For most people, cold medicines are little more than short-term treatments that offer slight mitigation of cold symptoms. For cold sufferers who wish their cold medicines helped even more, it might come as a shock to learn that, for some people, cold medications are powerfully addictive. It's not the cold medication itself to which users become addicted. Instead, it's two key ingredients: codeine, which mimics the symptoms of many stronger painkillers, and dextromethorphan, which produces mild feelings of euphoria. A third ingredient, pseudoephedrine, won't get you high, but can be used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, a potentially deadly drug.
Dextromethorphan (DXM), codeine, and pseudoephedrine are available in hundreds of over-the-counter prescription medications. Their ready availability in over-the-counter medications may even be what accounts for the ongoing surge in abuse of these drugs.
While street drugs expose users to significant legal and safety risks and prescription drugs require a potentially costly visit to the doctor, abusers of over-the-counter drugs have near-immediate access to their drug of choice, and even a large quantity of these drugs in a home is unlikely to raise suspicions. Unfortunately, though, these drugs are far from safe; 27% of all drug-related emergency room visits are due to prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and the rate of injury due to over-the-counter drugs is steadily rising. Despite these troubling statistics, a stunning 40% of teens report that over-the-counter drugs are safer to use recreationally than other drugs.
Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant found in numerous cough medications, such as Mucinex, Dimetapp, TheraFlu, and Robitussin. Though the drug's natural form is a white powder, it's most frequently marketed in either syrup or liqui-gel form.
The drug is generally mild and safe, which means that recreational users have to use relatively large dosages to notice an effect, thereby increasing the risks of overdose and other dangerous effects. DXM is classified as a dissociative hallucinogenic drug, which means it has the power to produce hallucinations, a sensation that you are no longer in your body, and a general disconnection from the surrounding world. For some users, this feeling is powerfully addictive, evoking feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and even glee. The drug's dissociative effects can be particularly irresistible to people who suffer from depression, anxiety, chronic illness, and ongoing stress.
Pseudoephedrine isn't typically used as a standalone drug. Instead, the danger of this drug is its power to make methamphetamine. Found in myriad over-the-counter drugs as well as some prescription drugs, pseudoephedrine is a mild stimulant that acts like a neurotransmitter in the body. The power of pseudoephedrine to aid in the methamphetamine manufacturing process has spurred many retailers to limit the purchase of drugs such as Allegra, DayQuil, and Mucinex that contain this drug. Some limit the number of pseudoephedrine-containing products that can be purchased at once; others require purchasers to be legal adults, while others require an identification.
Interestingly, pseudoephedrine was once classified as a performance-enhancing drug by the International Olympic Committee. A Romanian gymnast was stripped of her gold medal in 2000 after taking the drug for a cold, and the president of the Romanian Olympic committee tendered his resignation in protest. In 2004, the IOC removed the drug from its list of banned medications.
Codeine is a moderate opiate painkiller that can help prevent diarrhea, reduce coughing, and induce powerful feelings of relaxation. It's commonly paired with the anti-nausea medication promethazine, and marketed as codeine-promethazine. When used recreationally, both codeine alone and codeine paired with other drugs can induce a hypnotic state, induce feelings of euphoria, and – at high doses – yield side effects remarkably similar to heroin.
The codeine detox process can be painful and may induce serious side effects, so users who are addicted to codeine may need to pursue codeine rehab to achieve lasting and safe sobriety.
Cold medications were once widely used in children, but in 2008, research began suggesting that the use of these medications in children could prove fatal. About 2,000 children visit the emergency room due to adverse reactions to these drugs, and accidental overdose can quickly become fatal.
For adults, the effects are more muted on a short-term basis. But ongoing use typically gives rise to cough and cold medication addiction. The effects of these drugs vary somewhat depending on which medication you take and whether it is mixed with other drugs. For example, DXM is often paired with pseudoephedrine, and the two drugs together produce a more pronounced effect. Likewise, codeine yields a more powerful high when blended with promethazine, and the effects of the drug can change from use to use. For example, a codeine user might feel nauseous the first time she uses the drug, then develop a strong sense of euphoria on subsequent uses.
Short-Term Effects of Cough and Cold Medication Usage
Unlike many other drugs, cough and cold medications are, for most people, completely safe on a short-term basis. If you take these drugs as recommended for a week or less, your odds of developing an addiction are vanishingly slim. Prolonged usage, high dosages, and blending cough or cold medications with other drugs, though, can yield both pleasurable and uncomfortable side effects, including:
Long-Term Effects of Cough and Cold Medications
Prolonged use of cough and cold medications almost inevitably gives rise to addiction. The amount of time it takes for an addiction to fester depends on a variety of factors, though. People with a family history of addiction, as well as those who have previously had a drug addiction, are most vulnerable, though stress, long-term illness, and mental illness also make you more likely to become an addict. The long-term effects of cough and cold medicine abuse include:
When you think of drug addiction, you probably envision dangerous street drugs such as meth, cocaine, or ecstasy. These drugs can quickly give rise to addiction because the high is so intense, spurring users to continually abuse the drug. With cough and cold medications, though, the high is much more muted. This means two things. First, addiction is most typically a gradual process, not something that happens in a matter of days. Second, people who seek out cough and cold medications for recreational use must use higher doses than recommended to get a high. This increases their vulnerability to dangerous side effects, and also shortens the time it takes to become an addict.
Addiction is a biochemical process. Though addicts do initially choose to use drugs, the continuing choice to abuse over-the-counter medications is anything but a choice. Addiction begins with chemical dependence. When this happens, your body tricks your brain into believing you “need” to use drugs. As you continue to use, your body compensates for your use by undergoing numerous chemical changes. These chemical changes make you feel less “high,” causing you to need a larger dose to get the same effects you once got with a small dose. This spurs you to use even more of the drug, until your body becomes physically dependent. When you try to quit, you may experience extremely unpleasant physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, causing you to continue using – even when you suffer serious consequences.
If you think you might be addicted to cough medicine, you probably are. The defining characteristic of addiction is continuing to use a drug in spite of negative consequences – even if those negative consequences are theoretical, such as the risk of abuse or the increased danger of suffering a heart attack. If you're still not sure, ask yourself the following questions. If you find yourself answering yes to several, you're likely an addict:
Even if you have only a handful of symptoms now, you need to know that cold medicine addiction is a progressive disease. Symptoms only get worse with time, so today is absolutely the best time to pursue cough and cold medication detox and treatment.
Cough and cold medications help you detach from the world around you, as well as your own inner world. For people who struggle with ongoing painful circumstances and mental illness, then, the temptation to abuse cough and cold medications can be especially powerful. More than half of all people who abuse cough and cold medications suffer from a co-occurring mental illness. In the world of addiction treatment, the co-occurrence of a mental illness and substance abuse disorder is called a dual diagnosis.
Mental illness and substance abuse are connected in two important ways. First, substance abuse itself can trigger a mental illness by changing your brain and body chemistry and altering your life in such a way that your circumstances may cause you to be depressed or anxious. Second, mental illness renders you more vulnerable to substance abuse by making life more challenging. Some people with depression, for instance, may rely on cough and cold medications to mute the feelings of sadness and worthlessness they experience.
If you have a dual diagnosis, trying to get clean without help is a losing battle. Rehab is your best option, because you'll get help dealing with your mental illness and your substance abuse difficulties. It doesn't matter which problem – the addiction or the mental illness – came first. What matters now is treating them both.
Depression and Cough and Cold Medication Addiction
Cough and cold medications help blunt the everyday pain of depression. Codeine, for example, can induce feelings of euphoria while helping to alleviate pain. Many depressed people suffer from unexplained aches and pains, such as headaches and muscle pain, so this feature can be especially attractive. Over-the-counter medications may also help relieve the sleeplessness that so commonly occurs with depression, and some people with depression relish the dissociative effects of DXM. DXM can leave depression sufferers feeling like they've finally escaped their own lives and bodies, in favor of a better, happier world. Unfortunately, though, these pleasant short-term effects inevitably give rise to painful long-term consequences.
Some cold medication addicts fail to realize they have depression, particularly when the depression comes after the initial addiction. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of depression, don't try to treat your symptoms with drugs. Instead, seek help. The most common symptoms of depression include:
Continuing to use cough and cold medications can alter your brain chemistry, change your relationships, and cause your quality of life to deteriorate, potentially exacerbating your depression.
Anxiety and Cough and Cold Medication Addiction
Most cough and cold medications induce moderate feelings of relaxation and euphoria – feelings that can be incredibly addictive to people who spend most of their live racked with anxiety. Though these effects can feel like something of a miracle cure to anxiety sufferers, they are short-lived. Over time, the positive effects of cough and cold medication dramatically diminish, and the changes to your chemistry these products cause can make your anxiety worse, potentially even causing a new anxiety disorder.
If you suffer from anxiety – whether the anxiety existed before your addiction or seems to be a product of it – you need professional help. There are a number of anxiety disorders, including PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and symptoms vary from person to person. If you suffer from two or more of the following symptoms, though, you likely have an anxiety disorder:
Eating Disorders and Cough and Cold Medication Addiction
Cough and cold medications can help suppress nausea, and some people find that these drugs are relaxing, so their connection to eating disorders might be surprising. These drugs, especially pseudoephedrine, though, can help suppress appetite, making it easier to lose weight. Some people also find that these drugs slightly boost their metabolism, which can be a tempting option to a person with a distorted body image.
Eating disorders kill about 10% of people who suffer from them, making early intervention a life-or-death matter. When you pair an eating disorder with an addiction, you place your life in imminent danger. Some of the side effects people who use drugs and who have eating disorders sometimes experience include:
Addiction is a disease, which means it doesn't discriminate in favor of a single drug. An alcoholic can easily turn into a cocaine or marijuana addict in the right context. People with a previous history of addiction are highly vulnerable to another addiction, particularly during the early days of recovery. A cross-addiction occurs when you replace one substance with another. The replacement substance is often, though not always, chemically similar to the initial addiction. For example, a codeine addict might turn to heroin, while an alcoholic might seek out another depressant.
When you suffer from a cross-addiction, it's important to treat both addictions, not just the one with which you currently struggle. Doing so maximizes your chances of getting better by helping you understand the root causes of your addiction. Behavioral addictions are particularly common among recovering cough and cold medication addicts.
Sex and Cough and Cold Medication Addiction
Sex is a natural feel-good drug, inducing a powerful rush and intense feelings of relaxation. For recovering cough and cold medication addicts, these feelings can be a welcome relief from the challenges of withdrawal. And for some addicts, cough and cold medications amplify the already pleasant sensations associated with sex. Sex addiction can become life-threatening, though, exposing you to disease, broken relationships, and the risk of pregnancy. If you have several of the following symptoms, you may have a sex addiction:
Gambling and Cough and Cold Medication Addiction
A surprisingly high percentage of people – 15% of all adults – have a gambling addiction. Gambling repeatedly activates the brain's reward centers, offering a quick rush and, when you win, a rewarding high. Gambling addiction can lead to financial ruin, though, and can even turn deadly if you gamble with the wrong people or get into debt. If you experience several of the following symptoms, you likely are addicted to gambling:
Addiction is a complex disease. While cough medication rehab might work for some people, others prefer 12-step programs or a simple cold medication detox regimen. There's only one universal truth about addiction: addiction is a disease that warrants treatment, which means it won't get better or go away on its own. Your goal should be to find treatment that works for your needs and your life.
Drug Rehabilitation in Idaho to Treatment Cold Medicine Addiction
Drug rehab is the gold standard for treating addiction because you'll get comprehensive services in a safe, nurturing environment, away from the stress and peer pressure of home. While every rehab offers something a bit different, you can count on getting, at minimum, the following services:
Cold Medicine Addiction Therapy in Idaho
Virtually every rehab center offers therapy, but you can also opt to attend therapy instead of rehab, or to continue with therapy once you've checked out of rehab. You'll have a chance to discuss a range of challenges and concerns in therapy, including:
Medical Care and Cold Medication Detox in Idaho
Drug addiction doesn't just undermine your quality of life and change your personality; it can also wreak havoc on your health. It's a good idea to consult with a doctor if you're planning to get clean. Your medical provider will work with you to ensure you can safely go through detox, and then will evaluate and treat you for any drug-related medical complications. If you have ongoing medical problems which you rely on drugs to treat, your doctor can help you find better, safer, healthier alternatives.
If you struggle with mental health issues, your doctor can help you find medication that really works and to which you don't become addicted.
Support Groups for Cold Medicine Addiction Near Idaho
Support groups are the cheapest and most popular way to stop using drugs. Though there are dozens of support groups available, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is the oldest and best-known. This program relies on a 12-step model that encourages you to maintain permanent sobriety, make amends to those you've hurt, and work to help other addicts overcome their addiction. You can also select a sponsor. Your sponsor is a person further along in their recovery journey than you, upon whom you can call when yo need help, advice, or even crisis intervention.
NA also offers help to struggling families, in the form of its family group, Nar-Anon. Teenagers who love an addict can seek help from a similar program Nar-a-Teen.
Although NA is not explicitly religious, it does make vague spiritual references. Many groups pray, and it's common for meetings to take place in churches. Though the program has helped thousands of people who don't practice any specific religious faith, some atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians prefer secular programs such as SMART Recovery and Rational Recovery.
Help for Your Family: Cold Medicine Addiction
Getting sober is just the first step on a long journey toward regaining control over your life. Addicts often burn bridges with loved ones, and putting these pieces of these fractured relationships beck together is a vital part of the recovery process. If you need help setting things right with your family, you have a number of options, including:
Remember, change takes time. Just as you were likely an addict for an extended period before your addiction began hurting your family, you may need to work for quite a while to make amends. A single apology often isn't sufficient; instead, you'll need to show in your actions and words that you understand the gravity of the harm you've caused and are committed to fixing things. Healing can't happen overnight, but most families are eventually able to put the pieces back together again. To make it happen, though, you have to be willing to keep trying – even if your family initially rebuffs your efforts at making amends.
Lifestyle Remedies for Cough Medicine Rehab
A few lifestyle changes won't cure your dependence on cough and cold medications. Instead, you need intensive, high-quality treatment. Lifestyle changes can, however, improve your chances of long-term sobriety and help you avoid a relapse. Try pairing some of the following changes with a healthy recovery program:
It's no secret that getting sober isn't easy. In fact, it may be the most challenging thing you ever do. But overcoming a challenge is inherently rewarding, and the things you learn about yourself on your recovery journey can serve you well for the rest of your life. Maybe you're worried your cravings will last forever, and perhaps some well-meaning people have told you as much. Rest assured, nothing could be further from the truth.
Addiction is a disease, so you will be an addict forever. This means you're more likely to become addicted to subsequent drugs or behaviors, and that even a single exposure to cough and cold medication could be sufficient to trigger a relapse. Thus you'll need to commit to long-term, permanent sobriety, and to continue using your coping skills even after you've been off drugs for months or years.
The good news is that cravings are remarkably short-lived. Every addict is different, so there's no predictable timetable for recovery. It takes some addicts months to accomplish what others accomplish in years, so remember that what you read online is just an estimate of the average, not necessarily a prediction of what will happen to you. Usually, the first few days of recovery are the worst because you're going through detox and adjusting to the physical and psychological challenges of life without drugs. Thereafter, the journey gets much easier, and cravings become less painful and more manageable. Within three to six months, your cravings will become extremely uncommon, and after a year, they may disappear altogether.
Addiction to over-the-counter medications is just as serious as any other addiction. These drugs can rob you of your family, your friends, your finances, and your freedom. They can even claim your life. Nothing is worth this terrible cost, even if the path to recovery seems long and challenging. Thousands of people recover from addiction every year, and you can too. The first step is to admit you have a problem and seek help. This act of bravery can mark your first tentative step toward an amazing new life.