Causes & Effects of DXM Abuse

Understanding DXM Abuse

Learn about DXM abuse

DXM is a commonly used abbreviation for dextromethorphan. This substance is a cough suppressant that is included in a variety of over-the-counter medicines. Alka Seltzer Plus, Robitussin, Theraflu, and NyQuil are among the many over-the-counter medications that contain DXM.

In addition to providing temporary relief from coughing, DXM can also cause sedation, stimulation, and dissociation. These effects unfortunately make DXM an enticing substance for people who are seeking a recreational high.

When used as directed for a legitimate medical purpose, DXM can be safe and beneficial. However, DXM abuse can expose you to considerable harm. If you or someone you care about has been abusing DXM, professional treatment may be necessary.


DXM abuse statistics

The following statistics were provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA):

  • DXM is one of the two most commonly abused over-the-counter medications in the United States. (NIDA)
  • In 2017, about 3% of high school students abused DXM or another over-the-counter cough or cold medicine. (NIDA)
  • Over-the-counter medications such as DXM are sold at more than 750,000 retail outlets in the United States. (CHPA)
  • S. consumers spent more than $34 billion on DXM and other over-the-counter medications in 2017. (CHPA)
  • Fourteen states have banned the sale of DXM to individuals under the age of 18.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for DXM abuse

The likelihood that you will abuse DXM may be influenced by several factors, including the following:

  • Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
  • Personal history of mental illness or prior substance abuse
  • Having a novelty-seeking personality
  • Lacking impulse control
  • Easy access to DXM

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of DXM abuse

A person who has been abusing or has become dependent upon DXM may exhibit the following signs:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Acting with uncharacteristic nervousness or restlessness
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Losing interest in significant activities
  • Trying but failing to stop using DXM
  • Using DXM in circumstances where it is clearly dangerous to do so
  • Change in eating habits and sleeping patterns

Physical symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Skin rash
  • Racing heart rate
  • Impaired coordination

Mental symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Euphoria
  • Sense of detachment from your body
  • Psychosis


Effects of DXM abuse

Continued abuse of DXM can expose you to considerable harm, including the following effects:

  • Physical harm due to actions while under the influence of DXM
  • Liver damage
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Family discord
  • Strained or ruined relationships
  • Problems in school or at work
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Arrest, incarceration, and other legal problems
  • Social withdrawal and isolation

Dual Diagnosis

Risk of dual diagnosis among individuals who abuse DXM

A person who abuses or becomes addicted to DXM may also have an increased risk for several other disorders. Clinicians use the term dual diagnosis to describe the simultaneous presence of multiple mental or behavioral health disorders. The following are among the disorders that can impact people who have been struggling with DXM abuse or addiction::

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Other substance use disorders

Getting effective dual diagnosis care can be an essential part of your journey toward successful long-term recovery. Comprehensive dual diagnosis programming will address issues that may have contributed to your DXM abuse, or that may be preventing you from achieving recovery. Failing to get proper dual diagnosis care can undermine your efforts to end your DXM abuse.

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of DXM withdrawal and overdose

Effects of DXM withdrawal: If you become dependent upon DXM, trying to stop your use may trigger an array of distressing withdrawal symptoms, including the following:

  • Intense cravings for DXM
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis

Effects of DXM overdose: A person who exhibits the following signs after using DXM may have overdosed. Anyone who overdoses on DXM needs immediate medical attention:

  • Shallow or irregular breathing
  • Dangerously high or low heart rate
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizure or convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bluish coloration near lips or fingertips


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