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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minute read

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.

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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:

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  • 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.

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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.

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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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  1. My son is 24yrs old and for the past 2 months has been taking nyquil to help him sleep. Well that’s what he is telling us. I’m concerned because he was smoking weed before and now he just drinks nyquil and says that it helps with anxiety. He always self medicating and never wants to go to the doctor. He doesn’t work but sit at home all day. He plays video game and stays up most of the night and around 4am he takes nyquil and sleeps all day. Please any advice you can give me will be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  2. If a person is addicted to smoking spice, then takes nyquil, what are the consequences? Or even if they smoke spice but takes NyQuil in the recommended dose after the effect of spice wears off, what would eventually happen?

    1. Hi Alex. Some the negative effects of Spice use include: anxiety, hallucinations, seizures, etc., while side effects of large doses of NyQuil include:blurred vision, dizziness, nausea and many more. But we really don’t know what are the side effects if you combine these two.

  3. I get severe migraine and sinus headaches. It started getting to where the headaches would wake me up and last all day. My doctor thinks they are allergy related but we have not been able to pinpoint a specific allergen. I started taking the recommended dose of Nyquil once a day before going to bed and found I did not wake up with a headache or sinus pain. I found I could take half the dose and had the same results, no pain. I now take half a dose every night before bed and have been doing so for about a year. I’ve tried on occasion not taking it and had no problem sleeping, but on those occasions I’d wake up with the sinus headache again.
    As much as I’m relieved to have found something that works, I’m worried about taking it every night. Other than the return of the headaches when I don’t take it, I don’t seem to have any other ‘withdrawal’ type symptoms. Is Nyquil the type of substance my body can become dependent on? Could I be addicted even taking such a small amount on a daily basis?
    Thanks for you comments.

    1. Hi, Elizabeth. If you are taking NyQuil as prescribed by your doctor, you probably won’t get addicted. But, I suggest that you consult with your doctor about your concerns.

  4. I used NyQuil for about 10 yrs taking up to 10 gel caps a night to sleep. Since I have stopped using them my head hasn’t felt right. Please help if there is something I can do to get back to NORMAL…

    1. Hi Paulette. It seems that you have developed a dependence on NyQuil due to long-term use. The symptoms you have experienced may be symptoms of withdrawal. I suggest that you consult with your doctor.

  5. I have been on Ambien for better than 3 years, doctor NEVER told me it was addicting, heard it from my daughter. So I decided to try Nyquill to help me sleep after about 4 nights it’s worked. Been using it nightly for about 15 nights now. Now I find out that Nyquill is also addictive. Should I take myself off this stuff immediately. I’m 71 and have A Fib, and don’t need anymore problems. Thank you in advance for your answer.

    1. Hi Charles. I suggest that you consult with your doctor about this. Also, consider trying alternative medications that can help you with your sleep disturbances.

  6. I’ve been taking NyQuil for about 1 year now and I feel like if I don’t take it I have a bigger head and can’t function. NyQuil makes me feel relaxed and it’s gotten to the point where I take it everyday and can’t stop taking it. I feel like I need help because I’ve tried to stop but I just can’t stop. It’s drives me insane if I don’t have it. I drink 2-4 cups at a time everyday. Also Can NyQuil make you gain weight ? I need help

    1. Hi Nicole. I suggest that you consult with your doctor about this. Also, call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant.

  7. I have a terrible problem with NyQuil addiction. I’ve told my wife and son countless times that I’m going to quite abusing it only to find myself going to various stores to get more. I really want to put my foot down and quit drinking NyQuil forever. I’ve typically been drinking two 12oz. bottles about three times/week. This has been going on for about 3 years. I buy the cough formula since it doesn’t have acetaminophen in it. High doses of acetaminophen can cause liver damage. I’m also concerned about how NyQuil’s has effected my cognition.

    1. Hi Stuart. Reach out to our recovery consultants at 1-877-960-2408. Calls are confidential, and someone is available to speak with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with information about NyQuil treatment programs.

  8. I have been taking Nyquil every night for a month. It’s the only way I can get any sleep. However, lately I have been waking up with a horrible headache that won’t go away. I have COPD and am on oxygen therapy. Am I hurting myself? Doctor didn’t seem concerned when I told him.

  9. My bf takes Nyquil everyday. He says its for his allergies.. He sleeps during the day and stays up all night. He can’t hold a job or even drive sometimes. He doesn’t believe he can take a claritan for allgeries. He doesn’t have colds or sneezes what do i do? Is there a difference between claritan and Nyquil….

  10. I think my husband may be addicted to NyQuil. He is constantly saying he is sick and needs to go to the dollar store for it at least a few times a week and goes through 5 doses in a day or two. He also lost a lot of weight recently and I wonder if he is also using pain pills in combo. He likes to mix things up so it doesn’t seem he is overusing any one substance.

  11. I started taking Nyquil initially because I was sick . Then I continued to take it because it would help me sleep . Every time I don’t take it I am up literally all night . My eyes are buckshot wide open . I tried to stop and not only did I not sleep I started feeling sick . Stomach pains nausea and just very tired and weak . I’ve talked to one doctor they said it’s okay . My other doctor prescribed me sleeping pills those didn’t work so I stopped taking them now I’m back to nyquil . I’ve stopped drinking as much as I was . I drink 2 of the little cups right before bed now and I’m fine . I’m trying to ween myself off if it . I was drinking a bottle within two days at one point . I’m so embarrassed by this and I just want this to stop

    1. Hello Else. Mixing drugs with alcohol is really dangerous to your health. I think you should consult with an addiction professional, before this gets out of control. Contact our trusted treatment provider to get the help today. You can see the number on our site.

  12. 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!

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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?

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

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