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  • NyQuil, or Vicks NyQuil, is an over-the-counter (OTC) medication that treats nighttime cold and flu symptoms like fevers, runny noses, sore throat, and sneezing. It can also be used to help with sleep issues. It’s offered in both cough syrup Nyquil liquid and NyQuil liquicaps. 

    When you take a dose of NyQuil as directed, this cold medicine is pretty harmless. However, when you drink alcohol while taking this over-the-counter medication, you may experience increased side effects like extreme drowsiness and rapid heart rate. 

    Why NyQuil & Alcohol Is A Dangerous Combination

    It’s dangerous to mix these two substances because alcohol increases the effects of the active ingredients in Nyquil, potentially leading to adverse effects. 

    The three active ingredients in NyQuil include: 

    • acetaminophen (a pain reliever and fever reducer)
    • dextromethorphan HBr (DXM) (a cough suppressant)
    • doxylamine succinate (an antihistamine)

    Acetaminophen & Alcohol

    With acetaminophen, both it and alcohol are broken down and metabolized in the liver. Too much of both substances can lead to liver damage

    DXM & Alcohol 

    When DXM is taken in high doses, it can lead to sedation and hallucinations. This effect is even stronger when mixed with alcohol.

    Doxylamine & Alcohol

    Doxylamine succinate also works to make you sleepy along with being an antihistamine. If taken with alcohol, it can have an even greater sedative effect.

    NyQuil also contains 10 percent alcohol but that’s not too much of an issue. It’s the interaction with the active ingredients and alcoholic beverages that is most worrisome.

    Effects Of Mixing NyQuil & Alcohol

    Mixing NyQuil and alcohol together can lead to serious side effects. If you experience any of the effects below, seek emergency help or see your healthcare provider as soon as possible:

    • extreme drowsiness
    • dizziness
    • confusion
    • loss of coordination
    • impaired judgment
    • hallucinations
    • elevated heart rate
    • upset stomach
    • liver damage
    • vomiting
    • loss of appetite
    • seizures

    Risks Of Mixing NyQuil & Alcohol

    Many of the active ingredients in NyQuil are depressants, and alcohol is a depressant as well. Drinking alcohol along with taking NyQuil can increase the risk of severe health effects.

    Addiction

    Mixing alcohol with NyQuil can increase the risk of alcohol abuse and addiction. If you are already drinking excessively, NyQuil may increase the likelihood of heavy drinking turning into alcohol dependence and addiction.

    You can also become addicted to NyQuil if you don’t take it as directed. Many of the ingredients in the medication (including DXM) can affect the reward centers in the brain and give you pleasurable feelings. This can lead to increased use, regardless of flu or cold symptoms.

    Severe Liver Damage

    Since both alcohol and NyQuil are metabolized in the liver, the liver must work overtime to process them when they’re consumed together or in high doses. This increases the risk of liver damage and even failure. 

    The liver can also be harmed by acetaminophen. When it’s metabolized, it’s broken down into byproducts, one of which is a toxin substance called NAPQI which can be very toxic to the liver in large enough amounts. 

    Normally, the liver produces an antioxidant (glutathione) to neutralize the NAPQI but the alcohol inhibits the liver’s ability to produce it. This can lead to serious liver damage.

    Increased Risk Of Overdose

    There is also an increased risk of an overdose when mixing alcohol and this cough medicine together. This is especially the case if you’re abusing either of them and/or taking more than prescribed. An overdose can happen without you even realizing it. 

    Some of the signs of a NyQuil and alcohol overdose may include:

    • rapid heart rate
    • abdominal pain
    • seizures
    • hallucinations
    • severe confusion

    Impaired Immune System

    Alcohol impairs the immune system on its own and makes it harder for the body to recover from illnesses. It reduces the number of white blood cells and lowers your body’s overall immune response.

    Even if you’re taking NyQuil for the flu or common cold, if you mix it with alcohol, you may increase your risk of more illnesses in the future due to the way it affects the immune system in the long run.

    If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or NyQuil abuse, please call our helpline today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2022 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Sources

    National Library of Medicine: DailyMed - Vicks Dayquil And Vicks Nyquil Cold And Flu
    National Library of Medicine: StatPearls - Acetaminophen
    Vicks - FAQs NyQuil

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on April 27, 2022
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