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NyQuil and Alcohol: Side Effects of Mixing

alcohol and nyquil

NyQuil is an over-the-counter medicine that can help relieve cold and flu symptoms like coughing, sneezing, congestion, headaches, sore throat, fever, and runny nose. While it’s effective at helping relieve symptoms when we’re sick, it’s not without risk — especially when NyQuil and alcohol are mixed. Let’s explore the three active ingredients of NyQuil:

  • Acetaminophen: A medicine that relieves pain and reduces fevers.
  • Dextromethorphan HBr: A cough suppressant that affects a part of the brain that causes the urge to cough.
  • Doxylamine succinate: An antihistamine that can relieve runny noses and ear congestion, as well as itchy, watery eyes and sneezing.

NyQuil can be taken in different forms, including liquid, extended-release capsules, and chewable tablets. The recommended dosage for each will depend on the person’s age, condition, and response to treatment. NyQuil is not a cure for illness; it simply reduces the symptoms produced by the cold or virus. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing severe illness, rash, a fever lasting longer than 3 days, a persistent headache, or if your symptoms worsen.

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The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Drinking alcohol can produce temporary feelings of euphoria, giddiness, relaxation, and drowsiness. A person who is drinking may experience lowered inhibitions, which can impede judgment and cause them to exhibit compulsive behavior. Depending on how much they drink, they may also:

  • Slur their speech.
  • Have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Have a headache.
  • Experience changes in perception, including vision and hearing.
  • Lose muscle coordination and become clumsy.
  • Have difficulty making decisions and focusing.
  • Become dehydrated.
  • Lose consciousness or “blackout” with gaps in their memory.

Alcohol use also has long-term, serious health problems like:

  • Worsening mental health disorders like anxiety or depression.
  • Sleep problems, with less REM sleep.
  • Memory and concentration problems.
  • Changes in weight.
  • Heart problems.
  • Increased stroke risk.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Liver disease.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Lower bone density.
  • Increased risk of developing head, neck, breast, and colorectal cancers.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Addiction.

Dangers of Mixing NyQuil and Alcohol

Mixing NyQuil and alcohol can be dangerous, and the combination should be avoided. It can cause dangerous levels of disorientation, drowsiness, impaired judgment, and health problems, including overdose and death. The dangers are compounded if the person is over the age of 65 if you are taking any other medications, or if you have liver problems. 

nyquil and alcohol

NyQuil’s ingredients, along with alcohol, can also cause side effects like headache, nausea, tiredness, upset stomach, and coordination issues. Using this combination can lead to serious liver damage or even acute liver failure, especially if more than 4 doses of NyQuil are used within 24 hours or other drugs containing acetaminophen are taken. 

Another concern when using medications and alcohol is developing a substance use disorder. Alcohol has a high potential for dependence, which can lead to addiction if left untreated. Using NyQuil while drinking can exacerbate the issue, as dextromethorphan (DXM) stimulates the brain’s reward center, which can lead to psychological dependence.

Can You Drink Alcohol with NyQuil?

No. It is not safe to combine alcohol with over-the-counter medications like NyQuil. Not only does it cause dizziness, drowsiness, and unpredictable behavior, but it can also cause serious liver damage or lead to difficulty breathing as the combination depresses the central nervous system. 

If you have taken NyQuil, you may have to wait up to 2  to 5 days for it to leave your system completely, as Dyxylamine takes anywhere from 40 to 50 hours to metabolize, depending on how much you took, your weight, and your age. It also depends on the specific product you used and its ingredients. For example, acetaminophen may stay in the body for 24 hours, phenylephrine can take 20 hours, chlorpheniramine may remain in your system for up to 120 hours, and a dose of dextromethorphan can take about 55 days. 

Comparison of NyQuil and Alcohol Effects

Using NyQuil can cause dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, dry mouth, nervousness, and upset stomach. Alcohol can cause slurred speech, short-term euphoria or giddiness, relaxation, upset stomach, headaches, decreased coordination and perception, distorted vision and hearing, and blackouts. When combined, the effects may include:

  • Extreme drowsiness.
  • Dizziness and impaired coordination
  • Confusion.
  • Impaired judgment.

Recognizing and Treating Overdose Symptoms

Overdose symptoms of NyQuil or DXM include:

  • Irritability and nervousness.
  • Hallucinations, confusion, or psychosis.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Shaking.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Seizures.
  • Difficulty urinating.
  • Dissociation leading to coma.

Alcohol also depresses (slows down) the central nervous system, which, when mixed with NyQuil, can slow your breathing to dangerous levels. Symptoms such as rapid heart rate, nausea, agitation, hallucinations, confusion, abdominal pain, intense drowsiness, or seizures warrant a visit to emergency services. Call 911 or seek medical attention right away.

Alternatives to Mixing NyQuil and Alcohol for Symptom Relief

Rather than mixing NyQuil and alcohol for your cold and flu symptom relief, you can try cold remedies like:

  • Staying hydrated.
  • Getting enough rest.
  • Saltwater gargle for sore throat.
  • Sipping warm liquids with honey.
  • Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier.

Some people believe that vitamin C and echinacea also help, but evidence of their benefits is conflicting. If regular over-the-counter medication is not helping or if your symptoms persist for more than a few days, call your doctor. They may be able to identify the issue and prescribe something that can better target the illness.

Alcohol use disorder and over-the-counter drug abuse can be serious health issues that need to be addressed, especially if you notice cravings or start developing a tolerance. At Resurgence, we offer non-judgmental help for all types of substance abuse and drug addiction, including NyQuil and alcohol use. Please call us at 855-458-0050 or contact us online if you have any questions about the types of treatment we offer or if you want us to verify your insurance coverage. We can help you overcome addiction on your terms, at your own pace.

Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.


Research | Editorial

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