Drug Abuse

Can You Get Hooked on Cough and Chilly Medicines?


Every year millions of Americans take cough and cold medications to relieve the symptoms of a cold. If taken as directed, these medicines can be safe and effective.

However, they can be harmful if they are abused – for example, if a person takes more of the medication than they should, or if they use the medication if they do not have cold symptoms.

A person can also become dependent on cough and cold medication. Addiction arises when someone cannot stop taking medication even though it has a negative impact on their lives.

Some cough and cold medications contain ingredients that are psychotropic (which change the mind) when taken in doses above the recommended doses.

One type of cough medicine – dextromethorphan (DXM) – works on the same brain receptors as hallucinogenic drugs.
The abuse of DXM can lead to hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there).
Abuse of DXM can also lead to loss of coordination, nausea, increased blood pressure and other health problems.

Some prescription cough medicine contains codeine, an opioid that binds to the same receptors as opioids like heroin.
If a person continues to abuse codeine, they can develop a tolerance for it. That means they need more and more of the drug to get the same feeling they had when they first used it. This is how addiction begins.
Abuse of codeine can also cause a person's heart rate and breathing to slow down. High doses of codeine can lead to overdoses and death. Overdose can be treated with CPR and certain medications such as naltrexone, but the most important step is to call 911.

Therefore, use cough and cold remedies only as directed. And if you find that you are buying large quantities of these drugs for high value, seek help – you may be on the way to an addiction.