While it might seem odd that something that is sold over the counter could lead to a dangerous addiction, it happens all the time. There are several ingredients found in cold medicines that can make addiction very likely.
Parents often spend a great deal of time being worried about whether or not their children will choose to use substances. Their worries are not unfounded. The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that 5.4% of eighth graders, 9.8% of tenth graders, and 14.3% of twelfth graders are currently using illicit drugs. Even though this is a decline from statistics just a few years ago, these percentages are still high enough to make parents uncomfortable.
This might be one reason why so many of them turn to using cold medicine as a way to get high.
Research shows that close to 30% of all emergency room visits are because of both prescription and over the counter drugs. Also, 40% of teenagers believe that using over the counter drugs is much safer than using other types of drugs.
Parents have concerns, and they should.
At NorthPoint Recovery, we'd like to share the story of a parent who recently dealt with her son's addiction to cold medicine. The pain that she felt was very real, and the horrors of his cold medicine addiction cannot be denied.
My son was always a model student. He was a kid who never got into any trouble in school, and he always brought home As and Bs on all of his report cards. His father and I had talked with him extensively about drug addiction and how dangerous it was, and we had a pretty good understanding that he "got it." We never had any worries that he would use drugs.
Little did we know that there was an over the counter medication in our bathroom medicine cabinet that would end up causing us a lot of heartache eventually.
I would find out later that it was a friend of my son's who introduced him to using cold medicine as a drug. At first, he thought that they were just having fun and experimenting with chemicals; much like they would do in science class at school. He started spending a lot of time with this friend, and I didn't know it, but the two of them started frequenting local stores to either purchase cold medicine or walk out of the stores with several bottles hidden in the pockets of their coats.
I think I first suspected that something wasn't right when I noticed that a bottle of cough medicine that I had purchased came up missing. He had been tasked with putting it away when I brought it home from the store. When I asked him about it, he basically ignored my question, and then mumbled something unintelligible. That just wasn't like him.
I started to put the pieces together slowly. When I looked up typical addictions for young people, over the counter medication addictions came up in the search results, and I immediately thought about the missing cold medicine. My heart sank. I had gone to so much trouble to try and protect him against becoming addicted to anything, and it seemed that I failed him because I didn't know this was even a problem I should be worried about.
I knew that he would never entertain the notion of going to a rehab for his cold medicine addiction, and so, I kept looking.
There were so many resources out there for people like me. I found out that I could get help myself if I started going to Al-Anon meetings, and I started to go faithfully. These meetings are structured to help people whose family members have drug addictions.
I also found out that he could get help for a cold medicine addiction in the form of professional treatment, and it sounded like a really good idea. I just had to figure out a way to convince him to go.
During my research, I found out about the ingredients in cold medicine that made it so attractive to young people.
Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a cough suppressant that is typically found in these medications. In large doses, it creates a euphoric effect that can cause hallucinations and sensations of relaxation. It's particularly attractive to those who have depression and anxiety.
Pseudoephedrine is another drug found in cough medicine. It is a stimulant that is often used to make meth. Because of the presence of this drug, I knew I had to act fast before his addictive behaviors evolved even more.
Codeine is another drug that is highly addictive, but this one is found in prescription cough medicine. I realized that I did have some old codeine cough syrup tucked away, and when I went to find it, it was gone.
My son's cough medicine addiction didn't happen because I was negligent, or because I did anything wrong as a parent. It happens because the idea of substance abuse can be glamorous to kids, and it just so happened that he had a friend who was interested in getting high. That was the bottom line.
When I brought up the idea of going to rehab for his cold medicine addiction, my son shut down completely. He ignored everything I said, and ended up storming out of the house. That's a typical response, and I expected it. I knew he'd come home before too long, and when he did, he'd cooled off some.
His father and I sat him down and we were able to explain some of the benefits of going to cold medicine treatment. We told him that:
It took some convincing, but he finally agreed to at least talk with someone about going to inpatient treatment for his addiction. After he talked with someone at NorthPoint Recovery, he felt comfortable enough to agree to get help for his cold medicine addiction.
Realizing that your child is addicted to cold medicine is devastating. When you think you've done everything you can do to protect him against the dangerous of drugs like marijuana and heroin, you find out that the culprit is something that was lurking in your medicine cabinet the entire time. It's very easy for kids to go to the corner drugstore or to a grocery store and pick up a bottle of cold medicine.
I saw how his grades were going down, I knew that he was hanging out with the wrong crowd of kids, and I knew something needed to change. My research showed me that going to rehab for a cold medicine addiction was the best option, and now that it's over I'm glad I made that decision.
Today, he's thriving. Cold medicine rehab helped him to understand why he started using this over the counter drug in the first place, and although he is continuing with the healing process, he has remained in recovery since he began the inpatient treatment program.
If you're a parent and you're concerned that your child has a cold medicine addiction, you need to act immediately. If you have questions about cold medicine treatment in Oregon, or if you want your child to be admitted, please contact us here at NorthPoint Recovery.