Medically Reviewed

What You Should Know About NyQuil Abuse and Addiction

- 5 sections

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

NyQuil is a popular over-the-counter cough syrup that is used to treat the symptoms of the common cold. This medication is considered safe when used correctly, however, people who abuse NyQuil are putting their health at risk and are susceptible to addiction. NyQuil abuse is popular among people who take it as a recreational drug or as a means of falling asleep.

NyQuil is abused because it contains dextromethorphan (DXM), a cough suppressant that produces hallucinogenic trips when taken in large doses. Despite the widespread abuse of NyQuil among teenagers and drug users alike, there are many risks associated with DXM abuse.

If abused long-term, people may become addicted to NyQuil and require professional substance abuse treatment.

An Overview of NyQuil

NyQuil is an over-the-counter cold and flu medication that is sold and manufactured by Vicks, a popular medicine company in the United States. According to the label, the medication provides relief for headaches, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, and fever. Although it provides temporary relief for symptoms of the common cold, it is not considered a cure. The medication is also known to cause drowsiness, which can help people who are sick sleep through the night. That being said, NyQuil is not a substitute for professional medical care or other sleep aids. Additionally, NyQuil is not recommended for children under the age of 6.[1]

The three active ingredients in NyQuil are as follows.

  • Acetaminophen – an analgesic medication used to treat mild to moderate pain including aches and pains from the cold or flu, headaches, and fever.
  • Dextromethorphan (DXM) – a cough suppressant that works by reducing signals in the brain that trigger the coughing reflex.
  • Doxylamine – an antihistamine used to treat fever and allergy symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, and sore throat. Doxylamine causes drowsiness.

NyQuil is similar to DayQuil, another cold medication produced by Vicks, except DayQuil does not contain doxylamine, so it doesn’t produce drowsiness. Instead, phenylephrine, a non-drowsy decongestant, is contained in DayQuil to help people stay awake.

Side Effects and Risks of Taking NyQuil

When taken correctly, NyQuil is safe to use and generally has little to no side effects. If any side effects do occur, they are usually minor and do not require immediate medical attention. The most common side effects of NyQuil include:[1]

Common side effects of NyQuil

If someone takes too much NyQuil, they put themselves at risk of experiencing liver damage due to the acetaminophen or loss of consciousness due to the doxylamine. Additionally, one way NyQuil abuse commonly occurs is by mixing the medication with alcohol. When mixing two central nervous system depressants such as these, individuals may experience heightened effects of both substances. They are also placing themselves at higher risk of liver damage and accidental overdose.

In rare cases, NyQuil may cause an allergic reaction. Someone who is allergic to NyQuil may experience hives, rash, itchiness, difficulty swallowing, and swelling of the face, throat, and mouth. If you or someone you know is having an allergic reaction to NyQuil, you should seek professional medical advice immediately.

Understanding Dextromethorphan (DXM) Abuse

NyQuil abuse is most common among teenagers who cannot buy alcohol and/or do not have access to illegal drugs. As a result, they will take large doses of NyQuil or other cold medicines in an attempt to get high. Dextromethorphan (3-methoxy-N-methlmorphinan, or DXM), is one component of NyQuil that is responsible for producing mood and mind-altering effects.[2]

DXM is a popular cough suppressant that is used in more than 140 over-the-counter medications. This makes it extremely easy to access. In small doses, DXM is completely safe and effectively reduces coughing. In fact, it is so safe that it isn’t even considered a controlled substance. That being said, DXM affects the brain in unique ways that are similar to those of illegal substances.

In high doses, DXM can produce euphoria and hallucinations. The effects of DXM are fairly similar to those produced by PCP, an illegal and extremely dangerous hallucinogen drug. Due to the hallucinogenic effects of DXM, people often refer to NyQuil abuse as “robo-tripping” or “skittling.” Sometimes, DXM is referred to as “the poor man’s PCP”. DXM also impairs judgment and coordination, making it a particularly dangerous drug known to be responsible for causing paranoia, fatal accidents, heart attacks, seizures, impaired mental health, and sudden death.

Other effects of DXM abuse include:

  • Sweating
  • Hot flashes
  • Dissociative states
  • Panic attacks
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Rapid eye movement
  • Rash
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Feeling of floating

Regular NyQuil or DXM abuse can lead to chemical psychosis, a condition where a person loses touch with reality and requires medical hospitalization.[3]

The Addictive Abilities of NyQuil Abuse

People who use NyQuil as directed on the label do not risk becoming addicted to it. However, people who abuse the medication may develop a dependence and/or addiction to it. NyQuil abuse occurs in many ways. For example, someone may take too large of a dose with the intention of getting high while others use it for off-label purposes, such as to treat chronic conditions or insomnia.

It is important to note that NyQuil is meant for short-term use only. It is not meant to treat or cure any long-term health problems. If a person is using in as such, they are likely dependent on NyQuil. For instance, if a person cannot sleep without taking the medication, they are dependent on it and likely to develop a drug addiction.

Once someone is dependent on NyQuil, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. This is a tell-tale sign that addiction has developed. (provigil) Although NyQuil withdrawal is not as painful nor as severe as withdrawal from opioids or alcohol, they can be comfortable and distressing. Symptoms of NyQuil withdrawal include:

  • Drug cravings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Chills
  • Restlessness
  • Shaking
  • Tremors
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea

People who experience withdrawals when they stop taking a drug may be unable to stop using it successfully without professional help. The best way to manage any drug withdrawal symptoms is to find a medical detox facility that provides medical and clinical support. People with a severe NyQuil addiction can then continue their recovery at a substance abuse rehab center.

Find Help for NyQuil Abuse and Addiction Today

NyQuil is an extremely useful medication if you have the common cold or mild case of the flu. However, there are many risks associated with the misuse of NyQuil and other DXM-containing medication. Whether someone is using NyQuil to sleep through the night or to “trip,” this type of medication misuse is dangerous and addictive.

If you or someone you know is abusing or addicted to NyQuil contact one of our dedicated addiction treatment providers in Memphis, TN. We will help you find the support that you or your loved one need to get sober and stay sober.