Can you get addicted to NyQuil?

Addiction to NyQuil is uncommon, but possible. You can get addicted to NyQuil if you use it regularly to get high. More on the addiction liability of NyQuil and its ingredients here.

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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
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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