and additional support group meetings if you’re willing to attend such.

Detoxing from cough syrup

Detox is the first stage of the recovery journey, where you’ll enrolin a medically-supervised facility expel all drug toxins from your body. The detox process takes between three days to a few weeks, depending on how long you’ve been using, co-occurring disorders that worsen symptoms and any interaction of other substances you abused alongside cough syrup.

Doctors use the tapering technique to gradually reduce regular dosage until all traces of DXM have left your symptoms. Medications might be provided to address specific withdrawal symptoms to ensure you remain as comfortable as possible during detox.

Possible reactions to the detoxification methods include diarrhoea, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, hypersensitivity, restlessness, cravings, pain in your muscles and bone and confusion.

Treatment and Therapies for Cough Syrup Abuse and Addiction

Cognitive behavioural therapy: this therapy approach seeks to help you identify distortive negative thinking, feelings and behaviour that enable drug use and teach you to change them for positive, uplifting thoughts. You’ll also learn to identify triggers and handle them without drug use.

Other therapy models include contingency management, multidimensional family therapy and motivational interviewing.

Cost of treatment

There are many factors that determine the cost of drug rehabilitation – some of which include: Location of the rehab centre, the expertise of staff, type of rehab, number of therapy techniques used in treatment, and type of treatment you choose. Standard rehabs in the UK cost £5,000 a month and £2,000 a week, while luxury rehabs cost £10,000 a week and around £50,000 a year.

Cough Syrup Withdrawal

More than half the people who abuse cough syrup report experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit. The withdrawal symptoms are sometimes so severe thatusers return to drug use to self-medicate and ease withdrawal pain.

Effects of cough syrup withdrawal

You might experience physical pain in your joint and muscles during withdrawal. Your physician could prescribe clonidine or over-the-counter medications to ease symptoms, such as loss of appetite and nausea. The length of withdrawal depends on the severity of addiction. Psychotherapists will also be on hand to help treat symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritability and other psychological symptoms of withdrawal that you might experience.

Getting through withdrawal from cough syrup

The safest way to get through withdrawal without relapsing is to stay at an inpatient facility or medically supervised detox centre. This will eliminate all temptation and reduce the risk of relapse by using the tapering method to avoid most of the discomfort associated with withdrawal.

Other tips include:

  • Know the symptoms of cough syrup withdrawal
  • Stay active
  • Eat lots of healthy food
  • Be motivated by support from loved ones
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Get Clean and Stop Your Cough Syrup Abuse Today

Treatment is very important, as Sizzurp, Purple Drank, Leanand other cough syrups are dangerous. Continuous use affects cognition, memory, the liver and overall wellbeing. Treatment helps to reverse most of the psychical and emotional damage caused by addiction, as well as rebuild broken relationships with loved ones and teach you skills for lifelong abstinence from drugs.

Repairing the damage

You can regain control of your life by calling an addiction helpline to speak with a drug counsellor. The addiction specialist will guide you to locating the best treatment rehab, based on the severity of your addiction and unique treatment needs.

Get help today

Helplines are not the only ones who can help you. If you contact a clinic, they will probably have a free space for you and admit you right away. Try speaking to them – most can also provide you with free initial advice over the phone, even if you cannot truly use their services due to higher prices or too far a location.

Advice for families

  • Keep medicines away from children
  • Know where and with whom your children are spending time
  • Ensure your children know they are never to take drugs without your knowledge
  • Talk to your children about prescription abuse and the dangers of abusing medication
  • Follow the doctor’s orders when giving your children medicine, and watch for any signs of tolerance, reactions and other significant changes.
  • If your child is addicted, you can help them get the treatment they need at a teen drug rehab, either as an inpatient or outpatient.

Dangerous Truths about Cough Syrup Addiction

  • Most people who abuse cough syrups are teenagers and adolescents.
  • Codeine contains opioids and an overdose on codeine could be life-threatening.
  • Abusing cough syrup increases the risk of developing substance use disorder.
  • DXM leads to psychosis and altered state of mind.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are other names for cough syrup?

Street names for cough syrup include Triple C, Robitussin, CCC, DXM, codeine and expectorant. Also look out for Sizzurp, Purple Drank, and Lean.

How can you tell if your loved one is under the influence of codeine?

A few signs to look out for include delirium and hallucination, slow breathing, pinpoint pupils, confused mental state, staggering and dizziness, scratching, itching, and constipation. Call for emergency help if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

Why is cough syrup addictive?

The compound in cough syrup (dextromethorphan) has therapeutic effects of sedation, relaxation, euphoria and calmness. It causes intoxication when taken in higher doses.

Why do children abuse cough syrup?

The major reason why teens abuse cough syrup is because they have easy access to this over-the-counter medication

What are lean and purple drank?

These are slang terms for a concoction that contains a mixture of h4 prescription drug codeine, soft drinks and fruit-flavoured candy.

How is DXM abuse harming teens?

Teens are still developing physically and mentally, so cough medicine addiction interferes with normal development. Their performance in school suffers, and this paves the pathway to abusing h4er illicit drugs. They might also be self-medicating for psychological problems.

What is DXM?

Dextromethorphan is an opioid derivative and cough suppressant, used in over 120 OTC medicines.

What is Robitussin abuse?

Robitussin(or ‘Robo’) is a brand name for DXM. Abusing the medicine causes hallucination and an altered sense of reality.

What are the effects of DXM use?

Some of the effects include hyperthermia, liver failure, respiratory depression, rapid heart rate, seizures and coma.

Is DXM dangerous?

When used according to a doctor’s prescription, DXM is safe. The danger is in taking higher doses or mixing it with other substances to get ‘high’. Large doses can cause an ‘out of body’ state, while you might overdose when taking the powdered form of DXM.

What are the symptoms of cough syrup addiction?

Symptoms include drowsiness, depression, poor hygiene, double vision, euphoria and dilated pupils.

What are the signs of teen cough syrup abuse?

Signs of teen abuse include online cough medicine orders, internet searches relating to how to get ‘high’ on DXM, finding empty containers in their bin and using DXM nicknames in conversations.

How does a full-grown adult develop a cough syrup habit?

You probably started out with a legitimate prescription for codeine or bought over the counter medicine for flu or a cough. Addiction develops when you keep taking the medicine after symptoms have reduced or take higher quantities to cope with stress from work.

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