There are several different NyQuil products on the market, many of which contain alcohol. People should not consume alcohol while taking NyQuil, even if they are using alcohol-free versions.

NyQuil is an over-the-counter (OTC) flu and cold medication that contains several different ingredients.

Many NyQuil products contain alcohol, although not all of them. They also include some ingredients that may cause adverse effects that alcohol can worsen.

This article will take a detailed look at the ingredients of NyQuil products, explaining how they work. It will also look at the alcohol content in many of them, discuss the health risks of drinking alcohol while taking NyQuil, and list some alcohol-free NyQuil medications.

NyQuil products on a pharmacy shelfShare on Pinterest
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The company Vicks produces NyQuil products as OTC medications, which help people relieve certain cold and flu symptoms. NyQuil products are available as drinkable medications or as liquid capsules.

The common cold is a viral infection. Several different viruses can cause someone to develop a cold, which the average adult will experience around 2–4 times per year. It typically causes the following symptoms:

  • a runny nose
  • a blocked nose
  • a sore throat
  • coughing
  • sneezing

The flu is also a viral infection, and various influenza viruses can cause it. In parts of the world with temperate climates, such as the United States, seasonal flu epidemics occur every winter and autumn. The flu has the following common symptoms:

  • a cough
  • a fever
  • a sore throat
  • a runny nose
  • muscular aches and pains
  • congested eyes

There is no cure for the common cold, while flu vaccines are not 100% effective. Nonetheless, some medications can help individuals with cold and flu symptoms. These include NyQuil products, which can:

  • relieve pain from headaches, sore throats, and muscular aches
  • reduce fevers
  • suppress coughs
  • reduce watery eyes, runny noses, and sneezing

NyQuil medications contain several different ingredients. For many NyQuil liquid products, these ingredients include alcohol, with several containing 10% alcohol.

However, the alcohol is not an active ingredient, which means that its purpose is not to relieve flu and cold symptoms. Rather, Vicks uses the substance as a solution to dissolve the active ingredients.

There are several other substances in NyQuil, including the following three active ingredients:

  • acetaminophen to reduce pain and fevers
  • dextromethorphan to suppress coughs
  • doxylamine succinate to help with watery eyes, runny noses, and sneezing.

These drugs all work in different ways. Acetaminophen is a pain reliever, which some people may know as paracetamol. In the U.S., individuals refer to it using the brand name Tylenol.

Scientists remain unsure about how acetaminophen produces its pain-relieving effects. However, unlike some other pain killers, acetaminophen does not reduce the inflammation that might be causing a person’s pain. Instead, it seems to act solely on the brain.

Dextromethorphan is one of the most common cough-suppressing drugs in OTC medications, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for use back in 1958. Again, scientists are uncertain about how the drug works, although it may affect a part of the brainstem that controls a person’s cough reflex.

Doxylamine succinate is an antihistamine. According to a 2021 review, doxylamine succinate works by preventing certain chemicals, called histamines, from having an impactful effect on a person’s body. These effects can include watery eyes, runny noses, and sneezing, which is why antihistamines also work as hay fever medications.

It is inadvisable to drink alcohol while taking NyQuil. The manufacturer, Vicks, warns against it on the NyQuil website. This is because NyQuil can cause drowsiness, which alcohol consumption may exacerbate.

Although Vicks does not specify the NyQuil ingredients that cause drowsiness, scientists know that doxylamine succinate can have this effect. It can also cause impaired vigilance, which an individual could worsen by consuming alcohol.

Therefore, the main reason to avoid drinking alcohol while taking NyQuil is to help prevent accidents due to increased drowsiness and impaired vigilance. However, those taking NyQuil should probably avoid certain activities, even without drinking alcohol.

Vicks states that people taking this medication should exercise extra caution while driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery.

Although many NyQuil products contain alcohol, not all of them contain this substance. Alcohol-free NyQuil products include:

  • Alcohol-Free NyQuil Cold & Flu Nighttime Relief Liquid
  • NyQuil LiquiCaps
  • Children’s NyQuil

However, it is important to remember that even alcohol-free NyQuil products may contain ingredients that could be dangerous when someone is drinking alcohol.

For example, an alcohol-free NyQuil product that contains doxylamine succinate may still cause drowsiness or impaired vigilance.

NyQuil is a popular OTC cold and flu medication. With its blend of active ingredients, this medication can help alleviate some common cold and flu symptoms, such as pain, coughing, and sneezing.

However, many NyQuil products contain alcohol and active ingredients that can cause significant drowsiness.

With this in mind, it is best to avoid drinking alcohol while taking NyQuil products — some people may wish to avoid alcohol-containing products entirely. Additionally, Vicks produces alcohol-free NyQuil medications in both liquid and capsule forms.