Look Closer – Guest Post

Teens are often pressured by their peers to engage in risky behaviors, such as substance abuse. You likely have alcohol, marijuana, and illicit drug abuse on your radar, but are you aware that some teens abuse over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine? Like the misuse of other substances, the abuse of OTC cough medicine can have serious side effects that jeopardize the health and safety of your child.

In some states, OTC cough medicine can be obtained by teens easily and inexpensively, which could make it an appealing choice. Teens may also be more willing to abuse dextromethorphan (DXM), the active ingredient in over 100 OTC cough medicines, because they falsely believe that it is less dangerous to misuse than illicit drugs. Additionally, this substance tends to be easier to hide from parents – an empty bottle of cough medicine in the trash is likely to seem less suspicious than an empty beer bottle, or even an empty package of prescription medicine.

Being aware of certain “red flags” can help you detect medicine abuse before it escalates. Here are some signs that your teen might be abusing OTC cough medicine:

  • Changes in friends and interests
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Conversations that include the use of slang terms
  • A significant drop in school performance
  • An unusually hostile or an uncooperative attitude

It’s important to look closer to notice changes in your teen’s behavior. If your teen exhibits any of these red flags, address the issue immediately. For teens to take the dangers of medicine abuse seriously, parents must take it seriously as well. These conversations are essential as teens who learn about the risks of drug abuse from their parents are 50% less likely to use drugs.

If you do you find that your teen has been abusing OTC cough medicine or other substances, it can be a scary moment. Out of love and protection for your teen, you might find yourself inclined to scold or lecture. Instead, try to have a two-way conversation. Focus on offering support and guidance. This approach can help your teen be more open and honest with you about their motivations for abusing substances or engaging in other risky behaviors.

Having regular check-in conversations with your teen can also help. Stay involved in your teen’s daily life by asking questions like, “What was the best part of your day?” and “What’s new with your friends?” This will enable you to establish a relationship with your teen that is based on trust, which will help you have more difficult discussions when necessary.

Stop Medicine Abuse is a prevention campaign working to alert parents and members of the community about the problem of teen abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines containing dextromethorphan (DXM). You can learn more on by visiting the Stop Medicine Abuse website or connecting with the campaign on Facebook page and Twitter.