A Chinese study into the effects of cough syrup addiction has found that addiction to cough syrup can cause many of the same effects as “hard drugs” such as heroin and cocaine. This is due to effects from the active ingredient, DXM, which has many psychoactive properties.

While China lags behind in addiction studies, abuse of cough medication has become popular within the population, especially among young men. The research team studied 30 heroin addicts ages 20 to 50, and 80 cough-syrup addicts within the same age ranges, as well as 30 heroin addicts who received methadone.

The eight-year study, conducted by Tian Junzhang, director of Guangdong No. 2 Provincial People’s Hospital, revealed that the brain of the heroin addicts and the cough syrup addicts proved remarkably similar, especially the area of brain region related to reward circuits, cognitive control and decision-making. Jiang Guihua, the director of the medical imaging department at the hospital, also said abuse of cough medicine and other drugs thins the brain’s cortex, which is the area of the brain involved in mindful thinking and problem-soling. He also noted that both types of addicts tend to be more impulsive than the general population, and enjoy gambling.

According to the Partnership for Drug-Free kids, at least one in three American teens knows someone who has abused cough medicine to get high, and one in 30 teens reports trying to use cough abuse to get high.

Cough syrup abuse is often popular among teens and preteens because they’re easy to get ahold of. Purchased over the counter, some prescription cough and cold medicines contain active ingredients that cause psychoactive, mind-altering effects higher doses. These doses are typically 25-100 times the recommended dosage, and may also contain other drugs, such as expectorants and antihistamines, that can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and brain.

Abuse of cough syrup is as dangerous and unpredictable as many other drugs. Overdoses, especially those combined with other substances such as alcohol, can cause problems with body organs. There is also a danger of serious mental health reactions such as psychosis, memory problems, anxiety attacks, hallucinations and disassociation.

The symptoms that result from cough syrup abuse depends on how much is taken and whether another drug such as alcohol or marijuana is added to the mix. One of the most common symptoms is inebriation similar to drunkenness and slurred speech. The user may hallucinate and have short-term memory problems. In large enough doses, the user may lose consciousness and be unable to move.

If you or somebody you know has a problem with cough syrup abuse, there is help available. Contact a treatment center or 12-step meeting near you to learn more about getting clean.

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