Cough medicine is extremely common, and it can be quite beneficial. But many people don’t realize that these medications can expose them to considerable harm if they misuse cough medicines. The many potential dangers of cough medicine abuse include physical harm, psychological damage, addiction, overdose, and death.
Statistics on Cough Medicine Misuse
Because some types of cough medicines can be acquired without a prescription, they are easily accessible by young people who may not realize how dangerous they are. According to the 2021 Monitoring the Future study, which is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), students in U.S. high schools and middle schools have been abusing cough medicine. The 2021 survey reports that 3.5% of 8th graders, 2.7% of 10th graders, and 1.7% of high school seniors have abused an over-the-counter cough medication at least once in the previous 12 months.
Of course, adolescents aren’t the only ones who are abusing cough medicine. For decades, many adolescents and young adults have been combining cough syrup with soft drinks to create a substance called “lean” or “purple drank.”
The Addictive Ingredients in Cough Medicine
Cough medicines can include a variety of ingredients. Some of these ingredients are natural, while others are synthetic. In addition, certain ingredients can be addictive.
Both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines contain substances that can be dangerous when misused or abused. Three such ingredients are codeine, promethazine, and dextromethorphan.
Codeine is a natural opioid. This means that it can be extracted directly from the opium poppy plant. It may also be produced as a derivative of morphine, which is another naturally occurring opioid.
Codeine has several medical uses. For instance, it can treat mild to moderate pain, suppress coughing, and ease diarrhea. In addition to treating these conditions, codeine can also produce a sense of relaxed euphoria. This pleasurable effect can prompt people to abuse the drug.
As is the case with all opioids, codeine use can lead to addiction.
Promethazine is a type of antihistamine. It is a synthetic substance, which means that it is created in a lab. It treats congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and other effects of colds or allergies. Promethazine also prevents nausea and vomiting in people who experience motion sickness or morning sickness.
Promethazine is often combined with codeine in prescription cough medicine. Medical experts advise against giving promethazine to children age two or younger. Cough medicine that contains promethazine and codeine should not be given to any child under the age of 12, nor should it be provided to adolescents age 12-18 who meet certain medical criteria.
Dextromethorphan, or DXM, is a common ingredient in over-the-counter cough medicine. People who have a cold or the flu might use DXM to relieve symptoms. However, it is not recommended for people whose coughing is due to chronic conditions such as asthma or emphysema. Sucrets, Vicks, Robitussin, and Mucinex are a few examples of the many brand-name OTC cough medicines that contain DXM.
Just because a person can purchase dextromethorphan without a prescription, this does not mean that it is a harmless substance. For instance, DXM abuse can lead to several negative outcomes, including coma and death.
Signs and Symptoms of Cough Medicine Abuse
The signs and symptoms of cough medicine abuse can vary depending on several factors, such as which type of cough medicine a person has been abusing, and how long they’ve been abusing it. If a person habitually abuses cough medicine in combination with other substances, the symptoms and effects can also differ.
In general terms, though, the following warning signs may indicate that a person has been abusing cough medicine:
- Glassy eyes
- Dry skin
- Slurred speech
- Heavy sweating
- Persistent fatigue or exhaustion
- Extreme confusion or disorientation
- Difficulty concentrating or following conversations
- Excessive sleeping
- Mood swings
The dangers of cough medicine abuse can include addiction. This is particularly true if a person has been abusing a prescription cough medicine that contains codeine. People can also become dependent on cough medicine that contains DXM.
Possible signs and symptoms of cough medicine addiction can include the following:
- Borrowing or stealing cough medicine that was prescribed to someone else
- Needing to use larger amounts of cough medicine to get the desired effect
- Feeling physical or emotional pain when unable to use cough medicine
- Mixing cough medicine with alcohol or other substances
- Lying or being secretive about how often they use cough medicine
- Trying to stop using cough medicine, but being unable to do so
If anyone you know has been exhibiting signs of cough medicine abuse or addiction, they may need professional treatment. Convincing them to consult with a family doctor or another healthcare professional is an excellent first step.
Dangers of Cough Medicine Abuse
Addiction is one of the many dangers of cough medicine abuse. But it’s not the only one.
Here are a few of the many other dangers of cough medicine abuse:
- Legal problems (if illicitly acquiring prescription cough medicine)
- Physical injuries due to impaired judgment and coordination
- Vision problems
- Anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns
- Anhedonia (the inability to feel joy or experience pleasure)
If a person overdoses on cough medicine, the effects can be catastrophic. The dangers of cough medicine overdose include the following:
- Extreme weakness
- Shallow breathing
- Dangerously low or elevated heart rate
- Loss of consciousness
If someone has overdosed on cough medicine, they need immediate medical attention. If a person is abusing cough medicine but has not yet overdosed, they are still in danger. Anyone who abuses or becomes addicted to cough medicine may benefit from professional care.
Get Treatment for Cough Medicine Abuse in South Florida
Don’t let the dangers of cough medicine abuse prevent you from living a happier and healthier life. Ambrosia Treatment Center in South Florida offers compassionate care for people who are struggling with cough medicine abuse and addiction. Our services include detox, inpatient treatment, a partial hospitalization program, and outpatient rehab. Visit our admissions page today to learn how we can help.