Can You Get Addicted to Cough Medicine?

Can You Get Addicted to Cough Medicine?

Cough medicine may not be the first thing you think of when thinking of addictive substances, however, one can become dangerously addicted to it. In America, cough medicine has been frequently abused, particularly those medicines that contain codeine. It is common to see teens and young adults who are underage abuse and become addicted to cough medicine given its relative accessibility and low price point compared to more illicit drugs and hard alcohol.

Can You Get Addicted to Cough Medicine?

Some cough medicines contain an opioid drug called codeine. Codeine is highly addictive and can become extremely dangerous if used incorrectly. It is considered to be safe in small,  highly controlled doses. This addictive opioid can be used as a mild painkiller and when in cough medicine, works as a cough suppressant. 

Codeine is a mild narcotic drug and is targeted by those looking for a narcotic high. Due to the rise of narcotic addictions and the misuse of cough medicines and other over the counter drugs, codeine based cough medicines are highly regulated by the FDA (Federal Food and Drug Administration). Typically, in the US you need a prescription to obtain cough medicine with codeine. Some cough medicines have pulled codeine out of the formula entirely. 

Another common drug in cough medicines that you can become addicted to is dextromethorphan, or DXM, which is also a cough suppressant. It’s used in place of codeine and is available over the counter. However it is still known to be intoxicating and dangerous when used incorrectly. Its intoxicating qualities make it highly addictive. You can also find promethazine, a sedative drug, in cough medicines.

What are Cough Medicine-Based Substances?

The misuse of cough medicines grew in popularity and notoriety in the 90s, largely due to the rise of hip-hop culture and the rap music industry. Many songs and artists glorified the use of addictive cough medicine-based drinks. When cough medicine is mixed with alcohol or soft drinks it is commonly referred to as lean, purple drank, syrup or sizzurp. The term lean is derived from the need to lean up against something due to its effect on physical coordination, whereas purple drank was coined  due to the purple color of codeine based cough medicines.

Due to the cultural popularization of these extremely dangerous mixed drinks & meth labs using cough medications, the FDA has moved codeine to a schedule III drug, meaning it requires a prescription to access it. Currently prescriptions and any sale of these cough medicines are closely monitored by state & federal authorities. 

Is Cough Medicine Addiction Common?

In 2014, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) issued a study that estimated 1 in 10 teens have abused cough medicine (specifically codeine based cough medicine) as a manner of experiencing a high. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) estimated in a 2008 study that three million young adults and teens between the ages of 12 and 25 had misused codeine in some form & DXM based over the counter drugs.

According to the SAMHSA study, misuse varied based on demographic. Female teens  (12-17 years old)  were more likely to misuse non-prescription drugs than males in the same age group. Interestingly as this group ages, the likelihood reverses. Males 18-25 were more likely to misuse these drugs than their female counterparts.  Across all age groups in the study, white people were up to three times more likely to misuse these drugs than other people of color.

The misuse of cough medicine is frequently seen in hip-hop culture and many celebrities have become addicted to cough medicine. They have unfortunately experienced the dangers of mixing substances and some have had to be hospitalized.

Is Abusing Cough Medicine Dangerous?

As with any type of abuse, there are major dangers to the misuse of the over the counter and prescription drugs. Codeine and DXM can be extremely damaging to the central nervous system and cause lifelong damage, including some of the following affects:

  • Ecstasy
  • Blurred vision
  • Calm/sedated feelings
  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulty with motor functions
  • Extreme abdominal pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Dissociation with reality and relationships
  • Addiction, withdrawal, and cravings
  • In some serious cases, seizures can occur

Codeine is a dissociative drug, meaning the mind can feel separated from the body, leading it to be extremely physically dangerous as it can lead to injury as well as creating a highly addictive sensation. An addiction to cough medicine can be life threatening.

Is an Overdose Possible?

Overdosing on cough medicine is unfortunately very common and alarmingly easy to do. Codeine based cough medicines are especially dangerous for overdosing. Codeine, a narcotic, is by nature a depressant, meaning it slows breathing and can dangerously withhold oxygen from circulating in the body. 

Another danger lies in mixing alcohol and cough medicines, like many do with lean or purple drank. The opioid and alcohol enhance the effects of one another, making it dangerously addictive and damaging to the body.

Addiction Treatment in Denver, Colorado

Becoming addicted to cough medicine is a serious problem and needs to be treated as such. If you or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms of cough medicine addiction, contact our treatment center for a full evaluation and to find the care you need to live a life of recovery.