Many parents who are raising teenagers know they need to be concerned that their teenager may abuse alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy and many other drugs. However, parents who have children who are just starting high school, may not be aware of the fact that they need to worry about their teenager abusing cough medicine. Some parents may be concerned because some cough medicines contain alcohol. However, teenagers are abusing Robitussin on a frequent basis. They are not abusing it for the alcohol, they are abusing it for the dextromethorphan (DXM). This substance is high dosages can cause hallucinations and symptoms similar to using LSD.
Teenagers have been using Robitussin for a while and the number of teenagers abusing DXM has been increasing. A study in 2008, showed the overall use of DXM since 2000 increased by a factor of 10. However, for teenagers the increase is by a factor of 15. In order for a teenager to have hallucinations from DXM, they have to use 10 to 50 times the recommended dosage. Many parents may wonder will this amount of DXM be enough to cause their teen to overdose. Most teenagers do not overdose on DXM. However, many teenagers typically use alcohol or other drugs along with DXM. This combination can be lethal.
DXM has been around since the 1950’s. However, as I stated above since 2008 the amount of teens using DXM has increased by a factor of 15. Also DXM is used in many over the counter drugs for the cold and flu. So Robitussin is the most common over the counter medication teenagers are using, there are many other over the counter drugs that contain DXM and that teenagers are abusing too. The increase has been occurring since 2008, I have had teenagers talking about how they sneak it out of their house, get it from a friend or steal it from CVS or Walgreens. However, stealing it from a pharmacy has become more difficult because pharmacies are now keeping these medications behind the counter.
One of the primary reasons teenagers are abusing DXM is that it is cheaper than LSD or other drugs that create hallucinations. Also because these medications are over the counter it was a very easy way for them to obtain the DXM. However, as I stated, now most drugs containing DXM are kept behind the pharmacy desk and in order to buy them you need to show identification to the pharmacy. Most pharmacies require people to be 18 years or older in order to purchase medicine containing DXM.
Even with these medicines being kept behind the pharmacy counters, many teenagers have figured out ways to obtain over the counter medications containing DXM. Many teenagers know that pharmacists are aware that they are watching Robitussin so they are using other over the counter medications containing DXM. Teenagers have developed their own terms for these medications so parents may not know if their teenager is using DXM because their teenager is using different terms than referring to specific medications. I have included a link to the slang terms that teenagers are using to refer to DXM. The slang terms can be found in the following article https://www.webmd.com/parenting/glossary-dxm-drug-abuse. Parents I would strongly recommend reading this article so you can be aware if your teen is using DXM but referring to it with a different name.
Since DXM has been around for a while and more and more teenagers are using it because it is cheap and easy to get, in addition that it is in many over the counter medications, parents may have a difficult time knowing if their teenager is abusing DXM. Therefore, I have also included a link to an article which lists the symptoms you would see when someone is under the influence of DXM. Besides listing the symptoms of being under the influence, this article also lists the daily behavior changes you will see in a teenager who is abusing DXM. Here is the link to the article with the symptoms and behavior changes associated with DXM abuse https://drugabuse.com/library/dextromethorphan-abuse/#signs-and-symptoms.
As a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers, I can say I have seen a significant increase in the number of teenagers using DXM. Ten years ago, occasionally one of the teenagers I would be working with had a history of using or were currently using DXM. Today it is very common. In fact it is almost as common as marijuana. Therefore, my recommendation to parents is to take the time and read the links I have provided and do your own research. While by its self DXM is not typically lethal, teenagers combine this drug with other drugs which can cause someone’s death. Also what I have observed is that DXM tends to lead to teenagers trying other drugs that can be very deadly. Therefore, my recommendation to parents is pay attention if you notice a change in your teenager’s behavior and if you feel it may be drug related buy a drug testing kit from a pharmacy and test your teen.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience. He is recognized as an expert in the treatment of children and teenagers. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website http://www.rcs-ca.com or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.