Today, roughly 1 in 4 teenagers knows someone who has abused over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine to get high.


Studies show that roughly 1 in 4 teenagers knows someone who has abused OTC cough medicine to get high. Since OTC cough medicines are more readily available and more affordable than prescription or illicit drugs, teens may believe they are less dangerous.

While millions of Americans rely on OTC cough medicines containing the cough suppressant ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) for cough relief, some teens ignore labeling instructions and intentionally take large amounts of DXM – sometimes more than 25x the recommended dosage – to get high. This means some teens ingest multiple packages or bottles of OTC cough medicines.

Learn the side effects and warning signs to make sure OTC cough medicine abuse does not go unnoticed in your home.


When taken according to label and dosing instructions to relieve cough symptoms, medicines containing DXM produce few side effects and have a long history of safety and effectiveness. However, when abused, DXM can cause side effects that could lead to accidents and bodily harm, including mild distortions of color and sound, hallucinations and loss of motor control.

Additionally, many DXM-containing OTC medicines also contain ingredients such as antihistamines, analgesics, or decongestants. High doses of these combination medicines can significantly increase the risk of harmful effects such as potentially fatal liver injury, cardiovascular effects, and over-sedation.

OTC cough medicine is also sometimes abused by mixing with other drugs, alcohol, and even energy drinks, which can cause additional harmful effects.

Side effects from DXM abuse include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired physical coordination
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Drowsiness
  • Numbness of fingers and toes
  • Disorientation

Are There Warning Signs?

Signs of abuse of OTC cough medicine or other drugs include:

  • Empty cough medicine boxes or bottles in the trash of your child’s room or in your child’s backpack or school locker
  • Purchase or use of large amounts of cough medicine when not ill
  • Missing boxes or bottles of medicine from home medicine cabinets
  • Hearing your child use certain slang terms for DXM abuse, such as skittles, skittling, tussin, robo-tripping, robo, CCC, triple Cs, dexing and DXM
  • Visiting pro-drug websites that provide information on how to abuse DXM
  • Internet orders, the arrival of unexpected packages or unexplained payments by credit card or PayPal account
  • Changes in friends, physical appearance or 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.

Do you intend to talk to your teen about the dangers of OTC cough medicine abuse?

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