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DXM / Cough Syrup Addiction

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a standard component of many over-the-counter cough, cold and flu medications today. It is an effective cough suppressant when it is taken as directed on the product package. However, it’s availability and accessibility also make it a substance that can be abused, often by individuals under the age of 21. The effects of excessive amounts of DXM, when taken for nonmedical reasons, can mimic that of alcohol or some street drugs. Unfortunately, like alcohol and street drugs, DXM can also cause significant damage to the body and may be addictive for some users.

In addition to its addictive tendencies, misuse of DXM is dangerous due to its combination with other drugs in many over-the-counter medications. For example, the substance is often combined with acetaminophen, which can lead to liver damage in high doses. Pseudoephedrine is another ingredient commonly found in cold medications, which can increase heart rate to dangerous levels when taken in high amounts. Some formulations also contain alcohol, or users may combine DXM with alcohol – a dangerous practice used to intensify its effects.

DXM abuse is most frequent among teenagers and young adults, in part due to the affordability and accessibility of the medications containing the substance. The National Institutes of Health found that approximately 13.4 out of every million people in the U.S. abuse DXM annually, but when narrowing the base to teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19, that number increased to around 113 cases per every million people. As many as five percent of high school seniors may use DXM for nonmedical reasons, according to a separate survey by Monitoring the Future.

The Effects of DXM and Cough Syrup on the Body

In the short term, the effects of DXM can mimic those of marijuana and might include:

  • Mild intoxication
  • Impaired motor function
  • Euphoric sensations
  • Increased heart rate and body temperature
  • Intensification of emotions

At higher doses, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Moderate to heavy intoxication
  • Sense of detachment from the body
  • Dream-like state and hallucinations
  • Vision disturbances
  • Impaired judgment

Effects of the substance can last a few hours, but users often prolong the result by taking multiple doses of the drug over time. This practice can intensify the symptoms but also increases the risk of death from overdose.

Signs of DXM and Cough Syrup Abuse and Dependency

While people do not typically develop a physical dependency on DXM like some other substances, it can be psychologically addictive. Signs of addiction might include:

  • Changes in appearance, behavior or friend circles
  • Lying and stealing money or objects to sell
  • Spending more time alone or away from home
  • Anger, hostility or depression
  • Difficulty focusing or carrying on a conversation

Long-Term Damage from DXM and Cough Syrup

If DXM use goes on for an extended period, the damage to the body can be both severe and permanent. Some of the harm might include:

  • Persistent cognitive impairment and memory problems
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Damage to vital organs, especially the liver
  • Seizures and brain damage
  • Delusions, hallucinations and psychosis
  • Tolerance – needing more of the drug to obtain the same effects

The Dangers of DXM and Cough Syrup Withdrawal

Although DXM is not considered physically addictive, stopping the use of the substance can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that may prompt the individual to go back to using the drug to avoid the withdrawal process. Those symptoms might include:

  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Insomnia and restlessness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Sensitivity to the environment
  • Cold flashes

Because these symptoms can increase the risk of relapse, detoxification from DXM is often best managed under medical supervision. Once the substance is eliminated from the body, addiction treatment can begin.

Getting Treatment Help

DXM may seem like a relatively harmless substance since it is found in grocery and drug stores across the country. However, when this drug is used for nonmedical purposes, it can become just as dangerous as any illicit substance. If you or a family member is struggling with DXM addiction, help is available. Contact Serenity Oaks Wellness Center at 844-720-6847 to learn more about our treatment programs and how we can help you overcome your DXM addiction and embrace a life of long-term sobriety.