Watching for the Abuse of Over-the-Counter Substances

cough syrup

If there are young teens or even pre-teens in your household, it would be smart for you to learn about the drugs that they might be tempted to use. There are two types of drugs that this age group might start using: inhalants and cough medicine.

spray can inhalant

Inhalants are available everywhere. In the average home, it’s hard-to-impossible to lock away all the substances that could be used for inhalant abuse. That would mean that every can of whipped cream, solvent and correction fluid would need to be hidden. Every marker, every stain remover, can of spray paint or computer duster. The gasoline in the lawn mower and the paint thinner in the shed – all of it. Even hair spray!

As a parent, it can be very hard to picture young people intentionally inhaling these substances. But they do. And the awful thing about inhalants, in addition to the possibility of physical harm and addiction, is that they can kill a young person the first time he tries them.

The other possibility is cough medicine. There is a story of a young actress in New York who almost totally derailed herself on the way through high school and college with her continuous abuse of cough medicine.

I Was a Cough Syrup Junkie

In this article, you can see clearly in her story how the habit of using one substance after another, culminating in constant cough medicine consumption, wrecked her carefully-arranged life.

This is how addiction starts for most people. It’s just a little indulgence but then there is some benefit that seems to come from the drug use. Maybe they feel more comfortable in their skin or they are not shy anymore or like her, they don’t feel the anxiety of suspected inferiority when they are high.

Very few people use just one drug forever and never progress to another. Like her, many people start with alcohol which is legal or perhaps marijuana which many people feel is harmless “because it is given to sick people.” But what she experienced is the norm for many people: you start looking for a better experience.

We conducted a number of interviews with Narconon program graduates. In every single case, these people who came to Narconon to get help for heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or other severe drug addiction had started with alcohol and pot. But each one progressed to other drugs, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.

If you’re a parent of a pre-teen or teen or even a young adult, hopefully, this article helps put you on full alert if you were not already. If you are a young person or young adult, see how a little experimentation can and does get out of hand. Treasure your talents and protect your future by staying sober.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.