When teens abuse any kind of drug – legal or illegal, prescription or OTC – it can disrupt ongoing brain development in the prefrontal cortex, with lifelong consequences.

This guest post comes from Blaise Brooks, a mother of one, caregiver of two and a contributor to the Stop Medicine Abuse blog. The Stop Medicine Abuse campaign is working to spread awareness about teen cough medicine abuse by openly talking about the challenges parents of teens face and offering from-the-heart advice on how everyone can work to prevent OTC cough medicine abuse in homes and communities. You can join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter.

Did you know that October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month? When hearing the phrase “medicine abuse,” most people immediately think of prescription medicine abuse. However, over-the-counter (OTC) medicine abuse is also an issue, especially among teens.

Why might teens might abuse OTC cough medicine? 1) It’s affordable and seems to be easily available, and 2) they believe it’s “less dangerous” than prescription medicine and illegal drugs.

The active ingredient in OTC cough medicine is dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, which can be found in more than 100 medicines that are sold over-the-counter. Even though some states have prohibited the sale of these medicines to minors, teens can turn to the medicine cabinets in their own homes or the homes of their friends to get a hold of these medications. Once they have their hands on the medicine, some teens will intentionally take excessive amounts – sometimes more than 25 times the recommended dose – to get high.

It’s scary, but parents can help prevent teens from abusing OTC cough medicine. Here are five tips you can use to take action today:

  1. Educate yourself on OTC cough medication abuse. The more you know, the easier it’ll be for you to identify when your teen is exhibiting signs of medicine abuse. You can learn more about the warning signs and side effects of medicine abuse here.
  2. Monitor your medicine cabinets. Make sure medicine isn’t disappearing for no reason. For example, has medicine gone missing when nobody in your family has been sick? Need help identifying medicines that contain DXM? Look out for the Stop Medicine Abuse icon.


  1. Have regular conversations with your teen about the dangers of substance abuse, including OTC cough medicine abuse. Make it clear that you’re aware of just how common it is. It’s also important to have these conversations in a comfortable environment to make sure the dialogue is open and honest.
  2. Listen out for slang terms that are used when talking about medicine abuse. Learn the lingo, so you can keep an ear out for it. If you overhear your teen talking with friends about “skittles” or “red hots,” don’t assume they’re talking about candy.
  3. Share the dangers of medicine abuse with other people in your community, especially with parents of other teens, so that other households are also taking the necessary steps to help prevent medicine abuse.

It’s critical to address the problem immediately if you detect – or even simply suspect – that your teen is abusing medicine. After all, teens who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50 percent less likely to abuse drugs. Have a conversation with your teen today.

Teenagers, Alcohol and Brain Damage

The impact of alcohol and drug abuse on the developing adolescent brain is the subject of Chapter 10 of my new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.

You can grow the bond with your child through better listening. Download the FREE ebook, Listening to Understand.