Rapper Lil Wayne was recently hospitalized in the intensive care unit after suffering from seizures apparently related to his abuse of “sizzurp,” otherwise referred to as “purple drank.” The events of the weekend have put the spotlight on the drink, which is particularly popular in hip-hop communities in the South, and has been implicated in the deaths of Pimp C, Dr. Screw and Big Moe, three prominent artists. This has sparked interest in the drug, and has left numerous readers wondering what “sizzurp” actually is and why people would use it.
Sizzurp – AKA Promethazine/Codeine
Sizzurp is a drink made from a cough syrup containing promethazine (a commonly used antihistamine) and codeine (a narcotic painkiller and cough suppressant), which is consumed in up to 16 times the recommended quantities to achieve a high. The prescription medication is mixed with fruit-flavored soda and dissolved Jolly Ranchers to form a cocktail. Codeine is chemically related to heroin, binding to the same receptors in the brain to produce euphoria. Promethazine is also used as a sedative, creating heightened euphoria when prescribed quantities are exceeded.
The History of Sizzurp Abuse
“Purple drank” has a long history, but was popularized in the early 90s by Houston DJ Dr. Screw. One member of his “Screwed Up Clique,” Big Hawk, was keen to point out in an interview with MTV that it was consumed for a high as early as the 60s. Dr. Screw took it mainstream through his music, which was slowed down and skewed to make it more appealing under the influence of the drug. Purple drank has also been referenced in numerous songs, including “City of Syrup” by Big Moe, “Sippin’ on Some Syrup” by Pimp C., and “Me and My Drank” by Lil Wayne himself. Lil Wayne doesn’t exactly hide his reliance on sizzurp, being frequently spotted with a Styrofoam cup during interviews and referencing it openly during a 2008 interview with MTV. A close friend commented that he has repeatedly tried to quit, and Lil Wayne has been quoted as saying, “Everybody wants me to stop all this and all that. It ain’t that easy.” The seizures aren’t a new thing (Wayne reportedly suffered from them late last year), but the intensity over the weekend made doctors fear for his life.
Why Do People Abuse Sizzurp?
The abundant risks of Lil Wayne’s sizzurp habit have left many wondering what users get from the drug. Although it comes in a different, less stigmatized form, sizzurp is similar to other prescription opiates such as Vicodin or Oxycontin and illicit drugs such as heroin. In the excessive doses reportedly taken by Lil Wayne and others, it creates euphoria, a sense of disassociation from the body, drowsiness, and visual or auditory hallucinations. The promethazine in the mixture increases the euphoric effects of the codeine. Generally speaking, it makes users feel relaxed and happy, but the sedative effect often leads users to fall asleep after taking high doses. Undoubtedly, ordinary users are drawn to the substance because of its association with the glamorous, jewel-encrusted worlds of sports stars and rappers. Although the most recent Monitoring the Future Survey only asked questions about cough medicines containing dextromethorphan (another substance commonly abused and sold over-the-counter), it found that 5.5 percent of 12th graders had used it.
The Dangers of Sizzurp
Lil Wayne is a real-world example of the risks of abusing prescription medication. One of the biggest threats is addiction, which is a serious risk given the high doses of opiates consumed by users of sizzurp. Soon, they find that they need to take more to achieve the high they’re looking for, and will also experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it. Opiate withdrawal is generally described as being like a flu, with nausea, sneezing, muscle pain, tremors, and insomnia, but 1,000 times worse. Withdrawal makes continued use of sizzurp more likely since a dose of the drug will remedy the symptoms, and therefore makes it more likely that the user will experience serious consequences. An overdose could lead to coma, loss of consciousness, slowed breathing, and irregular heartbeat.
What to Look for in a Loved One Using Sizzurp
If you suspect a loved one is drinking sizzurp, look out for several common side effects of the drug. These include lethargy and weakness, vomiting and nausea, constipation, and general drowsiness. Your loved one may complain about blurred vision, a fever, or stiff muscles, and you might notice a general decline in their dental health as a result of the excessive sugar in the drink. Likewise, prolonged use can lead to weight gain. Another red flag is the Styrofoam cup, which is so closely tied to the drink that many users see that as the “authentic” way to drink it.
Getting Help for Addiction
If you or your loved one is using sizzurp, help is available. With support from an addiction treatment center, friends and family, and professional counseling, it’s possible to break free from the purple drank before you go the way of Lil Wayne.