Cough syrup can be a big help to us when we’re sick. Sometimes, it even seems magical. When you drink a bit of cough syrup, your cough goes away, your chest opens up, and you can breathe easily again – for a little while at least. We’re so lucky to have cough syrup available to us, and are even luckier that some versions of it are even available over-the-counter.

Unfortunately, many things that can help us also have a potential for abuse. Cough syrup abuse is not uncommon; in fact, it’s an issue that is somewhat widespread.  Some people even develop an addiction to cough syrup, and cough syrup addiction can be very dangerous to one’s health. Why do people abuse cough syrup? Read on to find out more.

Understanding Cough Syrup 

There are two main categories of types of cough syrup: suppressants and expectorants. In addition to these, there are also multi-symptom cough syrups that sometimes contain a combination of the two plus other medicines to treat other symptoms. 

Cough suppressants are also known as antitussives and they work to keep you from coughing by sending a message to the brain to suppress your reflex to cough. Unfortunately, these medicines are not all that effective – according to studies – especially in children. The active ingredient in over-the-counter cough suppressants in the United States is dextromethorphan. This ingredient has many side effects, including drowsiness, restlessness, nausea, blurred vision, slowed breathing, and others, and these side effects can be more harmful than dextromethorphan is helpful.

Expectorants, on the other hand, work differently. The active ingredient in this type of cough syrup is guaifenesin, and it breaks up and thins respiratory mucus which makes it easier to cough up. Expectorants will make you cough more at first, but this coughing will eventually help you feel better, since you’ll be breaking up internal blockages in your respiratory system. However, this category of medicine also comes with side effects like dizziness, headache, upset stomach, nausea, and rashes.

Multi-symptom cough syrup often has a combination of these two drugs, plus some added drugs like antihistamines to decrease post nasal drip, decongestants, and pain relievers. Depending on one’s symptoms, these combinations can be helpful.

All of the above are over-the-counter cough syrups and they do have potential for abuse and can be dangerous. However, even more dangerous is prescription cough syrup with promethazine and codeine. Promethazine and codeine cough syrup abuse is rather common, and it can be life-threatening over a long period of time or at high dosages. Cough syrup with these ingredients can cause a number of different side effects, but the most dangerous among them include difficulty breathing and changes in heartbeat. 

Although all of the above types of cough syrup can be quite helpful for people suffering from coughs, they can also cause many potential problems in both the short and long term.

Cough Syrup Addiction

Many people abuse cough syrup. Some of the over-the-counter types of cough syrup are regularly used by teens and young adults because they are so accessible and because they can cause hallucinations in large doses – and many younger people seek these effects out.  

Prescription cough syrup is more often used by people seeking a narcotic high, as codeine is an opioid pain reliever. Anyone who has struggled with a dependency or addiction to opioids will be at high risk for codeine cough syrup abuse.

Any type of cough syrup has the potential for addiction, though – even over-the-counter products can be addictive to some.

Why Do People Abuse Cough Syrup? 

Can cough syrup get you high? When any cough syrup is used in a way that is not as directed, it can. This is why people abuse cough syrup. People drink cough syrup to get high – but the highs from different types of cough syrup are different. Over-the-counter cough syrups can make people hallucinate in large doses. On the other hand, codeine-based cough syrup, when used in large quantities, can make people high in the way that opioids get people high – because codeine is an opioid painkiller.

Side Effects of Cough Syrup Addiction

Cough syrup addiction side effects include blurred vision, confusion, drowsiness, nausea, shakiness, slowed breathing, and restlessness. These symptoms are common for both types of over-the-counter cough syrup and also for prescription, codeine-based cough syrups.

Long-Term Effects

Is cough syrup bad for you? It is! Even though these products were developed to help people, they are intended to be used for short periods only. If people use cough syrup on a long-term basis, not only can they become addicted, but they can suffer intense side effects. Cough syrup abuse’s long-term effects are numerous. Dextromethorphan, the main ingredient in cough suppressants, is a dissociative drug like PCP and ketamine. Ongoing use of this drug on a daily basis can lead to paranoia and hallucinations and can lead to chemical psychosis.

Ongoing use of prescription cough syrup with codeine in it can lead to opioid dependency since codeine is, in fact, an opioid. Further, there is always the potential for overdose due to the fact that codeine slows one’s breathing; this could also lead to death.

Cough Syrup Addiction Treatment

Cough syrup is not a recreational drug. Both over-the-counter cough syrups and prescription codeine-based cough syrup should be used only as directed on the label or by a doctor. If someone you know is abusing cough syrup, please encourage them to stop – as these drugs can be dangerous in both the short and long term.If you are struggling with dependency or addiction to any type of cough syrup, we can help. At Clear Sky Recovery, we are standing by to help you break free from your addictions and to find the root of the problems that led to them in the first place. Our facility in Cancun, Mexico, is staffed with people who are experienced in addiction recovery services, and our innovative ibogaine treatment has helped many before you. We are standing by to answer any questions you have and we can’t wait to hear from you. Please contact us today.


How long does cough syrup stay in your system? 

Generally, cough syrups containing dextromethorphan (DXM) can be detected in the blood for up to 24 hours, in urine for up to 48 hours, and in hair for up to 90 days. Codeine-based cough syrups can be detected in urine for 2 to 4 days, in blood for up to 24 hours, and in hair for up to 90 days.

How do you treat an overdose of cough syrup at home?

If you suspect an overdose of cough syrup, immediately seek professional medical help or call 911. Do not attempt to treat it solely at home.