Cold medicines: An easier route to get high

Cough and cold is a very common symptom of a viral or bacterial infection that usually gets cured on its own within some time. There is no medication to cure it, but one can get relief from the associated symptoms with cough syrups and other cold medicines. Millions of Americans take cough and cold medicines each year to get relief from this common disease. Since many of such medicines are bought “over-the-counter” (OTC), one does not need a prescription to access them. Therefore, chances of misuse are always high.

When the dosage is taken as per the instruction, these medicines help in safely relieving the symptoms of cough and cold. However, because of the presence of psychoactive (mind-altering) ingredients, one stands a high risk of misusing such cold medicines, especially when he or she consumes the amount higher than the recommended dosages. Most of these OTC medicines contain dextromethorphan (DXM), an ingredient classified as cold suppressant, which has the potential to incite a range of psychoactive effects, such as euphoria, hallucinations and dissociative sedation.

Commonly misused cough and cold medicines

When taken in high dosages, common cold and cough medicines often prove to be addictive in nature due to its central nervous system (CNS) depressant nature. Of the many medicines, two of the commonly misused cough and cold medicines are:

  • Cough syrups and capsules containing DXM: When consumed more than the recommended dose, such medicines trigger euphoria (a relaxed pleasurable feeling), which is accompanied by undesirable dissociative effects (mind detached from one’s body).
  • Promethazine-codeine cough syrup:  These prescription medications contain an opioid drug called codeine, which plays a crucial role in stopping coughs, but when taken in higher doses produces a “high.”

Cough and cold medicines are usually sold as liquid syrup, capsule or pill. They may also come in powder form. Young people are often more likely to misuse cough and cold medicines containing DXM than some other drugs because these medicines can be purchased without a prescription.

Dextromethorphan incites overwhelming euphoric effects

When such medications are taken in higher dosages than instructed or when ingested in the absence of the disease or its symptoms, they may affect the brain in ways very similar to illicit drugs and can even lead to addiction. As in the case of drugs like ketamine or phencyclidine (PCP), DXM by acting on the similar brain receptors produces the same effects, such as hallucinations (imagined experiences that seem real). Moreover, it, like the above-mentioned “dissociative” drugs, instills the feeling of “segregation” from body and environment.

Like the opioids, such as heroin, codeine attaches to the same cell receptors and at high doses, promethazine-codeine cough syrup causes euphoria similar to that produced by opioid drugs. Both promethazine and codeine are CNS depressants. These substances in cough syrup interfere in the brain’s reward pathway by increasing the amount of dopamine and thus producing euphoric effects that increase the feeling of pleasure. At the same time, it causes important messages to get lost, causing a range of other undesirable effects, such as lack of motivation and serious health problems. The consistent and repeated misuse of cold and cough medicines lead to the development of an addiction to addictive substances.

Other repercussions of DXM misuse include loss of coordination, numbness, severe stomach upset, increased blood pressure and faster heartbeat and in rare instances, lack of oxygen to the brain could create a lasting brain damage when DXM is taken with decongestants. The misuse of promethazine-codeine cough syrup can cause slow heart rate, slow breathing, overdose and even death.

Pay attention to instructions to avoid developing an addiction

Being highly addictive in nature, these medicines stand a strong chance of misuse and repeated use, especially among youngsters looking forward to experiencing a range of euphoric effects. Therefore, high doses and the repeated misuse of cough and cold medicines can lead to an addiction. These medicines are even more dangerous when taken with alcohol or other drugs.

If you or someone you know is struggling with prescription drug abuse, contact the Florida Prescription Addiction Helpline. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-292-3211 to know about the prescription drug rehab centers in Florida or chat online with our representatives to know more about the prescription drug rehabilitation facilities in Florida.

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