What Is NyQuil?
NyQuil is a common over-the-counter medication which treats the symptoms of the flu, the common cold, and other similar illnesses and allergies. It is manufactured and sold by Vicks, a U.S. medicine company. NyQuil provides temporary relief for coughing, headaches, stuffy and runny nose, sore throat, fever, and sneezing. It also helps people with cold symptoms sleep through the night. While it provides relief for cold symptoms, it is not a cure for the common cold or the flu. NyQuil is generally safe and effective for adults and children over the age of 6.
There are three active ingredients in NyQuil: acetaminophen, dextromethorphan (DXM), and doxylamine. Acetaminophen reduces fever and alleviates minor pain, dextromethorphan suppresses coughing, and doxylamine is an antihistamine (anti-allergy medication) which relieves congestion, sneezing, and sore throat. Doxylamine also helps people sleep, but it sometimes causes drowsiness during the day.
Vicks also manufactures and sells DayQuil, a similar medication for users who want to relieve cold symptoms without feeling drowsy during the workday. DayQuil alleviates the same symptoms as NyQuil. DayQuil contains acetaminophen and dextromethorphan, but it does not contain doxylamine. Instead, DayQuil contains phenylephrine, a non-drowsy nasal decongestant.
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What Are the Side-Effects and Risks of NyQuil?
The most common side-effects of NyQuil, if any occur, are minor and do not require medical attention. NyQuil is not dangerous if it used properly. The most likely side-effects are:
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth, nose, or throat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Nervousness and excitability
- Stomach pain
It is important that people who use NyQuil follow the instructions on the bottle and avoid taking too much. Someone who regularly takes too much NyQuil could lose consciousness or suffer liver damage from the acetaminophen. Additionally, people should abstain from drinking alcohol while taking NyQuil and they should also avoid taking it together with an antidepressant or another medication which contains acetaminophen.
Moreover, it is possible for someone to have an allergic reaction to NyQuil. The symptoms of an allergic reaction to NyQuil include rash, hives, itchiness, difficulty with swallowing and breathing, and swelling in the face, throat, and mouth.
Is NyQuil Addictive?
A person who uses NyQuil correctly almost certainly will not become addicted, but someone who misuses NyQuil may develop dependence on the medication. Someone can misuse NyQuil by taking too much of it or by taking it for the wrong reasons, such as to treat asthma or chronic bronchitis, or for recreation. NyQuil is only designed to treat short-term symptoms, not cure long-term health problems. NyQuil is not a cure for insomnia and it should not be used just to fall asleep.
Once someone is unable to sleep without NyQuil, even when they’re not sick, they have become dependent on NyQuil. When a person starts to experience withdrawal symptoms when they put NyQuil back in the medicine cabinet, NyQuil dependence has escalated into NyQuil addiction. Physical withdrawal symptoms most often characterize addictions to alcohol, Opioids, and dangerous stimulants like Cocaine and Methamphetamine, but addictions to common medications can cause withdrawal symptoms as well. The symptoms of NyQuil withdrawal include:
- Stomach pain and nausea
- Shaking and tremors
When someone has a NyQuil addiction, the symptoms of withdrawal might prevent them from achieving recovery. Fortunately, people can manage withdrawal symptoms more easily with medical support, and someone with serious dependence on NyQuil or other drugs can escape the cycle of withdrawal and relapse by undergoing medically-supervised detox and therapy at a rehab facility.
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Understanding Dextromethorphan (DXM) Abuse
Some people, especially teenagers, take large doses of NyQuil to “get high.” This is because dextromethorphan (DXM), one of NyQuil’s three active ingredients, has mind-altering effects. DXM is an ingredient in over 70 medications. In small doses, DXM is just a cough suppressant which does not pose any risks for serious side effects. DXM is not even a controlled substance. However, DXM does affect the brain. For this reason, excessive amounts of DXM can bring about hallucinations and euphoria. In other words, its effects are similar to those of illegal mind-altering substances, but because medications with DXM are legal and don’t require a prescription, some people abuse DXM as an easier alternative to recreational drugs. In fact, over 3% of American 12th graders have abused NyQuil, DayQuil, and other DXM-based medications to try to have fun. Abusing DXM is often called “skittling” or “robo-tripping”
When someone misuses NyQuil for its DXM, the consequences can be serious. The effects of a large DXM dose are actually similar to the effects of PCP, an illegal and very hazardous hallucinogen. DXM impairs coordination and judgment, which makes driving after “robo-tripping” a perilous venture. Additionally, the combination of a large dose of DXM with acetaminophen, alcohol, or antidepressants may harm the liver and cause heart attacks, seizures, and in some cases, even death. “Robo-tripping” has killed several people in recent years. Finally, people who abuse NyQuil to “get high” on DXM are at risk for developing addiction, a potentially lifelong burden. In summary, drinking NyQuil to have a good time may be legal, but it is absolutely not safe.
Find Help Today
NyQuil is helpful when you’re feeling under the weather, but as with most medications, there are risks. If you or someone you know is using NyQuil to have DXM trips or to fall asleep every night, it’s time to get some help. Please contact a treatment provider today to learn more about the options available. With support, it is possible to recover from a destructive NyQuil habit.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience