Cough medications alleviate common cold symptoms like severe coughing and chest congestion, and they can thin and loosen mucus to prevent accumulation. Like all over-the-counter and prescription medications, patients should take cough medications as directed by their physician to avoid life-threating complications due to misuse. Cough medications in particular can be highly addictive because they often contain active ingredients that stimulate the mind, causing similar effects to recreational drugs like phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine, and cannabis. Patients who are seeking cough symptom relief without the potential risk of becoming addicted can take non-narcotic medications like benzonatate, a cough suppressant, and guaifenesin, an expectorant that thins and loosens mucus in the lungs and airways.
Addictive Cough Medications
There are many cough syrup medications available over the counter that can provide significant cough symptom relief when taken as directed. When administered in recommended doses, the formulations in cough syrups containing active ingredients like dextromethorphan can safely suppress cough symptoms by targeting several regions in the brain that triggers the cough reflex. One of the dangers associated with using cough medications like dextromethorphan however, occurs when patients exceed the label-specified maximum dosages that can lead to addiction. These medications can also be dangerous, even in low doses, for patients with a history of drug or alcohol addiction.
The stimulant effects of taking slightly higher than recommended doses of dextromethorphan are often compared by recreational users to alcohol or cannabis. However, higher doses dextromethorphan can have a dissociative hallucinogenic effect that can cause a feeling of separation from one’s body, and are often compared to other dissociative drugs like phencyclidine (PCP) or ketamine. When taken in dosages exceeding 100-200mg, patients experience behavioral effects like mild mind stimulations. Exceeding 200-500 mg of dextromethorphan can cause feelings of euphoria and can trigger hallucinations. Patients who exceed 300-600mg of dextromethorphan experience distorted visual perceptions and loss of motor coordination that can lead to extreme drowsiness that can last for several hours on end.
The feelings of euphoria and hallucinations associated with cough medication containing dextromethorphan can be extremely addictive to some patients, and abuse can go unreported to primary care physicians because they do not require a prescription. If you suspect that you might be addicted to cough syrup medication, you should talk to you doctor to determine a plan of action that can safely detoxify the body from the chemical components present in your body.
Alternative Non-Addictive Cough Medications
As an alternative to potentially addictive cough syrups available over the counter, non-narcotic medications like prescription benzonatate can help patients 10 years of age and older relieve cough symptoms. Unlike cough syrups that contain artificial coloring and flavoring, benzonatate is available in an oral capsule formulation and is taken every 4 hours to suppress coughing throughout the day. Benzonatate works by numbing the throat and lungs, making the cough reflex less active when taken as directed. The most common side effects patients experience while taking benzonatate are drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, rash, skin itching, and acid reflux. The non-addictive formulation of benzonatate is a great option for patients with a history of substance abuse, as there are no mind-altering effects associated with taking this antitussive medication.
Another option for patients seeking cough relief is non-narcotic over the counter medications that contain active ingredient guaifenesin. Expectorant medications that contain active ingredient guaifenesin work by loosening and clearing mucus and phlegm from the lugs and airways that can cause uncomfortable coughing through the day. The most common side effects patients experience while taking guaifenesin include nausea or vomiting. Available in tablet and syrup formulations, the most common OTC medications that contain guaifenesin include Mucinex and Robitussin. Due to the non-stimulant nature of guaifenesin, patients are able to take this medication safely without running the risk of becoming addicted throughout the duration of treatment.