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Article Summary

Signs and Effects of Over The Counter (OTC) Medicine Use and Abuse

Parents should be aware that some teenagers and young adults are intentionally trying to get high by taking large amounts of dextromethorphan cough medicines. While the intentional abuse of otherwise safe household products by teens is not limited to over-the-counter medications, parents should closely monitor their children's activities and use of household substances.

Parents also need to be aware that:

  • Over-the-counter medicine?just like any medicine?is a serious substance, and should be taken only as directed;
  • Dextromethorphan-containing medicines, like all medicines, should be stored in a safe, secure location.

Signs that abuse may be taking place:

  • Empty cough medicine boxes or bottles in the trash of your child's room, or boxes or bottles missing from the medicine cabinet
  • Visiting pro-drug web sites that provide information on how to abuse dextromethorphan
  • Changes in friends, physical appearance, sleeping, or eating patterns
  • Declining grades
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or favorite activities
  • Hostile and uncooperative attitude
  • Unexplained disappearance of household money
  • Unusual chemical or medicinal smells on your child or in his or her room

DXM side effects

DXM abusers say that a cough medicine high is similar to an ecstasy-like high. They may experience mild distortions of color and sound, strong visual hallucinations, out-of-body sensations, confusion, slurred speech, and the loss of motor control. Other serious side effects can include:

  • Delusions
  • Panic attacks
  • Memory problems
  • Blurred vision
  • Stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting
  • High blood pressure and rapid heart beat
  • Numbness of fingers and toes
  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Fever and headaches
  • Rashes and itchy skin
  • Loss of consciousness

The effects can be worsened if the DXM-containing cough medicine being abused also contains other ingredients to treat more than just coughs, and, as described above, if used in combination with other medications, or taken with alcohol and illegal drugs.

Medicines containing DXM

There are more than 100 OTC medicines that contain DXM, either as the only active ingredient or in combination with other ingredients including Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold & Cough Medicine, Contac, Coricidin HBP Cough and Cold, Delsym, Dimetapp DM, Mucinex DM, PediaCare cough medicines, certain Robitussin cough medicines, Sudafed cough medicines, Theraflu cold and flu medicines, Triaminic cough medicines, Tylenol Cold medicines, Vicks 44 Cough Relief medicines, certain Vicks Dayquil and Nyquil LiquiCaps, and Zicam, to name a few. Of course, many store brands contain DXM, too.

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