How to Talk to Your Kids About OTC Drug Abuse

When we think of kids and substance abuse, our thoughts turn to alcohol and illegal drugs, but there’s another danger lurking in your medicine cabinet. It is called, “skittling,” “dexing,” or “robotripping.” It’s the abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Misuse of OTC drugs can also lead to serious health consequences and physical and psychological addiction.

A 2012 study out of the University of Cincinnati showed that 10 percent of 7-12th grade students reported abusing over-the-counter drugs (OTC) (UC, 2012). Among the most commonly abused OTC drugs are:

  • cough syrup containing Dextromethorphan (DXM)
  • decongestants

Here’s the good news. Children whose parents teach them about the risks of drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs (, 2012).

As a mother with a son in recovery, high school math teacher Tammy Walsh†understands first-hand the impact substance abuse has on families. She’s using her personal experience to inspire others to stand up and speak out. Tammy offers these five tips to talk to teens about OTC medicine abuse.

1. Donít lecture your teens; talk to them. Having a two-way conversation instead of telling them what to do or how to react in certain situations will be more effective in helping them make healthy decisions.

2. It’s never too late to start the conversation — or too early. Talk often and openly about cough medicine abuse and other risky behaviors. They’ll thank you later.

3. Give your teens the tools they need to make healthy decisions. Empower them to say no and inform them about the health risks associated with medicine abuse.

4. Know the signs of abuse and monitor your medicine cabinet and your teen’s on and offline activities. Have their attitude, sleeping habits, or temperament changed? If you suspect they are abusing cough medicine (or other OTC medications), talk to them. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

5. Check out StopMedicineAbuse’s conversation starters for more ideas on how to talk to your teen.

Ms. Walsh is one of The Five Moms, a group of mothers from all over the country who have come together with one common concern: teenagers abusing OTC cough medicine containing DXM to get high. They do this not just for their own teens, but their friends’, neighbors’ and relatives’ teens too.

They work in communities to spread the word about cough medicine abuse and encourage parents to talk to their teens, monitor their medicines, and to tell other parents and community leaders about the problem. For more information, visit the StopMedicineAbuse website

Related Reading
Tips to Keep Kids Safe from Medicines (video)
Top 5 Causes of Poisoning (infographic)

Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock


Ken N.
Ken N.4 years ago

Wonderful post to let many parents know what OTC can do harm to their childrens, That is why it is better to start conversing with the kids on right time reg. side effects or excess usage of OTC drugs, before its too late. Making them realize what damages it can bring to their life can make them conscious, as how to act in a healthy manner to avoid unnecessary trouble.

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

It's parents' duty, no matter what

Les M.
Les M4 years ago

i don't have children so my opinion may not count for much. I think the best thing to do is talk to your children when they're young. keep it at their level but let them know otc's are still medicine and you have to follow directions. maybe put red stickers on all medications?

Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

good Info

Jennifer C.
Past Member 4 years ago


John B.
John B4 years ago

Thanks Ann for the great article, information and wonderful links.

Nicole W.
Nicole W4 years ago

thank you

Amanda M.
Amanda M4 years ago

Since my husband and I are in fire/rescue, I've already been teaching the kids the dangers of all forms of drug abuse, including OTC medicines! We see the results of such "recreational" behavior first-hand, and it is NOT pretty!

An ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure, but so is an ounce of education!

Yvette S.
Yvette S4 years ago