medicine abuse

Photo by Anthony Goto

What’s in your medicine cabinet that could lead to teen medicine abuse? The cough medicine — harmless, right? Yes, if taken as directed. The active ingredient in most over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines, dextromethorphan (DXM), is safe and effective when taken according to labeling instructions that teens may ignore. However, DXM can produce serious side effects if taken excessively.

Now why would anyone do that, you might ask? It so happens, some teenagers abuse OTC medicines containing DXM to get buzzed and, as with most substances that are abused, consuming DXM in large quantities has dangerous consequences.

When abused, DXM can cause mild distortions of color and sound, hallucinations and loss of motor control. In addition, those who abuse it can experience nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and several other upsetting side effects. Despite the dangerous side effects, roughly one out of three teenagers knows someone who has gotten high from DXM.

Talk with your teen

As a result, it’s important to talk to your teen about OTC medicine abuse. Make sure they understand the risks. Nevertheless, no matter how well-behaved your teen is, the potential for abuse remains. As teenagers’ brains continue to develop, they are inclined to be impulsive and are easily swayed by their peers’ opinions. This is why it is vital for parents to not only be informed about OTC medicine abuse, but to also enact preventative measures.

One key to preventing medicine abuse in your home is monitoring — both your teen and your medicine cabinet. Looking out for warning signs in your teen’s behavior is a good place to start. You can also keep stock of the medicines in your home. Even though it’s an efficient preventative measure, studies show that only 39 percent of parents actually monitor the amount of cough medicine in their households. In addition to looking out for DXM in the active ingredients of medicines, you can keep an eye out for the Stop Medicine Abuse icon on medicine packaging (see below) to identify medicines that contain DXM.

SMA icon

Preventing medicine abuse is possible if we commit ourselves to spreading awareness to our teens and to other members of our communities. After going through your medicine cabinet, share this post with other parents. Strive empower them with the tools to stop medicine abuse.


This Guest Post is by Jessica Belitz, the community outreach coordinator for the Blount Memorial Foundation in Tennessee. She provides leadership for the Blount County Substance Abuse Prevention Action Team. Now that she is the mother of a young daughter, she is even more passionate about the issue, which is one of the reasons why she joined The Five MomsConnect with the Stop Medicine Abuse campaign here and conversation on Facebook and Twitter.