Abusing cold medications by combining them with alcohol can be dangerous, but it doesn’t always happen intentionally. Sometimes a person taking cold medicine will drink alcohol, not realizing it could lead to a negative drug interaction. Unfortunately, some people combine alcohol and cold remedies on purpose to achieve an altered state. Teens are especially susceptible to the allure of doing this because they may not be aware of the risks involved.
Cold remedies have side effects that sometimes mimic being high, and drinking alcohol can intensify this experience. However, using the two types of drugs together is dangerous. In addition to getting high, users are also putting their health at risk. Combining Nyquil and alcohol, for example, is the equivalent of drinking and taking three other drugs.
Abuse of Cold Medicine
Common cold medications such as dextromethorphan and pseudoephedrine are easier to get than prescription drugs, and they can be purchased online. Some websites even instruct users about how much to snort or swallow to get high. The easy access, combined with the fact that these aren’t illegal drugs, has led to the abuse of cold remedies.
Effects of Alcohol
People consume alcoholic beverages to feel more relaxed, uninhibited and cheerful. Having two or three drinks a week isn’t likely to cause negative side effects for most. However, drinking too much alcohol can lead to health conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart arrhythmias. Those with preexisting conditions should be careful about their alcohol intake because drinking may worsen them.
Alcohol places a strain on the liver, a vital organ. Excess consumption can lead to conditions like fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis. Binge drinking can also make people susceptible to alcohol-related cancers. And combining alcohol with cold medications can result in drug interactions that are dangerous to health.
Effects of Cold Medications
Cold medicines are taken to reduce the symptoms of the common cold, such as:
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes
- Sore throat
Some cold medications contain a mixture of drugs to make it easier to treat various symptoms with one dose. Each drug has side effects, though. People who take them may experience:
- Inability to concentrate
- Dry mouth and nose
- Upset stomach
Taking Cold Medications With Alcohol
In the past, cough syrups contained codeine and alcohol, making them easier to overuse for a cheap high. To combat this, the sale of cold products containing codeine was restricted. Alcohol in cold medications was replaced by dextromethorphan (DXM), which causes vomiting at high doses. However, DXM is now available in pills and capsules that don’t cause that purging effect.
Nyquil is one cold medication that still contains alcohol, although the amount in each dose is small. The three active ingredients are DXM, doxylamine and acetaminophen. Some common side effects of Nyquil are dizziness, sleepiness and difficulty concentrating. Nyquil should only be used as a cold medicine and never as a sleep aid.
Taking it with alcohol can intensify the side effects of Nyquil, leading to a high feeling. It also magnifies the impact of the alcohol. Combining Nyquil and alcohol regularly can become addictive and lead to confusion and hallucinations.
Other Cold Remedies
The difference between Dayquil and Nyquil is the substitution of phenylephrine for doxylamine. Phenylephrine is a nasal decongestant that’s less likely to lead to drowsiness than doxylamine. However, Dayquil can still cause drowsiness. Ingesting Dayquil and alcohol can produce the same negative effects as taking Nyquil and alcohol.
Pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in Sudafed, is a decongestant that reduces the swelling and stuffiness caused by a cold. Taking it can lead to a feeling of nervousness, drowsiness and dizziness that some people interpret as being high. However, taking Sudafed and alcohol can suppress respiration and may result to an overdose.
This is an allergy medication that helps relieve symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose. A single glass of wine or beer would have little effect in addition to taking loratadine, but this drug builds up in the body. Combining loratadine and alcohol excessively can interfere with the liver’s ability to process alcohol, putting users at risk of organ damage.
Seeking a High
Combining alcohol and cold medicine can make some people feel as if they’ve taken a drug like PCP. Users may feel high, have a sensation of floating and even hallucinate. But it’s a mistake to consider this a safe way to get high. Taking a drug like DXM with alcohol can cause potentially dangerous side effects, such as:
- Excessive sweating
- Irregular heartbeat
- Allergic reaction
Dangers of Mixing Drugs
Using cold medicine and alcohol recreationally can also lead to addiction. Even though cold remedies are available without a prescription, they’re still drugs, and there’s a fine line between drug abuse and drug addiction. If you find yourself often using cold medication with alcohol, it could be a sign you’ve become addicted to the high.
Hard drugs like heroin, crystal methamphetamine and crack cocaine can cause addiction after one or two uses. It may take longer to become addicted to cold medications like DXM and pseudoephedrine, but the addiction is just as real. Combining these drugs with alcohol intensifies the danger of becoming dependent on them. And sometimes, psychological addiction can be just as disruptive to a person’s life as physical addiction.
One sign of being psychologically addicted to a drug is the need to get a fix to feel whole and happy. Thinking about the next opportunity to get high can replace healthy thoughts about being with others or pursuing favorite activities. Performance at work or school could suffer, and you might experience mood swings. Another sign is finding yourself associating mostly with friends who use the same drugs.
Taking cold medications with alcohol can also become physically addictive. Weight loss or gain, problems sleeping and feelings of agitation between fixes can be signs of physical addiction. One of the most dangerous issues is the need to take increasingly larger amounts to achieve the same high. This puts an even greater strain on your brain and body, and it can lead to serious mental and physical damage.
How We Can Help
Having an addiction doesn’t make you a bad person, but it can affect your health and happiness. It’s hard to stop on your own, and FHE Health is experienced in helping people overcome addiction. If you’re ready to improve your life, we’re here to help. Contact one of our compassionate counselors today at (833) 596-3502.