September 21, 2021
Before the FDA banned codeine in cough medicine, there were people who abused cough syrup for its narcotic effects. Since the 1970’s the codeine in cough syrup has been replaced with dextromethorphan or DXM, a cough suppressant that is safe when taken as directed.
Many teens, however, have found a way to use DXM-containing medications to get high, by taking them in extremely high doses. Products like Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold are easy for young people to obtain and are difficult or impossible to identify by drug testing.
At least 125 over-the-counter cough medicines contain DXM,including these common household medications:
The intoxicating effects of DXM taken in large quantities is known to cause a dissociative effect, which is similar to ketamine or PCP.1 The effects are described as everything from a mild buzz to an out of body experience. These intoxicating effects last from 30 minutes up to 6 hours, although long-term effects of coricidin addiction can be very serious.
People who abuse Coricidin or take large doses of other cold medications can experience an overdose of DXM, which can cause:1,2
In addition to these direct dangers of DXM, cough medicines contain many other drugs that can be dangerous when taken in high doses, including acetaminophen, pseudoephedrine, and antihistamines. High doses of these additional drugs can cause:2
Many teens have reported that they rarely buy Coricidin, but steal it and other cough medications that contain DXM and specifically do not contain acetaminophen, which is deadly in large doses. Many teens consider these drugs to be harmless, non-addictive, and undetectable. There are even websites where teen drug users can give each other advice about abusing DXM.
Teens may appear agitated, sweaty, and seem out of touch with reality, unresponsive, or difficult to control. However, they do not show any evidence of drug abuse when tested. Some teens have, unfortunately, even died from cold medicine abuse.
As with most teen drug addiction, you will rarely hear these drugs referred to by their actual names when kids talk about them. Becoming familiar with the common street names for cough medicines that are commonly abused will help you know if your teenager has been caught up in this form of substance abuse.
Very often, these substances are equated with some kind of candy like Skittles. Some of the terms and nicknames for DXM parents should know include:
The signs of a developing addiction to Coricidin or other DXM-containing medications can be subtle. Often by the time a teenager ends up in the emergency room for symptoms of overdose there may already be a well-established habit of use. Many parents, caregivers, educators, and even doctors are unaware of how prevalent this abuse of OTC medications is among young people.
Experts recommend that DXM or Coricidin addiction be managed like other chemical dependencies, using similar treatment strategies for the best chance of a full recovery.3 Because these products are so readily available, and drug testing will not reveal DXM abuse, it can be difficult to recognize this problem in the early stages. Providing an individualized and supportive addiction treatment program for these young people is extremely helpful as soon as the issue is identified.
If you are concerned about the possibility that your teenager is abusing OTC drugs or illicit substances, you may not know where to turn for guidance. Teensavers has focused on the needs of adolescents for more than 40 years and provides a proven five-phase approach to treatment.
With both residential and outpatient programs for adolescents, we can help your young person overcome substance abuse or behavioral issues in a safe, home-like environment or outpatient therapy program. Contact us today to help your teen break free of the mind-altering effects of DXM.
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