Cough Syrup Symptoms and Warning Signs

Most people assume that addiction refers only to illegal drugs or alcohol, but the reality is that prescription medication can also be addictive. What many people do not realise is that over-the-counter medications can also be misused; cough syrup containing DXM (dextromethorphan) or codeine is one of the more commonly abused substances.

It is difficult for most to comprehend that a substance as ‘harmless’ as cough syrup could be abused, but those who try to get high through ‘legal’ purposes have been known to mix it with fizzy drinks to achieve similar effects to alcohol or cannabis intoxication.

However, when taken in high doses, cough syrup can affect certain receptors in the brain. DXM acts on the same receptors as drugs such as PCP, similarly to the way codeine can stimulate opioid receptors in the brain in the same way that drugs such as heroin or methadone do.

When abused, cough syrup can cause an increase in the release of dopamine from the brain. They are the chemicals responsible for feelings of pleasure. The brain’s reward centre is also affected, and it is this that can cause an addiction.

Other Names for Cough Syrup

  • Sizzurp
  • Purple Drank
  • Lean
  • Drank
  • Syrup
  • Barre
  • Texas Tea
  • Purple Jelly
  • Tsikuni
  • Dirty Sprite
  • Candy
  • Skittles

Recognising the Common Warning Signs of Cough Syrup Abuse

If you have been using cough syrup to get high, know that this is classed as abuse and it can have harmful implications to your health. While there are some individuals who can use drugs recreationally without these ever becoming a problem, for others it can lead to a crippling addiction that they then struggle to break free from.

Cough syrup, when used correctly, is helpful in relieving the symptoms associated with coughs and colds, but when mixed with fizzy drinks can become a dangerous drug. Although you may be misusing cough syrup to induce feelings of euphoria and relaxation, you are ultimately risking your health by doing so.

If your use of cough syrup in this way is becoming a problem and is starting to have a negative impact on your life, you may already be in trouble. You might already be building up a tolerance to the drug and if this is the case then you have probably found that the effects are different from what they used to be. If this is so, you could be tempted to take more cough syrup to achieve the ‘high’ or ‘buzz’ you desire. Nonetheless, the more you abuse this drug, the higher the chances are that you will develop an addiction to it.

The Dangers of Cough Syrup Abuse

The ingredients in some cough syrup can have a profound effect on health when taken in high doses. DXM abuse can lead to problems with high blood pressure and a rapid heartbeat. Codeine, on the other hand, can cause certain bodily functions, such as heartbeat and breathing, to slow down.

Some people mix cough syrup with other substances such as illegal drugs and alcohol, which can be even more dangerous. When combining cough syrup with some substances, the risk of overdose becomes much higher as the central nervous system can be affected. In extreme cases, it can cause the heart and lungs to stop functioning.

As cough syrup is available over-the-counter, many youngsters believe it is safe to use. Even when taking it to achieve a buzz, they still believe they are taking something that is much safer than illegal drugs or alcohol, for example. However, as mentioned a few times thus far, cough syrup is extremely dangerous when abused.

Although cough syrup abuse has many negative consequences in terms of physical and mental health, it should also be noted that it can have a profound impact on other areas of a person’s life. When abuse begins to spiral out of control, there is the risk of addiction, which itself affects the ability to go about daily life.

It is also important to remember that cough syrup can cause impaired judgement in the same way that other drugs can. Due to the way it affects the brain, it can lead to risk-taking and poor decision making, increasing the chance of accidents occurring.

If you abuse cough syrup, your risk of addiction grows and with that comes other problems. As you become consumed by your need for the drug you are abusing, you will have little time for anything else in your life. Family members, friends, work, school, hobbies, and activities will all be pushed into the background as you only have time for the drug and those who can help you get it.

You may start to suffer financial problems as every penny you have is spent on funding your habit. Moreover, as you spend increasingly more time under the influence of the drug, you will find it harder to concentrate, thus affecting your ability to work in a job or in school. Abusing cough syrup can affect health, relationships, finances, and your prospects.

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Recognising a Cough Syrup Addiction

It is hard for some to realise that using a specific chemical substance has progressed to problem use or addiction. You may believe that you have full control over your use of cough syrup and that you can quit any time you like. Nevertheless, you might find that the reality is quite different should you actually try to cut back on your use.

If you have developed a physical or psychological addiction, you will find it hard to resist the urge to use. A physical addiction will result in withdrawal symptoms when the effects of cough syrup wear off while a psychological addiction will make you feel as though you need cough syrup to function or to feel better.

If you have been using more cough syrup than you used to and find that it is difficult to stop once you start, you probably have a problem that will need sorting for you to get better. You might also find that you regularly use cough syrup, despite promising yourself that you would not. You likely come up with a lot of reasons and excuses as to why it will be okay to use it, and you might even consider it is to be for your own good.

Furthermore, if you continue to use cough syrup despite knowing that it is going to have negative consequences for you and those around you, it is very likely that you are already addicted and in need of help.

Cough Syrup Addiction and the Brain

Since cough syrup contains ingredients like codeine and DXM, it can affect the brain when taking in high doses. DXM in high doses can cause hallucinations and, similarly to drugs such as PCP and ketamine, DXM can cause a dissociative state, where you feel separated from your body. Your perception of your situation and the people around you may be biased and influenced by the effects of the drug.

Codeine can affect the central nervous system and can depress brain functions to produce a relaxing and calming effect. Both ingredients influence the pleasure and reward centres of the brain and can, therefore, lead to addiction.

Learn the Immediate Side Effects of Cough Syrup Abuse

Cough syrup abuse can lead to immediate side effects including:

  • euphoria
  • relaxation
  • dilated pupils
  • dizziness
  • blotchy skin
  • slurred speech
  • itching
  • vomiting
  • racing heart
  • drowsiness
  • double vision
  • hallucinations
  • depression
  • numbness of extremities

Learn the Long-term Cough Syrup Abuse Side Effects

Abusing cough syrup over a prolonged period can result in countless health problems. The combination of ingredients found in cough syrup can cause serious health issues:

  • respiratory depression
  • seizures
  • liver failure
  • psychosis
  • brain damage
  • cardiac problems
  • memory problems
  • paranoid delusions

Intervention for a Cough Syrup Addiction

Early intervention is key with most addictions, and if you believe that someone you love is abusing cough syrup, it is important that you act as soon as possible. Although you may be hopeful that the issue will resolve itself, this is highly unlikely to happen.

You should be aware that addiction is a progressive illness and abuse of cough syrup, in particular, can have dangerous consequences. As uncomfortable as it may be, it is better to address the issue head-on if you believe your loved one has a problem. An intervention can be both a subtle discussion with your loved one or a heated argument.

You should be prepared to be met with denial and/or rejection of any suggestion that help is required. Most addicts will not readily accept that they have a problem. This may be down to a genuine inability to see the seriousness of the situation or because of embarrassment. Whatever the reason, do not give up.

While you cannot force anyone into treatment, you can ensure him or her that you are supportive and that you want to help. By staying calm and discussing your feelings, you might be able to encourage the affected to admit the addiction exists and to accept help.

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Detox and Withdrawal from Cough Syrup

Cough syrup containing codeine can be addictive. Chronic abuse of cough syrup can result in an increased tolerance for codeine, which in turn can result in more being used. Addiction can then develop, and a variety of withdrawal symptoms can occur.

To overcome your physical dependence on cough syrup, you will probably have to complete a detox, during which time, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • muscle aches
  • agitation
  • watery eyes
  • runny nose
  • trouble sleeping
  • anxiety
  • excessive yawning
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Detox should take place in a dedicated facility to minimise the discomfort and to ensure safety at all times.

Treatment and Next Steps

If you are worried that you do have a cough syrup addiction and you want help to get your life back on track, the next step is to speak to someone about treatment. If you do have a physical addiction, you will be expected to complete a detox before starting a programme of rehabilitation.

Rehab programmes take place in an inpatient or outpatient facility, and which one you choose will depend on your preferences, needs, and circumstances. If your addiction is severe, you might benefit from treatment in a residential facility where you will have no access to temptations and triggers. These programmes require you to stay in a clinic for the duration of your treatment. With no distractions, you will be able to fully immerse yourself in a programme of recovery.

If your addiction is not so severe, you may find that an outpatient programme is sufficient. This type of programme runs alongside everyday life and is ideal for those who have the full support of their loved ones to help them stay sober.

Questions about Treatment

What treatment programme should I choose?

The type of programme you choose should be the one that most suits your needs. You should speak to an addiction expert about what your treatment requirements are likely to be. With independent advice, you can learn more about rehab programmes so that you can make an informed choice.

It is important to take all your needs into consideration as well as your personal preference. Therefore, your preferences, health, age, home and work commitments, and budget should all be considered before you decide.

What type of treatments will I have?

It is likely that your rehab provider will create a bespoke plan of care for you before your programme begins. Experts know that to get the most from recovery, your treatment plan should be designed with you in mind. It will more than likely include elements of individual counselling, group therapy and holistic treatments to help you overcome your illness for good.

Do I have to stay in the clinic?

If you have chosen to recover in an inpatient facility, you will stay there until your treatment programme ends. Residential programmes are like staying in ahospital. You will be in a secure and distraction-free environment where you can forget about the outside world and where you can focus fully on getting well. You will have access to around-the-clock care and support that will help you to get well in the shortest amount of time.

In an outpatient programme, things are slightly different. While you may receive similar treatments, they will take place on a day care basis. You will attend regular counselling and therapy sessions but will not stay overnight.

Will I be given medication?

The administration of medication is taken very seriously in a rehab facility. After all, if you are there to overcome a substance addiction, it is important that you are not provided with any mood-altering drugs that might jeopardise your recovery.

However, there may be instances, particularly during detox, where appropriate medication may be provided in tapering doses to help with the symptoms of withdrawal.

Will I be able to exercise?

Most inpatient clinics have facilities that will allow you to exercise. Onsite or local gyms can be accessed, and you may also find that a fitness programme forms a part of your overall treatment plan. Exercise, alongside nutrition, is an important part of healthy living and as such is encouraged in a comprehensive recovery programme.

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Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.