Teenage Drug Abuse: The Cough Syrup High Called Robotripping

Teenage drug abuse and teenage alcoholism ruin a teen’s life and tears their family apart. The teenage years are characterized by risk-taking behavior and impulsivity. An example of a teen experimenting with a different way to get high is chugging cough syrup in excessive amounts. This method of getting high is called “robotripping”.

The active ingredient in cough syrup is called dextromethorphan, also known as tussin. Dextromethorrphan acts as a cough suppressant at recommended doses. It is sold over the counter and Is therefore legal and readily available. Just like teenage binge drinking is typical of teens (to drink large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time), taking 25- 50 times the recommended dose of cough syrup (chugging or binge drinking medication) is a form of teenage drug abuse.

As a psychiatrist that specializes in addiction, I have found that parent’s lack education about teenage alcoholism and teenage drug abuse in today’s world. The world is a different place compared to how we grew up. The ease of sharing information through electronics makes it easy to start trends. Parental denial about their teen experimenting with drugs and alcohol is strong.

R.T. Is a 16 year-old I treat for teenage alcoholism and cough syrup abuse. He said he drank the cough syrup often because he enjoyed hallucinating and feeling like he was “outside” his own body. He reported to me feeling “really high” on cough syrup. However, one day he drank so much cough syrup, he had a seizure and ended up in the emergency room. He could have easily died. At that point, his parents were confronted with the reality that their son had a serious drug and alcohol problem. He was admitted to a rehabilitation facility.

Here are 7 facts parents need to know about robotripping; the cough syrup high:

1. 1 out of 10 teens has tried robotripping.

2. Teens are very naive and think a mediation is safe if it is over the counter. They do not understand that taking anything above recommended doses can cause serious damage to your health.

3. Chugging cough syrup causes hallucinations, an out of body experience, and perceptual distortions. It is thought of as a cheap form of ecstasy or LSD and is similar to the high caused by the animal tranquilizer, Ketamine.

4. The cough syrup high is called robotripping. Other terms for the cough syrup high or the active ingredient, dextromethorphan, are DXM, skittles, Syrup, Tussin, Triple-C, Special K.

5. Dangerous effects of robo-tripping include slowed breathing, cardiac arrhythmias, bleeding in the brain, seizures, loss of feeling in one’s fingers and toes, coma, and death.

6. Fatal overdoses occur when mixed with alcohol, sleep or anti-anxiety mediation, and pain medications. Nyquil and other mixed cold/cough preparations can be very dangerous when taken in high doses.

7. Tussin is addictive if it has been taken for a long period of time.

Parents need to wake up to the world of teenage drug abuse. Teens takes risks, are susceptible to peer pressure, are trying to fit it, and are trying to deal with confusing feelings and often tough family situations (divorce, an alcoholic parent). Teens tend to self-medicate feelings of depression and anxiety with drugs and alcohol. The teens at greatest risk for teenage drug abuse and teenage alcoholism are those with low self-esteem, those that complain of being lonely, and those that have an addicted parent.

Part of our responsibility as parents is to educate our teens about the dangers of drugs and alcohol including cough syrup and prescription pills such as pain medications. It is important to explain that “over the counter” medicine does not equal “safe”. We must be careful what medications are available at home and lock them up like we would lock up a liquor cabinet.