Cough syrup — also known as Drixoral Cough Liquid Caps, Robitussin AC, Dectuss, Phenergan with Codeine, Phensedyl, and Pherazine with Codeine — may seem harmless at first glance. Some people may not understand its addictive properties and assume it is merely a net asset to society and legally distributed. Unfortunately, cough syrup is a substance of which people can become addicted. Cough syrup is appealing for addicts craving both highs and lows without the risk of showing positive results via urine test. This is common in facilities with frequent required drug screenings, such as drug rehabilitation programs, outpatient programs, and places of employment. Those genetically predisposed to addiction are prohibited from acquiring or taking illicit drugs, buy cough syrup. It is readily available over-the-counter (OTC), relatively inexpensive, and shows no traces of use in regular drug tests. Users are also prone to cough syrup addiction.
According to information on Dextromethorphan (DXM), the generic name for cough medication, users start by taking the medicine as directed and then realize that its effects are pleasurable. Thus, abuse of DXM begins, and from the abuse, addiction can sprout.
Cough syrup can be abused in many ways. Some addicts drink DXM straight out of the bottle, usually in quantities that are above suggested levels. Still other users soak marijuana joints in the cough syrup. Subsequently puffing the joint creates a mix of feelings resulting from both the DXM as well as THC (chemical responsible for the high marijuana creates). Examples of short-term cough syrup effects include lethargy, relaxed muscles, a euphoric high similar to that of marijuana, and overall lowered inhibitions.
Dangerous effects of cough syrup addiction must not be underestimated. Overdose is possible on cough syrup, particularly when combined with alcohol and other drugs. Doing so increases the probability that an adverse reaction will occur. This is why even when cough medicine is taken as prescribed, cough syrup’s indications explicitly state that combining the drug with alcohol is unhealthy and dangerous. Side effects from intoxication via cough syrup include but are not limited to the following:
- Feelings of depression and sadness
- Dilated pupils
- Dissociation – trouble differentiating between what is real and what are hallucinations/dreams
- Dizziness upon standing
- Fever, chills, and fluctuations in body temperature
- Panic attacks
- Psychotic episodes – particularly severe after prolonged over consumption of cough syrup
- Memory impairments
- Compromised motor coordination
- A bodily rash
- Decreased libido
If these adverse side effects are not enough to convince an addict that he or she is destroying their body in the process of abusing cough syrup, perhaps the potentially lethal interactions of cough syrup with other drugs will prove convincing. For example, DXM can be fatal when accidentally or unknowingly combined with any of the following drugs:
- SSRI’s (i.e. Cymbalta, Zoloft, and other antidepressants)
- The herb Yohimbe
- MAO inhibitors
- “Non-drowsy” antihistamines (i.e. Claritan 24 hour non-drowsy allergy medication)
As with any drug, there are withdrawal symptoms the addict experiences upon cessation of cough syrup use. Cough syrup, or DXM, affects the body in many ways. Becoming addicted to the medication results in a loss of control by the individual addicted to the medication. Things that once used to interest the addict become erroneous. Interest in sports, academics, and extracurricular activities fades. The addict often finds himself or herself obsessed with seeking out cough syrup, ingesting cough syrup, and scoring drugs to counter the withdrawal effects of cough syrup. In order to combat withdrawal symptoms, many cough syrup abusers report using Benzodiazepines such as Xanax which enhance the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, which results in sedative, hypnotic-like results. In addition, the addict may turn to alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs to avoid feeling the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which include depression and mood swings. Withdrawal from cough syrup can be a very disheartening experience. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, long-term use and subsequent withdrawal of DXM involves symptoms such as insomnia, dysphoria and depression. DXM addicts also complain of itchy skin. The hardest part of DXM detox is the depression. The dissociative effects cause psychological issues with some recovering drug abusers such as psychotic episodes and night terrors.
Medical intervention and/or extended treatment within a drug rehabilitation center are suggested methods for recovering cough syrup addicts. Addiction is a powerful disease that cannot be tackled alone. A strong support network, trained clinicians, and educated therapists can help a person recovering from addiction to cough syrup.