I Caught My Son Robotripping — Here's Your Warning About Cough Medicine Abuse, Parents

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teen with hand in forehand

Last Saturday morning, I vacuumed the house, made some cupcakes, and made a quick trip to the post office just before it closed for the day. That afternoon, I gave the dog a bath and folded heaps of laundry. Later, I fended off punches from my son. It was a busy day. 

No, I’m not cold-hearted. And no, I'm not numb. I’m not even riding on a cloud of oblivion far above the sinking ship that seems to be my life as the parent of a teenager.

What I am is a mother who doesn’t want you to walk in on what I saw. I don’t want you to feel what I'm feeling now as I try desperately to type through my still sour and stinging tears. I don’t want your child to end up in raw and choking sobs telling you he can no longer look at you. 

You see, my teenage son was Robotripping. He took not one, not two, not three, but four bottles of generic cough pills.

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For the affordable price of just $4 plus tax, my kid walked out of the local dollar store with enough medication in his white plastic sack (medication he did not need) to debilitate himself and bring our family into a fresh new hell. He walked into that store with the sole intention of buying those bottles and ingesting them that night in one sitting.

And that, friends, is precisely what he did. He consumed what amounts to about 900 milligrams of the drug dextromethorphan

Here is a basic outline of the events that followed my son’s endeavor to “see what it was like.”

11 PM: He began the slow process of taking a few pills at a time and hid the bottles. He had given the impression that he was going to bed for the night.

11 PM-4 AM: No one knows what he felt or did. He has since described to me that everything looked far out in front of him, and he says he can only recall bits and pieces of the entire night.

In truth, he doesn’t remember much at all about the following day either. He does remember that I looked evil, and he says he was afraid. Hallucinations.

4 AM: I got up to use the bathroom and noticed his light was on. I peeked in to see if he was alright and saw him wide awake and staring at the door. He had his headphones on and was still wearing the clothes he had on the night before. I knew immediately that something was wrong.

The only words he could utter were variants of “what?” or “huh?” He couldn’t tell me what he took or what was wrong. After about five full minutes of me growing more and more frantic, he said he took cough pills. I had no way of knowing until hours later that he had taken four full bottles.

4:15 AM: I tried to take my son’s phone from his hand and get him to the bathroom. I hoped a cold shower would help. When I tried to take his phone, he became irate. He went from confused to laser-focused.

Everything that followed in the next ten to fifteen minutes seemed to happen over the course of hours. Time stood still as I watched my son, a full foot taller than me, lunge toward me with his jaw set and nostrils flared. I drew in a breath as he came at me full force with both hands and shoved my shoulders as hard as he could. 

My son, my baby, my heart, pushed me down to the floor. After grabbing the footboard of his bed and pulling myself up, I faced him again. He threw two punches at me before I could gather my wits and get a handle on what was happening in the frantic slow-motion horror show around me.

Those two punches barely missed my cheek once, the other my neck. He stumbled about the bedroom when I pushed back against his arms and tried to guide him to his bathroom. 

4:30 AM: I stood outside the bathroom door with my hands on the doorframe, bracing myself for him to come barreling out. I listened as he bumped around inside. He beat on the other side door as I cried. 

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4:45 AM: I could tell that he finally made it into the shower. Five minutes later he was back out and asking, “Mom, is this real? Is this real right now?” I could only whimper, “Yes... it is very real.” 

5 AM: After an embarrassing battle trying to hand him a towel he didn’t realize he needed to cover his naked body, I somehow managed to make him put on a shirt and underwear and get into bed. I sat on his bed and watched his pupils as I continued to ask him what he had done and why.

It was all in vain. My futile attempt at conversation was peppered with the occasional question about reality and alternating strings of gibberish.

5:20 AM: I walked out of his room, stood with my back against his door, and allowed myself to slide down the wall into a heap. I stayed there until he woke on his own and came out.

7 AM: My son walked out and asked me again, “Is this really happening?” This began an hours-long conversation in which he admitted to buying the cough pills and taking them all at once to reach a “plateau.”

He wanted to see what it was like and has no other explanation. Curiosity. My son overdosed on curiosity.

(Note: As late as 1 PM that afternoon, his eyes were still half-closed at various points during our conversations, and his responses were coherent but delayed. He remained that way on and off for several hours.)

My son had no idea what he was doing and yet had every idea of what he was doing. You see, he used the internet to find everything he needed to know to reach his goal. I refuse to direct traffic to the site he used. It’s easy enough to Google it. He did. 

Know this, though: there is a chart out there that kids can find that will tell them exactly how much they need to take in order to get the high they desire. He had no way of knowing that he would become belligerent and violent. In addition, he had no way of knowing if he was allergic to anything in those pills or how his body would react to the medicine in the first place.

My son could have died. For that matter, so could I. Either one of us could have hit our heads on the bedpost during that brawl. He could have tried to walk downstairs in that state and fallen and broken his neck. You name it, and it’s gone through my head.

Nobody is kicking me more than I am right now. I'm questioning every decision I’ve ever made since he was born. I want to know where I went wrong and what I could have seen that I missed. I talked about not taking drugs and warned him not to take medication that wasn’t prescribed to him.

My God, I even made sure he knew to only take two Tylenol or just one Ibuprofen for a headache. It makes me want to crawl into a hole and die of embarrassment to admit it now, but I went so far as to write a “2” on the Tylenol bottle and a “1” on the Ibuprofen. What a joke.

I feel stupid. Maybe it’s not just a feeling. That’s not why I'm sharing this, though. I'm sharing this to give you the heads-up I didn’t have.

I’d hate to know that anyone else out there has to hear their child say, “Mom, I'm so ashamed of what I did to you that I can’t even look at your face.” That’s not a conversation you want to have with your baby. 

There’s a simple way for your kids to get high. It’s not illegal for them to buy what they need, and no one is going to question their purchase. It’s more than affordable and can be found in anyone’s medicine cabinet or purse.

Have all the talks with your kids, but add this one to the list. Pull no punches with your kids. Let them know that you know about this phenomenon, this incredibly frightening trend. Be the one step ahead I wasn’t.

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Alex Alexander is a pseudonym.