"Hello. My name is Adam Tod Brown, and I'm addicted to cough syrup."
That's a sentence I've never actually had to say out loud to anyone, but only because I'm fundamentally opposed to meetings of any sort. I should have, though, because the sentence used to be true. I know it sounds absurd, but for a solid two years of my life, I was indeed addicted to cough syrup.
Even more baffling (or mind-blowing, if you will) is the fact that it didn't happen when I was in high school, which is generally the age at which we're expected to guzzle disgusting red slime for a cheap high. Maybe "expected" is too strong of a word there. The point is, it happened when I was in my early 30s, and it's really not as funny as it sounds. I'm going to do my best to make it seem like it was, though, because that's my job.
Here are four insane details of the weirdest drug problem ever.
Aside from high school kids, who are obviously drawn to its ready availability at almost any store, the group most associated with abusing cough syrup would probably be alcoholics. A lot of cough syrup is riddled with alcohol, so the assumption most people have is that using it to get high is really just a less tasty way to drink at places you shouldn't be drinking, like at work, for example. If that's the assumption you're working under when you decide to throw that first entire bottle of cough syrup down your gullet, let me just say this: buckle up.
While there are probably some people who drink certain brands of cough syrup for the alcohol, when you hear stories of teens taking it at school, for example, the substance in question is actually something called dextromethorphan, and it will fuck you up proper. It's an antitussive, which is a fancy term for cough suppressant, and it's the active ingredient in products like Robitussin. At normal doses, it has little to no psychoactive effect. When taken in recreational doses, though, it produces a high that's more along the lines of PCP or ketamine than alcohol.
Side effects include terrifying hallucinations and escaping the Matrix.
Read that again slowly, party animals. Remember the scene in Training Day where Denzel Washington makes Ethan Hawke smoke a joint and doesn't tell him until it's too late that he'd actually been smoking PCP? Getting high on cough syrup and expecting it to be like getting drunk is basically that scene in a bottle, and you're Ethan Hawke. What happens next is going to be nothing short of terrifying if what you're expecting is a few hours of chillaxation.
Like I said, the psychological effects of dextromethorphan, or DXM, as I'll be calling it from now on, because that sounds way more hardcore than "cough syrup," is a lot like PCP. At low recreational doses, that means a euphoric effect. As the dose increases, things get exponentially more terrifying, with hallucinations, out-of-body experiences, and full-on psychosis reported at high levels. Remember that time you smoked marijuana and had hallucinations that eventually devolved into full-blown psychosis? Nope.
Like everything else in life, I place the blame for me eventually developing a debilitating Robitussin habit squarely on the shoulders of my boss. Not my current boss, of course -- Jack O'Brien is a goddamn prince, and don't you forget it. I'm talking about my boss at one of the shitty insurance jobs I worked at for years before deciding that doing this would be slightly more enjoyable and fulfilling. I don't remember her name because I don't respect authority.
Anyway, I'd come down with a nasty case of the flu that brought with it a ridiculously disruptive cough that stayed around for weeks, well after the illness had otherwise passed. In what was likely an attempt to help me stop annoying the shit out of my co-workers with that incessant hacking, my supervisor came to my desk and asked if I'd looked into getting some cough syrup with codeine. I had not, but the borderline junkie that lives deep inside me was all goddamn ears. Codeine? Like what gave Lil' Wayne a seizure? There's no reason I shouldn't have some. Convulsions burn a shit-ton of calories.
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"They don't just give you codeine for any cough though, right?" That was my question. It was answered when I called my doctor's office to inquire and was told to come pick up my prescription approximately eight seconds later. I didn't even have to go in and cough in a doctor's face or whatever. I just said my cough hadn't gone away and wanted cough syrup with codeine and they gave it to me no questions asked like I was shopping at a pharmacy in Tijuana or some shit.
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Like this one that I've definitely never been to.
To be honest, I wasn't that impressed from a partying standpoint, likely because the fear of death prevented me from just downing the entire bottle the second it was in my hot little hand. It wasn't terrible, though, and worse, it gave me an even more terrible idea. Like anyone else, I'd heard stories about teens abusing cough syrup, or "robo-trippin" as it's often called. A couple days spent with codeine left me wondering what the over-the-counter stuff was like, so a few days later, I tried it. A couple weeks after that, if it even took that long, I was using it daily. Obviously, there's a bunch of other stuff on the bridge that gets a person from trying something once to immediately taking to it as a lifestyle. That's another article. Or hundreds, probably.
Shitty life choices spend just like money at Cracked.
Anyway, it was a habit that would accompany me not just through the next two years of my life, but also through three job changes, a breakup, and a brief reunion of that relationship before anyone even noticed that I was really fucked up for most of my waking hours, even when I was at work.
And that's always been kind of puzzling to me. Aside from the smell of marijuana, I don't know if I've ever encountered a more difficult-to-hide tip-off that a person is using drugs than the kind of slurred speech that being high on cough syrup causes. It's like something is reaching up from inside your throat and holding your tongue while you talk. During those years, I had a lot of really important conversations with people who probably didn't want me to be high at the time, and not a single person ever asked why I sounded like I was on the verge of being blackout drunk. I'm still not sure why no one ever questioned it. Because I'm super funny and charming, probably. I don't want to speculate. That's why, though.
Whatever the case, there was a much uglier side effect that I was better at hiding, but just barely.