Cough and cold medicine can be addictive! Did you know?

It’s a fact that the doctor prescribed medications are helpful in improving lives. The converse, i.e. the abuse and misuse of drugs has devastating effects and led to behavioural consequences, especially among the teenagers. Many of us are unaware of the fact that our medicines shelf may harbour probable sources of teenage abuse.

The use of exceedingly higher doses of an over-the-counter cough or cold medication for getting high is termed as cough medicine abuse.

The net-savvy generation has easy access to recreational and non-medical uses of the over-the-counter and prescription cough medicines. The cough medicines contain mind-altering (psychoactive) active ingredients. These medications contain antihistamines, expectorants and cough suppressants, apart from the active ingredient. These antihistamines and expectorants are harmful at high doses and add to the abuse dangers.

Cough and cold medicine can be addictive! Did you know?

The abuse

The medications as mentioned earlier are easily available in the drugstores without the need for any prescription. The medications can be misused along with other street drugs or mixed with soda and alcohol which can have much more harmful effects.

The commonly reported and abused cough medicines include:

  • Dextromethorphan: A cough suppressant, is widely abused for its “high” feeling and euphoria when taken in larger than recommended doses.
  • Codeine cough syrup: Codeine, an opioid derivative which is a cough suppressant. It can lead to happiness on consumption in larger than the recommended doses. Cough syrups are also available with an antihistamine and promethazine HCl combination, which acts as a sedative.

The government of India has now banned the codeine based cough syrups to prevent its misuse.

Dextromethorphan at higher doses has the same effect on the receptor cells like the other drugs such as ketamine do. In a similar manner, codeine at higher doses acts the way the opioid, heroin acts on the cell receptors. The active ingredients present in the cough medicines directly or indirectly lead to a rise in the levels of dopamine associated with pleasure in the reward pathway of the brain. Repetitively desiring to experience this feeling leads to addiction.

Adverse effects on health

Dextromethorphan abuse can lead to

  • Numbness
  • Impaired motor function
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Rise in body temperature
  • Severe agitation

Promethazine-codeine cough syrup abuse can lead to a higher risk of lethal overdose owing to its depressing impact on the central nervous system. When abused with alcohol lead, it can stop or slow down the lungs and the heart.

Next Steps

Educating the teens and individuals abusing these drugs, about the dangers and the possible consequences of cough medicines abuse can help in preventing the misuse.

Further Reading

Common Cold The Most Common

Consult a top Psychiatrist

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  • Drug Facts: Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cough-cold-medicine-abuse. Accessed 20 May 2016.
  • Wairagkar NS, Das J, Kumar S, et al. Codeine Containing Cough Syrup Addiction In Assam And Nagaland. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 1994;36(3):129-132.

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