DXM Tolerance: Take a Break or What?

Drug tolerance is a physical reaction that happens when a person takes a drug repeatedly for some time. Drugs and medications interact with brain chemistry and the normal way chemical messengers are moved around, absorbed back in, and produced in the brain. Regular interaction of a psychoactive medication or drug in the brain can cause it to get used to the changes that the substance makes. When this happens, the body and brain can become tolerant to certain levels of this substance.

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The drug will no longer work the same way it did before, and a higher dosage will need to be consumed for it to take effect. This can lead to misuse of a medication as it may prompt a person to increase the dosage past the recommended amount.

Dextromethorphan, or DXM, is a substance that is found in more than 140 over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medications. It is an antitussive and non-narcotic cough suppressant.

When taken as directed, DXM-containing medications are said to be effective and safe; however, Psychopharmacology Bulletin warns that DXM is a target for abuse because of the euphoria and dissociative side effects it can produce when taken in higher doses.

DXM products are commonly misused by adolescents, as these drugs can be purchased legally from a local pharmacy or drugstore without a prescription. DXM comes in liquid, tablet, and powder form. It may be consumed alone or added to soda to mask the taste. It also can be injected or snorted when misused.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, which reports that more than 3.5 percent of students in 10th-grade said they misused cough medicines in 2016.

Abuse of a product containing DXM on a regular basis can cause tolerance to the drug. Even if a person is taking a cold or cough medicine containing DXM out of medical necessity, prolonged use of the medication can lead to tolerance.

Symptoms of DXM Tolerance

The presence of drug tolerance means it is probably time to consider backing off or moderating use of the drug. Drug tolerance can indicate that a person is taking too much DXM too often, and the brain can use some time to reset without the drug’s interaction.

There are some signs of drug tolerance that a person can look for to tell if legitimate tolerance to DXM exists.

They include:

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  • The person needs to take more DXM each time
  • The drug wears off more quickly
  • Cravings for DXM are present in between doses
  • Withdrawal symptoms crop up when DXM wears off

Prescription and OTC medications are some of the most commonly abused substances in the United States by those age 14 and older, after alcohol and marijuana, NIDA publishes. Taking a cold or cough medicine for any reason other than to control symptoms of illness, or taking in any other way than as recommended (including in larger or more frequent doses), is drug abuse.

Again, DXM tolerance can be a precursor to abuse, encouraging a person to misuse the medication to keep feeling the drug’s effects. Drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms often result from physical drug dependence, which can follow drug tolerance and increased dosages. This means when a person develops a drug tolerance, they may take higher doses of DXM more often, which can then cause the brain to expect the drug to work in the bloodstream.

Drug dependence can set in, and when DXM processes out of the brain, its chemical makeup will be affected. It can take some time for the brain to reset and rebalance itself. In the meantime, withdrawal symptoms can occur. Per the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), there are possible withdrawal symptoms from DXM.

They include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty with feeling pleasure
  • Nausea
  • Significant weight loss

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) publishes that the main effects of DXM typically wear off within about five to six hours of the last dose. Generally speaking, withdrawal symptoms will start when a drug stops being active in the bloodstream.

Withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings can go hand in hand with drug tolerance and abuse. NIDA warns that repeated DXM abuse can cause a person to lose the ability to control drug use even when such use is creating physical and emotional problems, which is a signifier of addiction. DXM is considered to be an addictive drug.

What to Do for Tolerance

When experiencing tolerance to DXM, the recommended doses of the drug will no longer be medically beneficial. Increasing dosage or taking it more frequently is problematic use and considered drug abuse, so the best course of action is to moderate DXM use.

It may work to find another cold or cough medicine that does not contain DXM if the drug is being taken strictly for medical purposes. Different medications often have variable mechanisms of action; therefore, they may work differently in the brain and will be effective for symptoms of illness after drug tolerance exists to other products, like DXM.

Since DXM can cause difficult withdrawal symptoms after chronic use, it is often advised to slowly lower the dosage over time rather than suddenly stop taking it. This is called tapering, and it is a way to reduce DXM tolerance and physical dependence by allowing the brain to recover slowly without shocking it by taking away DXM all at once. The brain can then be weaned off DXM via moderate drug reduction, allowing it to reset itself gradually.

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Recreational DXM use is always considered to be a cause for concern, and misuse should therefore be addressed. A drug abuse treatment program can evaluate problematic DXM use and teach clients how to make positive changes in life.

An abuse or addiction treatment program will manage symptoms of withdrawal through medical detox when significant drug dependence exists. The more often and longer a person has been taking DXM, the more significant drug tolerance and dependence will be. A medical detox program can offer a high level of support, and often medical treatment and medications to aid in minimizing withdrawal symptoms and cravings while the brain processes the drug out.

Struggling with DXM Addiction? Ocean Breeze Recovery Can Help!

If you or someone you know is battling addiction, don’t wait to start on your road to recovery today. Call the addiction specialists at Ocean Breeze Recovery at 844-554-9279 to learn more about your treatment options and what you can do to start your treatment process today.

Beyond detox, behavioral therapies, support groups, and educational programs round out a drug abuse and addiction treatment program. With comprehensive care, treatment can help clients achieve an improved state of being for a sustained recovery. Call (844) 554-9279 today and let the experts at Ocean Breeze Recovery help you find long-term sobriety!