Thursday October 30th 2014

Can you get addicted to NyQuil?

Yes. Regular misuse of NyQuil can lead to physical dependence and addiction.

NyQuil is legal, readily available without a prescription and inexpensive. If you are using NyQuil as prescribed, can you get addicted to this over-the-counter drug? And if you are tripping on NyQuil, does your risk for addiction increase? We review here.

Psychoactive ingredients of NyQuil

NyQuil contains a chemical called Dextromethorphan (DXM), which is found in hundreds of over-the-counter (OTC) prescription cough and cold medications. DXM is a synthetic drug and has been added OTC drugs since the 1970’s. Chemically, DXM is the “methylated dextrorotatory analog of the synthetic Schedule II opioid, levorphanol, a derivative of codeine“.

However, DXM has been identified in a different class of medications than opioids, and has different mechanisms of action on the brain. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant which is often used with an antihistamine in treating unproductive cough. DXM has no analgesic or sedative properties.

So can you get high on DXM? Yes. When taken in very large doses, DXM can produce a high or “out-of-body” experience similar to the hallucinogenic effects caused by phencyclidine (PCP). However, when used as recommended, the DXM contained in NyQuil is a safe and effective cough suppressant.

What does DXM do in the body and brain?

Even though DXM is derived from opiate drugs, it has no significant affinity for mu- opioid receptors. Which means that DXM does not cause a typical opioid-like euphoria by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain. Instead, DXM seems to bind at the “PCP site” of the NMDA receptor-channel complex in the brain, which is why it can produce PCP-like symptoms. Specifically, DXM has 5 known actions on the brain and acts as a:

1. NMDA receptor channel blocker
2. sigma-1 receptor agonist
3. calcium channel blocker
4. serotonin reuptake inhibitor
5. nicotinergic antagonist

Side effects of taking NyQuil

Taking NyQuil in doses larger than recommended has the potential to cause a number of side effects. Some can be described as pleasant and appealing, while others are uncomfortable and even life threatening. Side effects of large doses of DXM include:

  • blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • hallucinations
  • hot flashes
  • impair judgment
  • impair mental functioning
  • loss of coordination
  • nausea
  • rapid heartbeat

These side effects can be worse when consumed with other active ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, acetaminophen, antihistamines, expectorants or alcohol. A NyQuil overdose can result in brain damage, seizure and death.

How do you get addicted to DXM?

Any drug with central nervous system activity may be misused. The first step to becoming addicted to NyQuil is by using it for non-medical reasons to get high. Eventually, addiction develops over time and chronic use. In order to test yourself, the recommended therapeutic dose of DXM to supress coughing is 10-30 mg, every 4-8 hours. Generally, NyQuil and DXM abuse occurs at doses ranging from around 100 mg to 2000 mg.

What increases NyQuil addiction risk?

Abuse of expectorants and cough suppressants is well recognized among doctors and addiction specialists. OTC drug abuse may be in the form of high doses of a suppressant like DXM alone or in preparations containing an antihistamine or pseudoephedrine. Risk for addiction increases if you have a personal or family medical history of drug addiction or alcoholism. Also, misuse of DXM is age related and is more common in people between 12-25 years old.

Questions about NyQuil dependency

Do you think that you may be addicted to NyQuil? If you are ready to get help, you can find it. Please leave your questions about NyQuil use, abuse and addiction below. We will do our best to answer you quickly and personally.

Reference sources: FDA Risk Management Advisory Committee info on DXM
SAMHSA Report: Misuse of Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medications among Persons Aged 12 to 25
New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services review of Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse
FTA Drug & Alcohol Regulation Updates
Issue 35, page 6
Daily Med drug info on Vicks NyQuil
Dextromethorphan psychosis, dependence and physical withdrawal
Dependence on dextromethorphan hydrobromide

Photo credit: johnwilliamsphd

Leave a Reply

11 Responses to “Can you get addicted to NyQuil?
Carlos Mendez
1:20 pm February 27th, 2013

Found a bunch of nyquil capsules on my son’s room.He’s 23 and gets realy excited when I bring up the issue.
I don’t know how to help him ,he said there is no problem.Any advise on where to start?
Thanks.

1:23 pm February 27th, 2013

Hi Carlos. Finding many doses of NyQuil capsules can be very disturbing…and it’s a signal that something is going on. A great place to start is to begin seeing a family counselor who specializes in drug abuse or addiction. Often, drug use is a sign that something is “off” within the family. And if you are willing to take a look at the dynamic and change things for the better, everyone can benefit. You can also seek support at Al-Anon. Check the web for local listings and call their hotline number for more advice.

Luanne H
2:06 pm April 4th, 2013

I think my child is addicted to nyquil. She keeps it on hand at all times and apparantly uses it to sleep when she is under stress in school.
How can I help her develop healthier coping mechanizsms with our adding to her stress.

6:27 am April 10th, 2013

Hi Luanne. Great question. You will need to intervene at some time to address your concern. Speak with an addictions counselor to plan an intervention and get tips on how, when, and what to say. Planning and practicing your thoughts can help you be firm and loving when the time comes.

Emma
1:30 am July 17th, 2013

I am a former NyQuil addict how was I able to quit on my own without aa or an intervention? Was I really addicted to NyQuil? I used it everyday. I used it to sleep to escape the pain I was experiencing as a transgendered person who was born the wrong gender.

Ellie
11:03 pm November 17th, 2013

I have a friend who buys a new bottle at least once a week. How can I help? I have absolutely no idea what to do besides tell her parents and make her get help.

11:23 am November 18th, 2013

Hello Ellie. That’s a great question. Have you talked with your friend about your concern? Sometimes, it’s best to mirror back what we see…and then if a loved one is not responsive to help…seek out additional measures. Look into “informal interventions for drug abuse”. You definitely have cause for concern for your friend!

Kirk
2:33 am April 13th, 2014

I have difficulty getting to sleep, I will just lay in bed for over an hour before finally falling asleep. As a solution to that, I have been taking one dose of Nyquil before going to bed every night, and I am able to fall asleep much more quickly. Is there any threat in taking one dose every 24 hours?

11:28 am April 14th, 2014

Hi Kirk. Yes, taking NyQuil nightly for sleep is NOT recommended and can be habit forming. I’d suggest that you look more into sleep strategies, including lifestyle changes of diet, exercise, and meditation. These practices can help you sleep better daily…while NyQuil can really get in the way of healthy sleeping patterns.

shawna
4:52 pm May 17th, 2014

Im really concerned about a friend that takes nyquil day and night for the last couple of months and complains about headaches an upset stomach so how do I approach the situation

1:21 pm May 19th, 2014

Hello Shawna. I’d suggest that you make a “calendar” of reported symptoms, and then sit down with your friend and just lay out the facts. Also, look into treatment options in your area (counseling, detox, or residential treatment, if necessary) and share the options with them. Often, a person with drug problems can deny their problem. But if you plan to address the situation honestly and openly, it’s a least a beginning. Good luck!

Leave a Reply