Elk River Teen Treatment Program

DXM Addiction & Abuse is on the Rise

Make sure your teenager is aware of the dangers

Dextromethorphan (DXM) Addiction

July 27, 2016

Talking to your kids about drugs is often challenging. Drugs increase or decrease in popularity, and it can seem almost impossible to keep up with street names and lingo used to describe the substances. If you’re a parent, however, you may need to have a conversation with your son or daughter about the dangers of dextromethorphan addiction. Often referred to as DXM, dextromethorphan is a common ingredient found in cold medicines and cough syrups. 

Though drinking or ingesting these kinds of medicines might sound disgusting to the average person, they are increasingly popular among teens looking for a cheap and easy high. Though the medication is safe when taken as prescribed, in large amounts it can cause hallucinations similar to the effects of taking PCP.  DXM is also found in over half of the drugs currently sold over the counter in the United States, so chances are it’s somewhere in your medicine cabinet right now.  

Popular names for DXM include drex, robo, rojo, red devils, orange crush, tussin, or velvet. When teens combine cough syrup with soda, they might call it drank, purple drank, or sizzurp.


Why Teens Abuse Dextromethorphan 

Teens use the DXM for a number of reasons. To start, because there are so many over the counter medicines and other products that contain the drug, your teenager has easy access to it. You’re also more likely to not notice if your teen buys any of these medicines. Though cough syrups may prove hard to ingest in large amounts, teens can easily abuse tablet form medications and take the medicine in higher doses to achieve the desired high.  Often people assume teens drink cough syrup for the alcohol content, when in fact the high they’re searching for is closer to the experience of PCP or ketamine. 

The drug is also easy to swipe from a store or very cheap to purchase. Because it’s sold over the counter, teens might assume that abusing DXM is safer than abusing illegal drugs or prescription medication. However, this simply isn’t true.  Teens might also be at risk to use the drug because their parents haven’t mentioned it in conversations. Rather than feeling relief that their teen is abusing the drug rather than “street” ones, parents should still be very concerned. 

High doses of Dextromethorphan can cause: 

  • Rapid breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Impaired vision
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgment
  • Hallucinations

In high doses and when taken with alcohol or other drugs, DXM can also lead to coma and possibly death. If you discover your teen has been abusing DXM, and he or she exhibits any of these symptoms, then seek medical help right away. 


What Can You Do If Your Child May Be Addicted to Dextromethorphan? 

Know the Signs. A parent might think to check whether a teen is using alcohol or prescription drugs, but they forget to monitor other medications. Pay attention to how many tablets of over the counter medications you have and how much cough syrup is in the bottle.  Also be sure to throw out or flush old and expired medications regularly. If you fear your teen is already using or at particular risk, consider locking up medications. 

Be honest. Explain to your child that just because a drug is sold over the counter, or because it’s safe when taken correctly, doesn’t mean that there can’t be serious complications or risks when taken in large amounts. Even if their friends haven’t experienced any negative side effects, that doesn’t mean that their own use can’t be harmful or potentially fatal. 

Consider their motivation. Teens want to get high for any number of reasons.  So before you panic about the behavior, take the time to ask them about their motivations. They might feel the social pressure to take a risk, or they might feel stressed with school or social challenges.  They might suffer from anxiety or depression and don’t realize that help exists for them. By addressing these reasons and providing your teen with a whole network of support, you lower the risk of experimentation with drugs. 

Above all, remember that introducing new information about drug use to your teen won’t encourage them to start experimenting. The sooner he or she understand the dangers of abusing over the counter medication, the sooner he or she will feel prepared to not cave into social pressure or their own curiosity. An honest, open, and safe environment encourages kids to experiment with being healthy and asking for help when they need it. So what can you do to educate your son or daughter today?