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Can you get addicted to DXM?

The short answer is: we don’t know if it’s possible to get addicted to DXM or not.

Studies indicate that DXM probably isn’t addictive, but some users report cravings for the drug. Its availability in over 120 over-the-counter cold medications makes DXM easy to abuse, especially for teenagers who perceive it as a low-risk high. But what are the side effects of DXM abuse? What does DXM do inside the body, and is it dangerous? We examine these questions in more detail here.

DXM chemistry and use

DXM, or dextromethorphan, is a cough-suppressant found in over-the-counter cold medications. DXM can be used alone to control cough, or in combination with other medications such as painkillers, antihistamines, decongestants, and expectorants. When taken as directed, DXM rarely has any side effects.

However, when taken in large quantities, DXM causes a heightened sense of perceptual awareness, altered perception of time, and visual hallucinations. DXM intoxication usually causes hyper-excitability, lethargy, slurred speech, sweating, and hypertension. One of the dangers of using DXM to get high is in the side effects from overdoses of other active ingredients in OTC medications.

  1. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage.
  2. Antihistamines can result in central nervous system and cardiovascular toxicity.
  3. Pseudoephedrine increases blood pressure.

What does DXM do in the body?

Dextromethorphan is related to opiate medications, and works by suppressing the coughing reflex in the brain. Because DXM works directly on the brain and affects the central nervous system, large amounts of the drug can cause hallucinations and intoxication. Large doses of the drug can cause users to go into a dissociative or “out of body” state.

Because of the other ingredients frequently packaged with DXM in OTC medication, it’s usually difficult to overdose on cough medication combination drugs. Usually, DXM users will vomit and be unable to absorb a lethal dose of the drug. The risk of overdose is much higher with powdered dextromethorphan, which allows users to take a much larger dose all at once. Luckily, this more dangerous form of DXM is not easily available.

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How do you get addicted to DXM?

Unfortunately, researchers just don’t know. While studies have shown that the dextromethorphan medication has low addictive potential, some abusers have reporting feeling strong cravings for the drug after taking it. However, unlike many addictive drugs, there are not withdrawal symptoms associated with DXM after users quit.  On the other hand, if you’re asking yourself, “Can I get addicted to NyQuil?” or “Can I get addicted to Benadryl?”, some experts think that some types of over the counter drug addiction is possible.

Who uses DXM?

DXM is mostly abused by minors because of its easy availability compared to other drugs and alcohol. The American Association of Poison Control Centers tracks the number of calls it receives regarding DXM abuse, and they usually log a majority of calls from teenagers (over 60%). Because of the potential for abuse, some pharmacy chains do not allow minors to buy medications containing the drug, or put a cap on how much can be purchased by any customer at one time.

Signs of DXM abuse

Because DXM use is so prevalent among teenagers, it’s important for parents to keep an eye out for potential abuse (and to know street names for DXM). Parents should inventory their medicine cabinets, kitchen cabinets, and anywhere else that they store medications. Signs of DXM abuse may include:

  • flushed face
  • poor coordination and movements
  • poor balance
  • slow comprehension
  • slow response time
  • slurred speech

What should you do if you have a DXM problem?

Using medications that contain DXM to get high is not safe. If you are worried about abusing a medication you currently need to take, talk to your doctor. A family doctor will be able to refer you to someone who can assess your drug use. And there’s nothing to be afraid of – the consequences for being honest are often more beneficial than the risk of keeping DXM use hidden.

Questions about DXM

Please leave us any other questions about cough medications, DXM or over the counter medication abuse. We will be happy to answer your questions or refer you to someone who can.

Reference sources: National Drug Intelligence Center: Intelligence Bulletin: DXM
Drug Enforcement Administration: Drug Fact Sheet: Dextromethorphan
New York State Department of Health: Protect Your Kids! Prescription Drug Alert
Driving impairment from DXM abuse

Leave a Reply

6 Responses to “Can you get addicted to DXM?
Amethyst
7:43 pm September 26th, 2012

My husband is addicted to DXM (Coricidin) and I wanted to know if there were any support groups specifically for DXM addicts? He has been to AA and NA, but I was wondering if there were any groups that he could relate to. Any info would be much appreciated!

1:05 pm October 18th, 2012

Hello Amethyst. Thanks for your question. No, I know of no official 12 step groups specifically for DXM addicts and addiction. However, your husband can find a number of online support groups and forums to chat with about DXM related issues. Otherwise, check in with either a social worker or a licensed clinical psychologist in your area to learn more about possible support groups for drug addiction in general in your locale.

Thomas
11:35 pm January 20th, 2014

I have a best friend I want his name anonymous. I seen him at his worse he even got me to do it with him once and that scared me away from it. I seen everything shaking my vision was shaking I couldn’t walk I had a robot voice. But he is my best friend and there is times where I had to take care of him I seen him shaking on the ground and foaming pink stuff from his mouth. One time I was hanging out with him and he was having a panic attack so took his heart rate and it was at 160. I don’t know how he is alive. I never took him to the hospital and I always cover for him. He talks to me on the phone and tells me about what he sees and he is addicted he shared me his outter body experiences. And he wants to stop but he says at the same time he doesn’t. He says he loves it to much. I don’t know what to do for my friend

1:46 pm January 22nd, 2014

Hi Thomas. You might want to consider speaking with your friend’s family or loved ones and scheduling an intervention together. The best way to help an active addict is to stop enabling the behavior, and to present your friend with alternatives and consequences. A professional counselor (licensed psychologist) can help you plan an intervention.

Andrea
10:32 am July 10th, 2015

I really would like to talk to somebody who has this addiction………. and wants to stop

George
2:20 am March 11th, 2016

I used dxm heavily for about 12 years with a few short breaks. When I would try to quit I’d get sick and the “brain zaps” were horrific. I’d be pretty much debilitated for 3 days and fuzzy brained for another week after that. Or I’d just pick up and start using again because the withdrawal was so intolerable. Not to mention the damage I did in my family and job. I finally managed to quit for good in 2007 just before my granddaughter was born. But now I can’t focus and my memory is shot. I had an “episode” a few weeks ago and an MRI last week. According to the radiologist I have “numerous white matter lesions” in my brain. Maybe there’s no connection. But I really don’t believe that. DO NOT GET HIGH ON DXM. Just don’t start.

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