Drug and Alcohol

Dextromethorphan: Why DXM, an Over-the-Counter Drug, Isn’t Safe to Abuse

What is Dextromethorphan?

Dextromethorphan is an ingredient in many over-the-counter cough medications. It's also possible to abuse it. Lean more about it in our blog.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

June 8, 2024

Dextromethorphan, commonly found in over-the-counter cough medications, may seem harmless at first glance. However, its potential for misuse and abuse is often overlooked.

While dextromethorphan is effective for soothing coughs, in high doses, it can lead to serious side effects and even addictive behaviors. This can be particularly risky if you're battling with substance use issues.

As you read on, remember that recognizing these risks is a crucial step towards safeguarding your health and embracing a second chance at life. Let's explore the uses, side effects, and the darker side of dextromethorphan misuse together.

What Is Dextromethorphan?

Dextromethorphan, often abbreviated as DXM, is an active ingredient used in many over-the-counter cough suppressants. It belongs to a class of medications called antitussives, which work by reducing cough reflexes.

Although it is not classified under the Controlled Substances Act, DXM’s potential for abuse is recognized, especially among young adults. It is commonly found in products under brand names like Robitussin, Delsym, and others. When used as directed, DXM is safe and effective, but misuse can lead to serious health risks and substance use disorders.

Dextromethorphan is known as "robotripping."

Is Dextromethorphan a Narcotic?

Dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, is a common ingredient found in over-the-counter cough and cold medicines. It is a synthetic compound that is commonly used as a cough suppressant to help alleviate symptoms of the common cold.

Despite its widespread use, there has been much debate surrounding the classification of dextromethorphan as a narcotic. A narcotic is a classification of drugs that are known for their pain-relieving and sedative effects, often with potential for abuse or addiction.

The Debate

Some medical professionals argue that dextromethorphan should not be classified as a narcotic because it does not have the same addictive properties as other narcotics such as opioids. However, others argue that its psychoactive effects and potential for abuse warrant its classification as a narcotic.

It's Not Physically Addictive...

One of the main arguments against dextromethorphan being classified as a narcotic is that it does not produce the same level of physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms as other narcotics. Opioids, for example, are known to cause intense physical cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms when stopped after prolonged use.

But It Might Be Psychologically Addictive

On the other hand, some individuals do develop a psychological dependence on dextromethorphan and may experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, and insomnia when they stop using it. This can be particularly concerning for those who abuse the drug in high doses.

You Can Definitely Abuse Dextromethorphan

Another factor to consider is the potential for abuse of dextromethorphan. While not typically seen as a highly addictive substance, DXM can produce psychoactive effects when taken in large doses. This has led to the rise of "DXM abuse," where individuals take excessive amounts of the drug for recreational purposes, often leading to dangerous and even deadly consequences.

Given these arguments, it is clear that there is no definitive answer on whether dextromethorphan should be classified as a narcotic. However, it is important to recognize its potential for abuse and closely monitor its use, especially in high doses.

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Uses of Dextromethorphan

Dextromethorphan is a versatile medication, primarily known for its use in treating coughs, but it has a few other interesting applications as well. Here's a rundown to keep you informed:

Cough Suppressant

The most common use of Dextromethorphan is to help you manage symptoms of a dry cough. It works by reducing the activity in the part of your brain that causes coughing.

Neuropathic Pain

It might surprise you, but Dextromethorphan can also be useful in managing certain types of pain, such as neuropathic pain, which is pain caused by nerve damage.

Psychological Disorders

Research has explored its use in treating psychological disorders like depression and anxiety. It’s thought to have effects on brain chemicals that could help improve your mood.

Withdrawal Symptoms

There’s also some evidence suggesting it might help in reducing withdrawal symptoms in people overcoming addiction to opioids.

While Dextromethorphan can provide relief for various conditions, it's crucial to use it responsibly and under the supervision of a healthcare professional to prevent potential misuse or adverse effects.

Dextromethorphan Side Effects

Like all medications, dextromethorphan comes with its potential side effects. Here’s what you should be aware of:


You might feel unusually sleepy after taking dextromethorphan. It’s wise to avoid driving or operating heavy machinery until you know how it affects you.


Feeling dizzy or lightheaded is another common side effect, so take care when standing up quickly.

Nausea and Vomiting

Some people experience stomach discomfort, including nausea and vomiting, after taking this medication.

Confusion or Mood Changes

You may notice changes in your mood or levels of confusion, particularly if you’re taking higher doses.

Allergic Reactions

Be on the lookout for signs of an allergic reaction, such as rash, itching, or severe dizziness. If you experience difficulty breathing or swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat, seek medical attention immediately.

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Symptoms of Dextromethorphan Overdose

If you're worried about a possible overdose when Dextromethorphan is taken in excess here is what you should look out for:

Confusion and Dizziness

You might feel unusually confused or have trouble walking straight, as your balance and mental state can be affected.

Blurred Vision

Your vision may become blurry, making it hard to focus on objects or read texts clearly.

Nausea and Vomiting

It's common to feel nauseous or even vomit, which is your body’s way of reacting to the excess substance.

Rapid Heartbeat

You might notice your heart feels like it's beating faster than usual, a sign that your body is stressed.

High Blood Pressure

Keep an eye on any unusual increase in blood pressure, which can be a direct effect of taking too much Dextromethorphan.

Uncontrolled Movements

Watch for any involuntary muscle twitches or movements, especially in your face, arms, or legs.


In severe cases, you could experience visual or auditory hallucinations, where you see or hear things that aren’t there.

If you or someone you're close to is experiencing these symptoms following the use of a product containing dextromethorphan, don't delay seeking medical assistance.

Dextromethorphan Interactions with Others

Here’s what you need to know about Dextromethorphan interactions:


Combining Dextromethorphan with alcohol can increase the effects of both, leading to heightened drowsiness or dizziness. It’s best to avoid alcohol when you’re taking this medication.

MAO Inhibitors

If you're on MAO inhibitors, used for depression, avoid Dextromethorphan. The interaction can cause a spike in blood pressure or even more severe side effects, which can be very dangerous.


Some antidepressants, especially SSRIs and SNRIs, when taken with Dextromethorphan, can lead to a condition called serotonin syndrome. This potentially life-threatening condition causes symptoms like confusion, rapid heart rate, and high blood pressure.

Grapefruit Juice

While not as severe, grapefruit juice can alter the effectiveness of Dextromethorphan by affecting how it’s processed in your body.

Other Cough and Cold Medicines

Be cautious about using multiple over-the-counter treatments that might contain Dextromethorphan or other similar ingredients. This can lead to unintentional overdose.

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Dextromethorphan Abuse Treatment & Recovery

If you or someone you know is looking into treatment and recovery for Dextromethorphan abuse, it’s important to understand a few key steps:

Acknowledging the Problem

First, recognizing that you might be misusing Dextromethorphan is a significant step. It can be tough to admit, but it's crucial for moving forward.

Seeking Professional Help

Consulting a healthcare provider can guide you to the appropriate treatment options. They can assess your situation individually and recommend either inpatient or outpatient programs based on your needs.


This is the initial phase where your body clears itself of the drug. Medical supervision during detox can help manage withdrawal symptoms safely.

Therapy and Counseling

Engaging in behavioral therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be incredibly effective. These therapies help you understand your addiction, develop coping strategies, and learn to handle triggers in your environment.

Support Groups

Participating in groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can provide you with ongoing support and a sense of community. Sharing experiences and struggles with others who understand can be empowering.

Long-Term Management

Recovery is an ongoing process. Continuously managing your health, avoiding triggers, and seeking help when needed are key to maintaining sobriety.

Taking these steps can lead you toward a healthier, substance-free life. Your journey to recovery is important, and there are resources and people ready to help you succeed.

Struggling with Dextromethorphan Abuse? Call Us.

As you delve into the complexities of dextromethorphan, it's crucial to prioritize your well-being. Your health journey is unique, and acknowledging the risks and benefits of this medication empowers you to make informed decisions.

Remember, your safety comes first. If you ever find yourself struggling with substance use or need support, don't hesitate to reach out to The Edge Treatment Center they will provide you with compassionate guidance and assistance tailored to your needs. Take a step towards a healthier, happier you by seeking the help you deserve.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.


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