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Can You Get Addicted to Cough Medicine?

Today, more focus than ever before has been placed on respiratory wellness as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most common symptoms of most all respiratory infections or viruses is cough, meaning that most people who seek professional help for a cough either receive over-the-counter medication suggestions or prescription-strength cough medicine. Treating a cough can be easily remedied by taking Robitussin or Mucinex, or medications similar to those that contain dextromethorphan, or DXM. A cough can also be treated with prescription cough medicine, which typically contains codeine. Codeine is an opiate substance that is derived directly from the poppy plant. Both the dextromethorphan and codeine found in cough medicines are oftentimes abused for their effects, but many people still wonder, “can you get addicted to cough medicine”?

Dextromethorphan and Codeine 

Before the question of “can you get addicted to cough medicine?” can be answered, it is important to understand more about the two most common ingredients in cough medicines that people tend to abuse. 


Dextromethorphan, or DXM, is a cough suppressant that is commonly found in all types of over-the-counter cough medicines for both adults and children. When taken as directed, DXM helps to suppress a cough, allowing for healing from a respiratory virus or infection. DXM is also a minor serotonin reuptake inhibitor, meaning that it has the ability to help release serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is responsible for helping to regulate mood, happiness, and feelings of well-being. When abused, DXM can increase serotonin release, allowing for a high to develop. 


Codeine is an opiate substance. While opiates are not used nearly as much as they used to be in the early 1900’s for medical purposes, there is still a place for them in medicine. When it comes to suppressing a cough, codeine can work wonders when taken as prescribed. Unfortunately, as with all opioids, codeine is a highly addictive substance. Therefore, if it is abused, individuals can get addicted to it — and fast. Codeine attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain when consumed, producing a sense of well-being, relaxation, and detachment from surroundings. 

So, can you get addicted to cough medicine? Yes. Because most cough medicines contain these substances, there is a possibility for addiction to develop. Usually, however, addiction occurs more frequently in those who incorporate cough medicine into alcoholic beverages. These concoctions are often referred to as “lean” or “purple drank” and can be extremely dangerous to consume. 

The Risks of Abusing Cough Medicine and Alcohol

The vast majority of people who abuse cough medicine and alcohol in drinks known as lean or purple drank are adolescents and teens. For this age range, obtaining cough medicine from the local pharmacy is easy and doesn’t always require identification. Unfortunately, when cough medicine and alcohol are combined, a number of risks can come into play. 

The most concerning effects that tend to come along with mixing cough medicine with alcohol relate to how it can depress the systems within the body. For example, abusing too much purple drank or lean can lead to hypotension (low blood pressure), respiratory depression, extreme drowsiness, coma, and even death. This concoction slows the central nervous system down in ways that make these effects possible. When the body is not functioning at a healthy rate, death can occur. 

Additionally, cough medicine and alcohol can create cardiac complications, including abnormal heart rhythm, which can lead to pain in the chest, shortness of breath, blood clots, stroke, and even cardiac arrest. This mixture has also been known to cause seizures, which can be fatal in themselves but also deadly if an individual collapses during one and suffers physical harm as a result. Continuing to abuse lean, purple drank, or any other mixtures of cough medicine and alcohol can lead to an increased likelihood of these and other effects occurring. 

How Does Cough Medicine Addiction Occur?

Anytime someone becomes addicted to a mind-altering substance, it happens as a result of a number of factors. An individual who continues to abuse cough medicine is going to experience a time when the amount they use no longer produces the high they want. As a result, they will have to increase the amount they consume in order to get high. As that behavior continues and the amount of cough medicine that is abused increases, the more likely the individual is to become dependent on cough medicine. This means that without continually abusing cough medicine, their body will go into a state of withdrawal, as the body has difficulty functioning on its own without it. Unfortunately, some individuals stay trapped in this pattern of addiction until they overdose and lose their lives. This is unnecessary as there are several treatment options available for individuals who are addicted to substances like codeine, dextromethorphan, and other cough medicine ingredients.

Drug Rehab in Nashville

If you are abusing cough medicine, know that you are not alone. This type of substance abuse, while not as prominent as other types, is occurring all across the country. You do not need to continue to abuse this drug and put your life in jeopardy. By reaching out to our team at Detox Nashville, you are taking the first step in your journey towards recovery.

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