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High on Cough Meds: Is Your Teen at Risk?

Teen drug abuse

You know how every Halloween, you hear all of these warnings and advisories about adults tampering with candy and putting kids at risk? Truth be told, such incidents are extremely rare in the U.S., especially when compared to other Halloween-related hazards (like traffic accidents, for instance). Still, parents are advised to examine their kids’ treats simply because there are fewer “barriers” than usual between your children and potential harm from nefarious individuals.

A similar situation exists with teenagers and cough medicine abuse. Though there are many other illicit substances that are more frequently consumed by teens, concerns over cough medicine exist because these medications are easy to obtain and are commonly found in most homes.

Cough Medicine Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that fewer than one out of every 30 American teenagers abuses cough syrup or similar medicines. That pales in comparison to substances like alcohol (which is consumed by the majority of high school seniors) or marijuana (with which 45 percent of seniors have experimented). Even so, cough medicine abuse does occur among teens.

The reason that some teens turn to cough medicine is because of the effects produced primarily by its main ingredient. Dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, is found in more than 100 brands of over-the-counter medications including Robitussin, Theraflu, and Mucinex. In addition to liquid form, DXM products also come in gel caps, tablets, and lozenges.

When used as directed, DXM helps suppress coughing. When users consume amounts that are three or four times the recommended dosages, they experience effects which mimic those caused by alcohol such as euphoria and dissociation. Moreover, the other ingredients found in cough medications (like acetaminophen and antihistamines) can also adversely impact the liver if these drugs are abused.

Cracking Down on Cough Meds Misuse

Only recently has America begun taking cough medicine abuse seriously. Some of the largest drugstore chains (like Rite Aid and Walgreens) are refusing to sell these medications to minors, and many other stores have actually relocated cough medicines behind the counter.

During this decade, several states have passed laws prohibiting cough medication sales to people under the age of 18.

State                     Date law went into effect

California             January 1, 2012

New York             March 26, 2014

Arizona                July 24, 2014

Louisiana             August 1, 2014

Virginia                January 1, 2015

Kentucky              June 24, 2015

Washington          July 1, 2015

Tennessee            January 1, 2016

New Jersey           February 1, 2016

Alaska                  June 3, 2016

Florida                 January 1, 2017

Delaware             June 16, 2017

Nevada                 October 1, 2017

Oregon                 January 1, 2018

How to Prevent Cough Medication Abuse

Unfortunately, cough medicine abuse will still present challenges for the foreseeable future. After all, there is very little nationwide support for banning non-prescription sales of these medications, so teens will always be able to steal cough medicine from their own homes (or shoplift them from stores).

Teen drug abuse

That is why it is essential for parents to remain vigilant against cough medicine abuse. Some of the signs your teen may be experimenting with (or addicted to) cough medications are:

  • Numerous empty medicine bottles or packages in their room, car, or backpacks
  • Constantly running out of these medicines, even when no one in your household has been sick
  • Sudden changes in your teen’s mood, such as unexplained irritability, repeated nausea, or increased isolation

If you suspect that your teen has been abusing these types of medicines, start a conversation about it with him or her. If necessary, consult a medical health professional or treatment facility for assistance. There are teen drug abuse rehab programs that are specifically targeted toward teen cough medicine addicts.

These days, you are more likely to hear stories in the media about teen alcohol, opioid, or marijuana abuse. However, parents should not overlook the potential addictive drug that can be found in their own medicine cabinets.

For more tips on preventing cough medicine abuse or to speak with an addiction specialist about your child’s situation, contact us.

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