You’ve probably seen NyQuil everywhere: the grocery store, the pharmacy near your home, and your home’s medicine cabinet.
It is a treatment for the common cold and is known for its sedative abilities. The latter makes NyQuil an easy-access drug prone to misuse and addiction.
What exactly is NyQuil?
NyQuil, available in caplet and liquid form, is one of many over-the-counter cold medications for common cold symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing, fever, and headache. Some people take NyQuil as a sleep medication. It is manufactured by the United States-based medicine company Vicks.
It is only a symptomatic treatment for these symptoms, not a permanent cure for the condition, and is not a substitute for medical advice or care.
Nyquil has three main active ingredients:
- Acetaminophen – Pain Reliever
- Dextromethorphan – Cough Suppressant
- Doxylamine – Antihistamine
Acetaminophen is an analgesic that treats symptoms of fever, headache, and sore throat. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant. And doxylamine, the distinguishing ingredient of NyQuil, is an antihistamine that controls symptoms of runny eyes, running nose, and sneezing. It also has sedative properties.
NyQuil’s AM counterpart, DayQuil, also a cough medication, contains the same two first ingredients but does not contain doxylamine. So it does not cause drowsiness. It has phenylephrine instead, which produces the same decongesting effect without being sedated.
Common side effects with NyQuil
NyQuil is generally safe for people above six years of age if taken at the recommended dosage for not more than 7 days in a row.
Some of the common side effects seen in people routinely taking NyQuil include:
- Dry mouth
- Inability to concentrate
- Altered or blurred vision
Most of these are short-term symptoms that resolve on their own without the need for treatment or immediate medical intervention.
However, if someone takes NyQuil in more than the recommended dose, large doses, or takes it for too many days, they are overdosing themselves and putting themselves at risk for more long-term or serious side effects such as:
- Liver damage
- Loss of consciousness
- Toxic psychosis
In rare instances, some people may be allergic to NyQuil or any of its ingredients, causing symptoms of allergic reaction that include:
- Swelling under the eyes or on the face
- And very rarely, bronchoconstriction- causing an inability to breathe since it compresses your windpipe
Note: symptoms of allergic reaction are serious and must be treated immediately to prevent anaphylactic shock.
Does the misuse of Nyquil cause addiction?
As mentioned above, NyQuil is one of many cold medicines that is meant to be a quick-fix treatment for the common cold. Unfortunately, it is not the only reason people use NyQuil.
Other than a cough and cold treatment, one of the most popular uses of NyQuil in the United States is as a sleeping aid.
Since it is cheap, easily available, and works well as a sedative, people often resort to it as a treatment for insomnia and sometimes as a quick fix to chronic conditions such as chronic bronchitis or asthma.
People may even carry NyQuil on long flights to work as a sleep aid.
It is to be noted that neither of those conditions is listed as an indication for NyQuil use and is not officially approved for it. According to Drug.com, the maximum number of days you can take NyQuil in continuity is 7. After this, you should stop using it and check in with your doctor to prevent withdrawal symptoms and get a substitute treatment with prescription drugs.
Taking the drug as a recreational drug is bound to exceed the recommended dose and make you prone to substance abuse. If someone relies on NyQuil for sedation, they are at risk of using it daily, with daily increments in the doses, as the initial amount may become ineffective after a while, causing the user to increase the dose and risk drug addiction.
One other way people tend to misuse NyQuil is by mixing it with alcohol. It has been known to cause heightened effects of both substances, making it a recreational cocktail of sorts for those that seek its euphoric effects.
This misuse eventually leads to drug dependency and, ultimately, a substance abuse disorder.
According to the National Institute of Health, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is what many NyQuil users suffer from if taken in exceedingly high doses for extended periods.
Stopping usage suddenly makes the person prone to withdrawal effects often seen with other drugs of misuse. These withdrawal symptoms include:
- Restlessness and agitation
- Increased craving for the drug
Experiencing any of these symptoms may make it difficult for the person to quit, leading to worsening addiction that must be dealt with professionally.
What Is dextromethorphan abuse?
As we talked about before, Dextromethorphan is one of the main ingredients found in NyQuil and other medications used to treat cough and cold. It works as a cough suppressant and is completely safe when used short term in the recommended dosages.
However, Dextromethorphan or DXM has mood-changing and mind-altering properties in high doses. This makes it a common drug of misuse for those that do not have access to alcohol. The common demographic for DXM abuse is young adults and teenagers that cannot access alcohol or other recreational drugs with ease.
According to a survey, about 3% of high schoolers in the United States have been involved in “skittling” or “robo-tripping”- the street slang for DXM abuse.
People using NyQuil for their DXM fix are prone to addiction similar to that seen with alcohol.
The effects of DXM abuse are serious and include:
- Lapse in judgment
- Panic attack
- Heart attack
And in some cases, it is even known to have caused brain damage, kidney damage, or death.
What to do if you or someone you know is suffering from NyQuil addiction?
While using NyQuil is legal and considered safe for short-term use and when used according to the recommended doses, long-term use and abuse can lead to serious consequences if not timely addressed and treated.
If you or someone you know is suffering from NyQuil Addiction, it is recommended that they seek expert care right away. Timely controlling the addiction can help you prevent serious damage to your liver and psychological state.
Symptoms of Nyquil withdrawal, or DXM addiction, can be increasingly severe and can have morbid consequences if not properly treated. If you see someone with the following symptoms, get medical attention right away:
- Heart attacks
- Aspiration pneumonia
- Toxic psychosis
Hence, it is essential to seek professional help so they can closely monitor these withdrawal symptoms and intervene where necessary. Some cases of addiction may be treated as an outpatient via medical detox. While some severe cases may require admission to a rehab facility.
Rehab experts will walk you through addiction treatment, and they will also be able to advise sustainable treatment options that reduce the risk of relapse. Experts may give cognitive-behavioral therapy to help with any sleep problems.
There are also blogs and support groups that help network people suffering from addiction and provide them with a safe space to discuss their problems and support each other’s recovery.