Posted: Jul 02, 2012 12:00 PM
Most parents of teenagers are concerned about the dangers of alcohol and illegal drug use, but not everyone knows about the dangers that lurk inside the bathroom medicine chest. Teens are finding new ways to get high that involve nothing more than the cough syrup you may have at home.

Do you know what skittling, tussing, robo-tripping and dex mean? They aren't characters in the latest video game, but street terms teens use to refer to the abuse of cough and cold medicines. According to WebMD, a 2008 study found that one in 10 American teenagers has abused these products to get high, making it more popular in that age group than cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and methamphetamines.

Why cough medicine?

... one in 10 American teenagers has abused these products to get high...

The main ingredient in many cold medicines is dextromethorphan, which is a cough suppressant. It can be found in many over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold remedies, in various forms including capsules, gel caps, tablets and liquid. Dextromethorphan is generally safe when taken in recommended doses. However, when taken in large amounts it can produce visual hallucinations, mild distortions of color and sound, out-of-body sensations, slurring of speech, confusion and loss of motor control. These effects are similar to the high one might experience when abusing the illegal drug ecstasy.

Even more dangerous side effects can occur when OTC cough syrup is mixed with other substances, like alcohol or illegal drugs. Rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, numbness of fingers and toes, panic attacks and loss of consciousness are all serious potential side effects.

What to watch for

Parents and teachers need to be on the lookout for signs of OTC cough medicine abuse in teens, since it may be easier to hide than alcohol or drug abuse. shares these warning signs to be on the alert for:

  • Unexplained disappearance of money within the household.
  • Hearing your child use phrases such as skittling, tussing, robo-tripping and dex.
  • Empty cough medicine bottles or boxes in your child's room or backpack.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities that used to be enjoyable.
  • Declining grades in school.
  • Unusual chemical or medicinal smells on your child, on their clothing or in their room.
  • Internet purchases or PayPal payments that are unexplained or frequent.

Talk about it

Parents play a key role in preventing substance abuse in teens. The Parnership at reports that teens who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50 percent less likely to get high in the first place. Talking about drug abuse and the dangers of OTC cough medicine abuse needs to start early, so parents and teens can develop an ongoing conversation. Try to stress with your teen how you aren't trying to ruin their fun, but are concerned for their health and safety. Stress to them that bad choices they make now may easily lead to addiction or permanent brain damage down the road. Teens appreciate an honest approach, backed up with facts and figures from reliable sites like and

You can't always be with your teens, but your words and advice stay with them when you aren't around. Help them make good choices by talking to them about the dangers of OTC cough medicine abuse now -- before it's too late.

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