Vicks NyQuil is an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. It’s used to treat symptoms associated with colds and the flu, such as cough, runny nose, and aches and pains.

If you’re currently taking NyQuil, you should avoid consuming alcohol. Read on to learn why and what to do if you’ve already mixed the two.

Why can mixing NyQuil and alcohol a risky move? Simply put, alcohol can enhance the effects of the active ingredients in NyQuil, leading to potentially harmful consequences.

The active ingredients in NyQuil work together to help relieve the different symptoms of colds and the flu. Below, we’ll explore these active ingredients to further understand the effects that alcohol can have on them individually.

Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is a drug that eases pain and reduces fever. It’s included in a variety of OTC and prescription medications. You may be familiar with acetaminophen in OTC tablet forms, such as Tylenol.

Both alcohol and acetaminophen are or broken down (metabolized) by your liver. Too much of either can lead to liver damage, and combining the two can place additional stress on your liver.

Taking a recommended dose of acetaminophen and having a few drinks once in a while won’t typically lead to liver problems. However, heavy alcohol use (three or more drinks a day) along with repeated use of acetaminophen can lead to liver damage.

Dextromethorphan (DXM)

DXM is a drug that acts as a cough suppressant. Like acetaminophen, it can be found in a variety of OTC medications. When taken as directed, it works effectively to reduce coughs.

However, in higher doses, DXM can cause a sensation similar to being drunk, as well as hallucinations. These effects are amplified when combined with alcohol.

Doxylamine succinate

Doxylamine succinate is an antihistamine that can help with a runny nose and sneezing. It’s also the component of NyQuil that makes you sleepy.

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it has a sedative effect. Because alcohol is a depressant drug, it also has sedative effects. Taking doxylamine succinate with alcohol can lead to a potentially dangerous level of sedation.

But doesn’t nyquil contain alcohol?

The liquid form of NyQuil contains 10 percent alcohol, which helps the active ingredients dissolve. This concentration is similar to what you’d find in white wine.

However, the recommended dose of NyQuil is much smaller than a typical glass of wine, so you only consume the equivalent of a sip or two of wine when you take NyQuil as directed.

Short-term side effects of mixing alcohol and NyQuil include:

  • increased drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • coordination issues
  • increased heart rate
  • stomach upset

Repeatedly mixing the two can eventually lead to liver damage. This is due to the acetaminophen that’s present in NyQuil. Together, alcohol and acetaminophen can place extra stress on your liver.

If you’ve already mixed NyQuil and alcohol, you should avoid consuming more alcohol. This can help you to lower your risk of experiencing unpleasant side effects.

If you’ve only had one or two drinks, you likely don’t need to be too concerned. If you’ve had more than that, it’s probably best to seek medical treatment to err on the side of caution.

Seek emergency treatment if you notice:

  • intense feelings of sleepiness or drowsiness
  • rapid heart rate
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • irritability or agitation
  • loss of appetite
  • confusion
  • hallucinations
  • seizures

In addition to alcohol, there are a few other things you’ll want to steer clear of while taking NyQuil.

Other medications with acetaminophen

Since NyQuil already contains acetaminophen, you should avoid doubling up. Taking additional medications with acetaminophen can potentially cause you to exceed the recommended daily dose and can increase your risk of liver damage.

Both OTC and prescription medications can contain acetaminophen. Be sure to carefully read the product labels to determine if a medication contains acetaminophen. You’ll find it listed under the active ingredients.

Tylenol is a common name brand for acetaminophen.

In addition to NyQuil, some other OTC medications that can potentially contain acetaminophen include:

  • Dimetapp
  • Excedrin
  • Midol
  • Robitussin
  • Sudafed
  • Theraflu

Some examples of prescription medications that include acetaminophen are Percocet and Vicodin.

If you’re still unsure about whether a medication contains acetaminophen, your healthcare provider or a pharmacist.

Other considerations

You should talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking NyQuil if:

NyQuil and alcohol shouldn’t be mixed. Doing so can have some unpleasant short-term side effects and lead to more serious long-term effects in some cases.

If you’ve already combined them, make sure you know how to recognize the signs of a potential overdose. Seek immediate treatment if you start to have any unusual symptoms.