Teens Getting High: DXM Cough Medicine

OTC Cough MedsDrug abuse is on every parent’s mind. We simply don’t want our children to ever go down the road of drug addiction. To empower parents to spot the warning signs and help prevent teen abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine containing dextromethorphan (DXM), the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) is sharing the results of qualitative and quantitative research of teens. The quantitative (numbers-based) research began in 2013 and is conducted three times a year. Here’s some insight from that data:

The Facts On DXM Abuse:

  • DXM is an ingredient found in most OTC cough medicines. Used appropriately, it is a safe medicine that alleviates coughs in children older than 6 years.
  • Abuse: Approximately 1 in 30 teens have abused cough medicine to get high, and 1 in 3 teens in grades 9-12 knows someone who has abused cough medicine to get high.
  • Available: Teens may feel it is harder to get their hands on it as teen perception of access has gone down 24 percent. In 2010, 65% of teens agreed that DXM was “very/fairly easy to get.” That number has since gone down to 41%.
  • What Does It Do? Taken in excessive doses, DXM has intoxicating, disassociative, and psychoactive properties. This means cough medicines taken in excess can potentially really change the way a teen thinks.
  • How Much? Teens report taking up to 25 times or more of the recommended dose of cough medicine to get high. Side effects from abuse include nausea and vomiting, distortions of color and sound, hallucinations, and loss of motor control.
  • Dangerous when combined: DXM is more dangerous when combined with other substances (drugs and alcohol). Risks elevate with multiple substances and side effects can even be lethal.
  • No question that what parents say matters. Teens who learn a lot about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs .

What Parents Need To Know About The Research:

FOMO (fear of missing out!) and fear of social consequences may be a leading motivator in preventing teens from abusing cough medicine. Research here tells us that the perceived risks of DXM abuse – vomiting and lack of control – also lead to social disapproval. So we have to let teens know this drug can make them barf. In public.

Socially, teens are reluctant to judge each other and would not respond favorably to media messages that “judge” other teens. Translation: teens don’t want to police each other — but remember your ideas have influence. Teens also really do want to appear like they have their act together; teens disapprove of the messiness & “out of control-ness” of DXM abuse. Talk about this.OTC Cough Meds 2

  • This is not surprising but worth mentioning: an overwhelming majority of teens have hidden online activities from parents (79%).
  • They are almost three times as likely to trust their friends as a source of information than their family (including siblings). Almost 35% listed friends as a top source and only 8% listed family.
  • Have a child in HS? Now is the time. The specific target audience for prevention of DXM abuse is teens between 14 and 19 who have considered using DXM to get high but have not yet tried it. These “fence sitter” teens skew slightly male. They have considered or tried other recreational drugs but 80% prioritize school over having a good time and one-third identify as risk takers.
  • Of course when teens are curious about DXM abuse, because they have a friend who has tried it or heard about it in pop culture, they look for more information online. Online search for DXM peaks during two times of year, aligning with back-to-school time: September/October and January/February.
  • 26% of teens agree strongly/somewhat that taking non-prescription cough/cold medicine to get high is something cool kids do, down from 29 percent in 2011.

Visit www.StopMedicineAbuse.org for more information/resources or find them on Twitter: @StopMedAbuse #StopMedAbuse.

OTC Cough Meds 3This post was written in partnership with KnowYourOTCs.org. In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @KnowYourOTCs  #KnowYourOTCs for more info on health and wellness.
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