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Alcohol and Health

Does Nyquil Have Alcohol Content?

April 6, 2024
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NyQuil and Alcohol Should Not Mix

  • NyQuil is a cold and flu medication that contains 10% alcohol in addition to other ingredients that help relieve cold symptoms. Unfortunately, many of these interact with alcohol.
  • NyQuil and other over-the-counter medications have alcohol-free solutions. There are also natural remedies that can help fight off those unpleasant cold and flu symptoms. 
  • Alcohol use is harmful to your immune system. Reframe can help you quit or cut back on alcohol so you can enjoy more healthy days!

It’s that time of year: everyone seems to be sick with something! We all know and dread the coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fevers, aches, and pains that come with cold and flu. When we’re not feeling well, we know medication can help us feel better, but we might also be craving a little drink because we believe it will boost our mood or help us sleep (more on this later!). But is it safe to drink alcohol while sick and then take a cold medication such as NyQuil? 

This blog will explore why drinking alcohol and taking NyQuil can be quite dangerous. Keep reading, and we will cover the basics on NyQuil and alcohol interactions — and why drinking when we’re sick can make us feel worse. Then we’ll learn some alternatives for fighting off cold and flu viruses.

What Is NyQuil?

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NyQuil is an over-the-counter medication marketed to treat cold and flu symptoms. NyQuil has three main active ingredients – acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and doxylamine. These active ingredients work to treat common cold or flu symptoms such as headache, body aches, fever, cough, and congestion. 

  • Acetaminophen. The popular brand name for acetaminophen is Tylenol. Acetaminophen is an analgesic (pain reliever) and antipyretic (fever reducer). Acetaminophen fights pain by directly affecting pain receptors in the brain. It also reduces fevers by acting on the hypothalamus, which is responsible for temperature regulation.
  • Dextromethorphan. Dextromethorphan is the generic form of Robitussin, a popular antitussive (cough suppressant). Dextromethorphan decreases neuronal activity in the brainstem that causes us to cough, thereby reducing our urge to cough.
  • Doxylamine. Doxylamine is an antihistamine. Histamine is a chemical in our body and brain that is responsible for causing allergy symptoms such as congestion and sneezing. Histamine also helps regulate our sleep and wake cycle, promoting wakefulness. As an antihistamine, doxylamine reduces histamine functionality by blocking histamine receptors in the brain, promoting sleep and reducing congestion and sneezing. The primary purpose of doxylamine in NyQuil is to help us fall asleep (and if you’ve ever taken it, you know how effective it is at making us sleepy!).

Although it’s not a necessary ingredient, some forms of NyQuil have alcohol — but why is this? Alcohol is added to liquid NyQuil to help the active ingredients dissolve, but it serves no therapeutic purpose.

How Long Does NyQuil Take To Work? 

The active ingredients of NyQuil provide temporary relief of cold or flu symptoms. NyQuil begins to work within 30 minutes of taking it and lasts for about four to six hours. Ingredients in NyQuil can take up to two days to fully leave your system. NyQuil should only be used as advised on the bottle’s label or as advised by a medical professional — it is not recommended to use nightly as a sleep aid for many reasons. Plus, the body rapidly develops tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines when used regularly.

Spotting Alcoholic NyQuil Products

Not all NyQuil products contain alcohol. If we’re trying to avoid alcohol, it’s important to check the label of our product to confirm if alcohol is present (that includes generic forms of NyQuil). 

While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some popular NyQuil products that contain alcohol:

  • NyQuil Cold & Flu Nighttime Relief Liquid, Original Flavor
  • NyQuil VapoCool Severe Cold & Flu Liquid + Congestion
  • NyQuil HBP Cold and Flu Medicine

Now let’s look at some popular alcohol-free options:

  • Alcohol-Free NyQuil Cold & Flu Nighttime Relief Liquid
  • NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu LiquiCaps
  • NyQuil Severe Cold & Flu Relief Liquid, Berry Flavored
  • NyQuil Kids Honey Cough and Cold (for ages 6 and over)
  • NyQuil Cough DM and Congestion Medicine

The Dangers of Drinking While Sick

While reaching for alcohol may seem like a good way to relax, drinking actually does more harm than good. Some people swear by a hot toddy or a white whiskey & orange juice, however, drinking alcohol while sick will only make us feel worse! Here’s what alcohol actually does when we’re fighting off a cold:

  • Weakens our immune system. Alcohol is an immunosuppressant, meaning it reduces the effectiveness of our immune system. Drinking alcohol suppresses our immune system and makes it harder to fight off viruses such as cold and flu. With our bodies less able to fight off the illness, we may get sicker or prolong the recovery process. 
  • Worsens dehydration. Being sick with viruses such as the cold and flu leads to dehydration through fever, sweating, loss of appetite, or production of mucus. Drinking alcohol leads to further dehydration as alcohol is a diuretic which makes us lose fluids. Drinking while sick makes us more dehydrated and can make us feel worse.
  • Heightens cold and flu symptoms. Common symptoms of cold and flu include stuffy or runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache, body aches, fever, or fatigue. Drinking alcohol while sick can make these symptoms worse. Why? Alcohol widens our blood vessels through a process called vasodilation, which makes congestion or a runny nose worse.

  • Disrupts sleep. When we’re sick, we need to rest up and take it easy so our body can focus on getting better. Alcohol decreases the quality of our sleep and leaves us feeling worn out for longer, and our body has to redirect precious energy from the immune system to process the alcohol. 

We should not reach for alcohol when we’re feeling under the weather. The good news is that there are plenty of over-the-counter medications that can help us feel better when we are sick. However, we must consider that drinking alcohol while taking these medications may not be safe. 

How Does NyQuil Interact With Alcohol?

NyQuil has multiple active ingredients, so it’s important to understand how each of these interacts with alcohol. Let’s breakdown those three main components of NyQuil to see how alcohol interacts with each.

  • Acetaminophen. Alcohol and acetaminophen are both metabolized in the liver. Excessive use of either is hard on the liver, and taking them together increases risk for liver damage or toxicity. 
  • Dextromethorphan. Mixing alcohol and dextromethorphan can enhance the psychoactive effects of both. At high doses, dextromethorphan can cause sensations similar to being drunk, such as euphoria, hallucinations, or loss of motor coordination. Alcohol enhances the effects of dextromethorphan and combining them can lead to dangerous and extreme effects. 
  • Doxylamine. Alcohol and doxylamine are both sedatives, but they work in different ways. Doxylamine promotes sleep by inhibiting histamines while alcohol stimulates the release of sedating neurotransmitters and sleep-inducing compounds like adenosine (a byproduct of cellular metabolism). All of these effects combine to induce extreme drowsiness.

Alcohol interacts with the active ingredients in NyQuil by enhancing the associated side-effects, such as the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Balance and motor issues 
  • Upset stomach 
  • Nausea
  • Headache
Long-Term Effects of Mixing NyQuil and Alcohol

Long-Term Effects of Mixing NyQuil and Alcohol

NyQuil’s label states that consuming three or more drinks while taking NyQuil can lead to severe liver damage — but that’s not an invitation to pour two drinks. The risk for developing severe liver damage or intense side effects is lower with fewer drinks, but it’s still risky.

If we regularly combine alcohol and NyQuil, there can be severe consequences to our bodies.

  • Severe liver damage. Alcohol and acetaminophen are both metabolized in the liver. Having both in our systems can strain the liver and lead to damage. 

  • Weakened immune system. Repeated and heavy alcohol use can weaken the immune system. If we’re taking NyQuil, we are likely trying to fight off an illness. Drinking alcohol will only make this more difficult for our body and may prolong or worsen the illness. 

  • Increased risk of alcohol poisoning. Liquid NyQuil products contain 10% alcohol. If we drink large amounts of alcohol and then take NyQuil, we are unintentionally adding more alcohol to our systems and putting ourselves at risk for developing alcohol poisoning.

  • Increased chance for misuse. NyQuil and alcohol enhance the associated side effects of each — both the bad ones and the relaxing ones. As we know, the “feel-good” effects of both of these substances are short-lived, which may drive us to use higher amounts in search of that original feeling. Repeated use of NyQuil and alcohol together can increase our chances of developing alcohol use disorder or polysubstance misuse. 

For these reasons, it’s not a great idea to mix alcohol and NyQuil. But what if it’s too late and we’ve already mixed the two? Are we in danger? What should we do?

What Do I Do If Alcohol Is Found in My Urine?

While one or two drinks and a standard dose of NyQuil isn’t necessarily a medical emergency, the risks go up exponentially when the amounts increase. If you already have a liver condition, even small amounts of these substances can be harmful.

If you’ve had fewer than two drinks, you are probably okay. But, it’s best to take some precautionary measures.

  • Stop drinking. Do not consume more alcohol! Any additional booze can quickly shift the situation from unpleasant to dangerous.

  • Don’t add medications. Don’t take other medications to “balance out” the side effects of alcohol or NyQuil, and definitely avoid anything containing the active ingredients of NyQuil —acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, or doxylamine.

  • Enlist a helper. Consider reaching out to a trusted friend or family member to check on you and help you monitor your symptoms.

  • Monitor your symptoms. Check in with yourself and stay aware of your symptoms so you know when it’s time to seek help.

If you’ve combined small amounts of NyQuil and alcohol, don’t panic. Just stay in tune with your body and look out for signs you may need medical attention.

Danger Signs

Everyone’s body reacts differently to both alcohol and NyQuil, and individual factors like age and overall health play a big part in how we might react to the combination. The most important thing to do is listen to your body. If something feels wrong, get help, and don’t hesitate to seek medical attention if any of your symptoms become severe!

Here are a few danger signs that require immediate attention:

  • Rapid heart rate (above 110 bpm)
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Avoiding alcohol while sick is essential if we want to get back to good health quickly. Medications like NyQuil are helpful in reducing the uncomfortable symptoms of cold and flu. However, for those of us making a firm effort to steer clear of alcohol, there are plenty of options that don’t involve drinking or using alcohol-containing cold and flu medicines.

Alternatives to Alcohol-Based NyQuil

There are a host of over-the-counter cold and flu medications that don’t contain alcohol, including a variety of NyQuil products. Let’s review some alcohol-free ways to treat cold and flu. 

  • Alcohol-free cold medications. There are a variety of alcohol-free NyQuil products and generic counterparts (check the first section here for a list!). Ask a pharmacist or your doctor for more alcohol-free cold and flu medication options, and always check product labels for clarification.

  • Decongestants. Decongestants such as Sudafed can help open the airways to relieve congestion. Nasal sprays and nasal rinses can also help clear things out in the sinuses.

  • Pain relievers. Consider pain and fever relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol). Note that many cold medications already contain acetaminophen. Do not take acetaminophen with other medications also containing acetaminophen as this can cause liver damage.
  • Cough medications. Cough suppressant products such as Robitussin, Delsum, or cough drops can help relieve the urge to cough, while guaifenesin (Mucinex) can help break up mucus and make it easier to pass.

  • Natural remedies. Natural remedies for cold and flu symptoms include drinking enough water, getting plenty of rest, saline spray or drops, steam showers or hot water bowls, and cool mist vaporizers or humidifiers

Just because a product doesn’t contain alcohol does not mean it is safe to take with alcohol! Read labels and consult a doctor before taking any of these over-the-counter medications. Ultimately, recovering from a cold or flu takes time and rest! Medications or natural remedies can help us tolerate symptoms, but they will not cure them.

Key Takeaways

Colds and flus are quite unpleasant to deal with. We might think it’s a good idea to have a drink to take the edge off, but as we’ve learned throughout this blog, drinking may actually make our symptoms worse and extend our illness. Most cold and flu medications should not be mixed with alcohol, and it’s an especially bad idea to take NyQuil with alcohol!

Liquid NyQuil contains 10% alcohol, so if we are trying to avoid alcohol, we can try one of the many alcohol-free cold and flu remedies out there. We can also help prevent the next illness by exercising, eating healthy, and quitting or cutting back on alcohol — all of which will boost our immune system and overall health!

Summary FAQs

1. Does NyQuil have alcohol? 

Liquid NyQuil typically contains 10% alcohol to help the active ingredients dissolve. Not all NyQuil products contain alcohol. 

2. Can I take NyQuil after drinking alcohol? 

No, you should not mix alcohol and NyQuil at all, whether you’re taking them together or at different times. Mixing the two substances can cause severe liver damage or lead to extreme sleepiness. 

3. Is it bad to drink alcohol when you have a cold? 

Yes, drinking alcohol while you’re sick can worsen your symptoms or lengthen your recovery time. 

4. What do I do if I already took NyQuil and drank alcohol? Will I die if I take NyQuil after drinking?

First of all: don’t panic! A standard dose and one or two drinks isn’t dangerous, but everyone is different. Understand your own health status and what risk factors you have for a severe reaction. Monitor your symptoms and make sure to seek emergency help for severe reactions such as hallucinations, severe drowsiness, uncontrollable vomiting, intense stomach pain, or seizures.

Take Charge of Your Health With Reframe! 

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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