Your family medicine cabinet seems less threatening than hard drugs or alcohol abuse. However, consider this: Some teens turn to easily accessible over-the-counter cough medicine for a buzz. We’ll look at three ways to prevent teen DXM abuse.

In this guest post, Anita Brikman, from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, presents things parents can do to keep an eye out for and curb abuse.  Some red flags to keep in mind: You notice medicines containing DXM have gone missing. You find empty bottles in unexplained places (a non-bathroom trashcan or your child’s room, for instance).

It also helps to keep track of your medicines that contain DXM and monitor them. According to, more than 100 over-the-counter medicines have DXM.

Would you drink a coffee mug of cough syrup? Your teen might.

Here Anita Brikman offers key information and tips:

Today, roughly one in 30 teenagers reports consuming excessive amounts of over-the-counter cough medicine with the active ingredient dextromethorphan (DXM) to get high. What counts as excessive, you may ask? Sometimes teens take up to 25 times the recommended dose of OTC medicines containing DXM — that’s equivalent to drinking an entire coffee cup full of cough syrup!

Teen DXM Abuse

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While medicines containing DXM are safe and effective when taken as directed, they can cause harmful side effects when abused. Such side effects include mild distortions of color and sound, hallucinations, loss of motor control and more. Additionally, when DXM is abused in conjunction with alcohol, the danger is much greater.

3 things you can do to help prevent teen DXM abuse:

  1. Keep an eye and ear out for warning signs like unexplained empty cough medicine packages, sudden change in friends, declining grades or a hostile attitude. Take note if you hear your teen use slang terms like “skittling” or “red hots” — they might not be talking about candy, but instead discretely talking with their friends about medicine abuse.
  2. Maintain an open dialogue with your teen about medicine abuse and other risky behaviors. Remind them that they can always turn to you if they feel pressured to do something and that you’re there to help them sort through the situation in a judgment-free zone. Teens who learn about drug risks from their parents are 50 percent less likely to use drugs, according to our research.
  3. Keep others in the loop. Share what you know with other parents, teachers and members of your community. Together, we can help keep our teens safe and healthy.

For more information on teen medicine abuse visit

DXM abuse is scary, but we can all play our part in preventing it.