Cough and cold medicines commonly abused by teens

Cough and cold medicines commonly abused by teens

Teenage years are often considered to be the most challenging period of one’s life since this is the age when children are increasingly exposed to negative influences such as drug abuse. Some of the teens, probably use drugs just for having fun or, sometimes, due to peer pressure, but, many others get habituated to drug use, which leads to an addiction. Addiction is a chronic condition characterized by an inability to stop using drugs in spite of the detrimental effect on a person’s life and health.

According to the 2015 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey data released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), approximately three percent of teens abuse cough medicines to get high. The over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription cough and cold medicines, such as expectorants and antihistamines, comprise psychoactive mind-altering ingredients.

Some of the commonly abused cough and cold medicines are:

  • Dextromethorphan (DXM): DXM is a non-narcotic chemical compound which is a cough suppressant and expectorant present in many OTC cold medicines. When taken in higher doses, it can produce a state of euphoria, dissociative effects or even hallucinations.
  • Promethazine-codeine: Many cough syrup formulations contain codeine, an opioid which acts as a cough suppressant. It also produces feelings of tranquility and euphoria when consumed at a higher-than-prescribed dose.

What makes teens abuse cough and cold medications?

Teenagers usually experiment with prescription drugs due to the widely prevalent misconception that such medications can help them have more fun, lose weight and even help them study more efficiently. However, some of the main causes of addiction to prescription drugs among kids are:

Easy availability: Most of the teenagers try drugs that are easily available. The prescription as well as OTC medicines, such as DXM, are legal, and hence, easily available and so can be abused readily.

Inexpensive: Unlike other illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin etc., cough and cold medicines are quite cheap so that the teenagers can easily afford them with their pocket money.

Safety: It is easier for teens to carry legal cough and cold medicines along with them, rather than carrying other illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin, etc. In fact, many teens abuse higher doses of DXM considering it to be safe.

Most of the cough and cold medicines come in syrup form or in the form of tablets and capsules. Many teenagers make drug cocktails consuming them along with alcohol or other drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, etc. Many times, adolescents may indulge in mixing promethazine-codeine cough syrup and soda, a combination often called as purple drank or lean which became popular after its use in various music albums in the late 1990s.

Effects of prescription drug abuse on teens

When taken in higher doses, even cough and cold medicines may affect the brain and other body parts in a similar way as other illegal drugs do. Codeine and DXM may result in the increase of neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway leading to addiction. Such chemicals act on the brain cell receptors producing mild stimulating effects at higher doses. Abusing promethazine-codeine cough syrup can produce euphoric, sedating or calming effects similar to that produced by other opioid drugs such as heroin which act as central nervous system depressants.

High doses of painkiller acetaminophen can lead to liver damage, heart attack, stroke and even death. A long-term abuse of cough and cold drugs can have severe consequences, including altered behavior, memory loss, depression and unpredictable emotional swings. Many children addicted to such medications are reported to have decreased academic performance and stressed family and interpersonal relationships.

Road to recovery

If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction to prescription drugs, contact the Florida Prescription Addiction Helpline to know about some of the best prescription drug rehabs in Florida. Call our 24/7 helpline number 866-292-3211 or chat online with our representatives for more information on the best prescription drug abuse treatment centers in Florida.