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Is Cough Drop Addiction A Real Problem?

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As of late, abuse rates for cough drops and cold medicines in general have increased to the point where some pharmacies have taken steps to place these products behind the counter. While over-the-counter drugs normally don’t contain substances prone to abuse or addiction, cough drops contain the same types of drugs as liquid cold and cough remedies.

More than a few cough suppressant agents carry risks for abuse and addiction. As of yet, cough drop addiction is not a recognized form of addiction, though the behaviors and patterns that develop in cases of excessive cough drop use do hold certain similarities to an actual addiction problem.

Cough Drop Ingredients

Many cough drop brands are formulated to produce two types of effects: reducing chronic cough and sore throat relief. Two ingredients commonly used to accomplish these ends include dextromethorphan, also known as DXM and lidocaine.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, DXM does carry abuse and addiction risks when used in large quantities, producing sedative, stimulant and dissociative effects all at once. DXM also acts as a cough suppressant.

Lidocaine, a topical anesthetic works together with DXM to relieve sore throat symptoms.

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Addiction’s Mechanisms

Cough Drop Addiction

Abusing cough drops can alter the brain’s chemical makeup.

Addiction in any form has more to do with the patterns of use associated with a drug than the actual physical effects of the drug. According to Harvard Health Publications, the physical effects of a drug alter the brain’s chemical makeup over time, while the behaviors associated with repeated drug use train the brain’s reward system to assign a high priority to anything having to do with drug use.

The Makings of a Cough Drop Addiction

While cough drop ingredients exist in small amounts per piece, someone with a high sensitivity to DXM or lidocaine’s sedative or stimulant effects may be prone to abusing cough drops, which can turn into an addiction over time. On the other hand, someone who gets into the habit of popping this medicine can develop a cough drop addiction, especially in cases where a person is unable to stop using them at will.

Potential for Underlying Health Problems

Getting into the habit of taking cough drops holds the potential for cough drop addiction, though you should probably rule out any underlying health problems at the start.

Someone affected by chronic dry mouth might keep taking cough drops to provide needed moisture. Dry mouth can develop as a result throat pain, smoking or even an infected tooth, so it’s important to rule out other possible causes before settling on addiction.


While they may seem harmless enough, cough drops are medicinal agents that can cause problems when used in excess. Likewise, addiction-type behaviors can be based on a drug, food or even an activity so the possibility of developing a cough drop addiction is real when compulsive behavior patterns come into play.

If you suspect you or someone you know may be showing signs of cough drop addiction and have more questions, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-291-1732 (Who Answers?) to speak with one of our addiction specialists.

4 Dangerous Truths About Cough Syrup Addiction

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