After you walk uphill, you know you must walk back down again. When we drink too much coffee, we know we’ll head to the bathroom moments later. Cause and effect is part of almost everything we do.
The same principle applies to dextromethorphan (DXM) abuse.
As you abuse the drug, your body grows dependent. Life without DXM feels terrible, so you keep using.
During withdrawal, you reverse that process.
As you move through DXM detox, you break your physical dependence on the drug. You’ll emerge from the process ready to tackle your addiction with a healthy body and a clear mind.
What Does DXM Withdrawal Feel Like?
DXM is a synthetic drug, and it’s made to suppress coughs and ease pain. As your addiction is strengthened, over-the-counter cough syrups and powdered DXM became part of your daily routine. Your body’s cravings pushed you to take more and more until you had no control over your use.
When you stop using DXM, it’s a shock to your body. Cells accustomed to constant access must do without, and that’s not easy. If you don’t begin using again, you’ll feel:
- Sick to your stomach.
- Unable to sleep.
Researchers describe the case of a man addicted to DXM who was treated in the hospital. Every few hours, they checked on him, and they measured how strong his symptoms were and how bad he felt. Out of a possible score of 67 on the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment, his highest score was 8.
This is admittedly a low score. Someone addicted to a different drug might have symptoms that are stronger or more persistent.
But pain is subjective. To you, those feelings could be unbearable, especially since you’re aware that one small sip of DXM could make them go away.
And that’s partly what makes withdrawal so dangerous. You’re likely to have cravings for your drug, and without help, you could drop right back into addiction because you can’t tolerate the discomfort.
Other DXM Withdrawal Dangers
DXM works on several of the body’s critical systems, and all of them malfunction during withdrawal. While it’s somewhat rare, people have had terrible reactions to drug withdrawal.
You could experience:
- Heatstroke. Very high DXM doses can crank up your body’s internal thermostat. Your skin flushes, you feel warm to the touch, and your organs shut down from the heat. This is a life-threatening problem you can’t solve yourself. When it happens, you’re usually unconscious.
- Hallucinations. Terrible visions of pain and loss can seem real, and you might work to fight back against those images. You could harm yourself or others during this episode.
- Dehydration. Vomiting and diarrhea combine to leach the fluid out of your body. Your organs rely on a bath of fluids and blood, and without them, they can shut down.
- Coma. DXM can slow breathing rates, and your brain won’t have enough oxygen to stay alert. If you stop breathing, your brain and your body can shut down.
These same symptoms appear in people who overdose on DXM, and it’s not uncommon for overdose and withdrawal to happen hand in hand.
Doctors often don’t worry about whether you’re overdosing or detoxing. They just want you to get better, and there are plenty of treatments they can use to help.
How Is DXM Withdrawal Treated?
You’ll need help to move through DXM withdrawal. Treatment plans keep you safe and sober, so you won’t harm yourself, harm others, or grab another bottle of drugs. Doctors can also use medications and treatments to help your body move through the process safely.
Researchers writing for the Canadian Journal of Medicine say there is no specific medication for DXM withdrawal or toxicity. They can’t grab a bottle of drugs from a shelf and make all of your pain go away. But there are other solutions they can cobble together to make you feel better.
You might be treated with:
- Naloxone. If your breathing is slow when you check into detox, this anti-opioid drug may block some DXM receptors and clear your mind.
- Fluids. Diarrhea and nausea are dehydrating, and you may not feel well enough to eat. Injecting fluids can flush the DXM from your system and give your body the treatment it needs.
- Benzodiazepines. DXM withdrawal can leave your brain cells sparking with activity. Drugs like Valium soothe that spark so you can feel a touch calmer.
- Cooling therapy. You may find it hard to regulate your body’s temperature as you move through detox. A cool bath, a cooling blanket, or another similar therapy may help.
Withdrawal symptoms last for two to three days, and during that time, you’ll have intense cravings for the drug.
There’s no therapy to replace the medication, but talking about how you feel and working through how a relapse won’t help could keep you from making a poor decision. A detox facility gives you access to staff members who can hold these conversations with you.
After those few days, your addiction won’t be gone. You’ll still have cravings, and they’ll probably grow stronger when you’re exposed to things that remind you of DXM. You could feel the need increase when you:
- See people you took DXM with.
- Walk into the pharmacies where you bought DXM.
- Smell something sweet, like a hard candy.
- Experience stress or loss.
Enrolling in rehab is critical, as your body may be free of DXM, but your mind is not. In rehab, you’ll build up skills that help you preserve your sobriety in the months and years to come. Enroll as soon as detox is through.