Dextromethorphan (DXM) is an active ingredient found in most cough medicines and is used as a cough suppressant. DXM is a legal drug that can be purchased by anyone, including preteens in most states. Over-the-counter medications, such as Vicks, Robitussin, and NyQuil contain DXM and are used to relieve a cold-related cough. Misusing medications containing DXM can make a person experience a high.

In an article on over-the-counter medications, the NIH explained that, “At high doses, a person may have hallucinations or feelings of physical distortion, extreme panic, paranoia, anxiety, and aggression.” The NIH also stated that it is possible to overdose on DXM, which could lead to an early death.

Physical symptoms of DXM abuse include increased heart rate, high blood pressure and body temperature, vomiting, slurred speech, loss of motor coordination, and hypoxic brain damage. The other ingredients in these medications can cause seizures or coma, vomiting, loss of coordination, and fast heart rate.

Some people who abuse DXM separate the other ingredients using chemicals, which can be easy to attain. Certain websites sell pure DXM powder, making it more convenient and accessible without the side effects of acetaminophen and guaifenesin. DXM-based cold remedies also tend to contain other active ingredients that may be dangerous if misused; for example, excessively large doses of acetaminophen may cause severe liver damage. (University at Buffalo, Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions, 2013).

Teens are very susceptible to misusing DXM. Teens are impulsive and often do not consider the consequences of their actions. DXM abuse affects critical thinking, awareness, coordination, movement, and speech, as with most substances heightens reckless behavior and results in organ failure, overdose, or early death.

Here are signs to look for if you suspect your teen is abusing cough medicine:

  • Empty bottles or containers of medicine in your teen’s room or backpack
  • Large amounts of cough syrup purchased when not sick
  • Visits to websites that promote DXM abuse
  • Slang used for DXM, such as skittles, tussin, robo-trippin, or dexxing
  • Changes in routine or interests
  • Hostile attitude and mood changes

DXM is easily accessible to anyone and inexpensive. As with other drugs and alcohol, DXM abuse can cause serious health problems. If you or a loved one is struggling with a DXM addiction, get help today. Addiction is treatable and there is hope in recovery.

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