Driver Education – How Drugs Affect Driving – Cough Medicine

Many parents who warn their teens repeatedly not to use illegal drugs are unaware of the temptation and risk posed by over-the-counter medications such as cough medicine. But cough medicine provides an inexpensive, easily accessible high to one out of 11 teens, according to the Partnership for a Drug-free America. And teens are often ignorant of or in denial about the risks posed by over-the-counter medicines which, they reason, are safe and legal. A 2008 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study indicated that only 45% of teens think taking cough medicine to get high is hazardous. Teens may not consider that though dextromethorphan (DXM) is safe to take in the recommended 15-to 30-milligram dose, they are likely to consume 360 milligrams or more in the effort to get high.

The effects of overdosing on DXM include:

  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Loss of motor control
  • Dissociative (out-of-body) sensations
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Brain damage
  • Death
  • The situation becomes even more dangerous when teens abuse drugs they believe are safe and then get behind the wheel. To make matters worse, many teens who experiment with using cough medicine to get high do so when they are already under the influence of another drug, such as alcohol. This intensifies the effects, and, of course, makes driving riskier.

    Information on how to abuse DXM is readily available on the internet and via teens’ friends, so parents must counteract it with information of their own – and with vigilance. Here are some tips for parents:

  • Familiarize yourself with the basics of cough medicine abuse. Words to watch for (on your teen’s internet history) and listen for include Dex, DXM, Robo, Robo-ing, Robo- tripping, Skittles, Skittling, Syrup, Triple-C, and Tussin. DXM is found in syrups, lozenges, tablets, capsules, and gel caps labeled DM, cough suppressant, or tuss, or include the word “tuss” in the name.
  • Include discussions about the risks of abusing over-the-counter drugs in your regular talks with your teen. Explain the difference between therapeutic dosages and overdosing, as well as the effects. Tell your teen that you want to know whenever they need to take any medication for any reason.
  • Lock your medicine cabinet or keep medicines that contain DXM in a location that isn’t accessible to your teen. Keep track of how much medicine is in each container. Avoid buying multiples of medicines that contain DXM; doing so can be tempting to teens, and also makes it more difficult for you to keep track of the total amount of medicine in your household.
  • Observe your teen, your teen’s bedroom and bathroom, and recreational areas carefully for medicinal smells and empty cough medicine containers.