Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

OTC Medication Abuse: What Parents Need to Know

Over-the-counter (OTC) medication abuse is on the rise for teenagers and young adults. When used as intended, these medications are safe, but when abused they can be very dangerous.

Unfortunately, dextromethorphan is easy to access. It can be found in more than 125 OTC products. Some commonly known medications that contain the substance include Robitussin and Vicks. It’s a problem that may not even hit most parents’ radar, but it can be a damaging or deadly event in their sons’ lives and, in some cases, a precursor to abuse of illegal drugs. Here’s what you need to know.

The Facts

CNN reports that, according to a government survey, 3.1 million people over the age of 12 have misused OTC medications during their lifetime. It’s an issue that is a particular problem among high school students who find the legal drugs far easier to access than alcohol or marijuana. Many admit to having abused cough medicines containing dextromethorphan—also known as DXM, skittles, CCC, rojo, velvet, and robo and by many other street names—an act often referred to as “robotripping” or “dexing.”

Health Risks and Effects

Adults often use 15 to 30 milligrams taken three or four times taken daily to treat a cough, but teens who abuse the medication sometimes take 250 to 1500 milligrams at a time. Exceeding label-specified maximum doses can cause medical emergencies, including overdose and death. There are many possible effects resulting from taking DXM, but some of the most commonly experienced when abusing the drug include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Dissociations
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Euphoria
  • Blackouts

Long-term risks may include dependence, breathing problems, and high blood pressure.


Taking DXM with other medications (OTC or prescription) can have deadly results. Further, this medication is easy to obtain for teens because they are usually available at grocery stores, drugstores, and convenience stores. DXM is also often found in many medicine cabinets, so parents are urged to lock and monitor their medicine cabinets in order to identify potential drug abuse.

It’s also important to note that though DXM is one of the most popularly abused OTC drugs, it’s not the only OTC substance that is misused. Some of these medications include laxatives, diet pills, and emetics. People often begin using these pills to try to lose weight but gradually become dependent upon them and can damage major organ systems during active abuse. These substances stimulate the central nervous system and can be deadly in large doses.

Help for Your Son Is Available

Here at Muir Wood, we understand the toll that drug abuse can take on an individual and their family. We are dedicated to helping your son recover through a wide range of therapeutic and treatment services designed specifically to reach teen boys. Call now for more information.