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Health & Parenting

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Dr. Drew on Teen Cough Medicine Abuse

Picture of Dr. Drew Pinsky Dr. Drew Pinsky, a substance abuse expert and host of the TV show Celebrity Rehab, spoke with Elizabeth Funderburk of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) about the problem of teen cough medicine abuse outside the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, September 20. More information can be found at

What is cough medicine abuse and how is it affecting our youth?

Recent studies suggest that one out of 10 -- that’s 2.4 million teens -- abuse over-the-counter cough medicines to get high. They’re mostly interested in getting the highest dose of dextromethorphan possible -- that’s the drug that they use in 25 to 50 times the recommended dose.

They may drink several bottles of cough syrup, ingest multiple blister packs of DXM-containing pills, or even get the raw commercial form of DXM online.

What are the signs and symptoms of abuse?

Finding any of the paraphernalia associated with the drug is a very big tip-off. Empty bottles or blister packs should be a warning to parents. Kids go to great lengths to hide these sorts of behaviors, so if they become sloppy enough to come to your attention, that’s a very significant sign.

Above and beyond that, signs and symptoms of OTC cough medicine abuse are the same as any other mental health issue.

How can I prevent abuse?

1. Discuss the dangers of cough medicine abuse with your teenagers. Talking to them reduces the risk by 50%.

2. Discuss pop culture and media references about over-the-counter cough medicine abuse with your teenagers.

3. Spread the word to other parents. The community standard is as important as your family standard.

4. Monitor your teenager’s Internet use. Have their passwords and know where they’re going. There is information out there that can be terribly destructive.

5. Go to for more information on this topic.

What can I do if I think my child is abusing cough medicine or any other substance?

If there are drops in grades, changes in peer groups, appearance, sleep cycles, and irritability -- and these symptoms persist for more than a few weeks -- that’s a concern. When you add that to the discovery of paraphernalia, then it’s no longer a prevention issue – that’s time for professional intervention.

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