The recent COVID-19 pandemic saw consumers turning to popular over-the-counter cold and flu medications for relief from symptoms. The normal flu season may have been overshadowed by COVID, but many people still battled the flu and also turned to OTC meds for help. A popular brand often used is Vicks DayQuil™ Cold & Flu, which comes in a variety of combinations and forms.
Of course, it’s always wise to refrain from consuming alcohol when taking any OTC or prescription medications. But combining alcohol and DayQuil (or other cold and flu medications with certain ingredients) can be particularly harmful, leading to liver damage, liver failure, or even death.
Speak with your healthcare provider before taking any OTC cold and flu medications, especially if you are currently taking prescription medications or suffer from chronic health conditions, are pregnant, or breastfeeding.
DayQuil contains acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and phenylephrine.
There are different formulations of DayQuil that contain other active ingredients that may also produce negative effects when combined with alcohol or other medications. Always refer to the product label for specific ingredients and follow your healthcare provider’s directions.
Procter & Gamble, manufacturer of Vicks DayQuil, warns consumers that “severe liver damage may occur” from taking more than four doses of DayQuil within 24 hours, takes other products containing acetaminophen, or consumes three or more alcoholic drinks every day while taking DayQuil.
Acetaminophen is broken down by the liver into several substances that are excreted through urine. One of these, NAPQI, can be quite hard on the liver. To neutralize NAPQI, the liver produces glutathione, an antioxidant, that prevents damage to liver cells. Alcohol reduces the liver’s production of glutathione, allowing NAPQI to build up to dangerous levels and possibly causing an acetaminophen overdose. This can eventually result in liver damage or failure.
Dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, is also unsafe when combined with alcohol. Common side effects of dextromethorphan include drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, or lightheadedness. Consuming alcohol while taking products containing dextromethorphan aggravates and worsens these effects.
A popular habit of many younger people is experimenting with “getting high” by taking excessive amounts of cough and cold medicines containing DXM, like DayQuil. Excessive amounts can produce psychoactive effects, such as auditory and visual hallucinations, as well as sweating, slurred speech, high blood pressure, lethargy or hyperexcitability and uncoordinated movements. This practice is popularly known as “Skittling” or “Robotripping.”
When alcohol is added to excessive amounts of medication containing dextromethorphan, this increases the risk for liver damage. Other dangers include shallow breathing, stupor, and even coma.
Several states regulate the OTC sale of products containing dextromethorphan in an attempt to minimize this practice. These states require persons to be over the age of 18 to buy cough syrups and other similar products.
Depending on the individual, the effects of alcohol can be felt in the body for about three hours. DayQuil is typically active in the body for between four to six hours. If choosing to consume alcohol, you should be sure no DayQuil is active in your system. Of course, we recommend, as does every other medical professional, that you refrain from consuming alcohol while taking any medications.
Those being treated for alcohol abuse may have difficulty if needing to take OTC cold and flu medications to relieve flu or COVID symptoms. In addition, those patients with co-occurring disorders (physical or mental) may also experience complications with their treatment if they take OTC medications containing acetaminophen and/or dextromethorphan.
Our credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge have the skills, training, and experience necessary to help patients recovering from alcohol abuse and other physical or mental disorders. Although sometimes medication is used during detox and rehab, we are meticulous about what medications or supplements are used with our patients, including OTC medications for colds, coughs, and the flu.
Combining alcohol with any medication is more than a bad idea — it is dangerous to your health and life. Always contact your healthcare provider before taking any OTC medications, especially if you are on prescription medications or undergoing treatment for substance abuse. Contact us at Gratitude Lodge about help with substance abuse recovery.
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