Alcohol serves an important purpose in many over-the-counter and prescription medications, but some people wish or need to avoid alcohol. That can be tricky when it comes to treating a cough, cold, flu or allergy. Paying careful attention to the remedies you buy and asking questions of your pharmacist can help if you wish to avoid alcohol in your medicine.
Why is alcohol in there anyway?
Alcohol is used in medications both as a solvent and a preservative, according to Naturopathic Doctor Francis Brinker, assistant clinical professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, AZ. Alcohol dissolves ingredients that are difficult for water to dissolve, keeping the compounds from settling to the bottom of the bottle. In formulas where the medicinal compounds are readily water-soluble, alcohol is often added as a preservative, Brinker said.
What forms of medicines are most likely to contain alcohol?
Medicines that come in liquid forms are the ones likely to contain alcohol, and the volume of alcohol can range from as low as 1 percent to as high as 25 percent in night-time cold remedies. While any liquid medicine labeled "elixir" by definition contains alcohol, most are not quite that easy to identify. Besides cough syrups, other liquid medicines used in treating cold, allergy and flu symptoms can contain alcohol, including antihistamines, decongestants, liquid forms of fever reducer and pain reliever, expectorants and the like. Alcohol is also found in mouthwash and gargle sometimes used by cold sufferers to relieve a sore throat. Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines can contain alcohol, and if alcohol is an ingredient, it must be listed on the label of over-the-counter medications. Your pharmacist can tell you if alcohol is found in your prescription medicine. One way to make sure your medicine contains no alcohol is to use a tablet or capsule form.
What harm can the alcohol do?
Some people prefer to avoid the use of alcohol for philosophical or religious reasons. Others need to avoid alcohol for medical reasons, such as recovering alcoholics. People who use prescription Antabuse risk serious illness from ingesting even small amounts of alcohol.
Which formulas contain alcohol?
Although there is no comprehensive list of all medications that contain alcohol, alcohol abuse treatment facilities sometimes make lists of common medicines that contain alcohol. Meriter Health Systems, Madison, WI, has compiled a list of the alcohol content of common medicines. So has West Baltimore Alcoholics Anonymous.
Common OTC medications containing alcohol
Many common and widely-used cold, flu and allergy medications contain alcohol. These include liquid Theraflu, Tylenol Cold and Flu, Anti-Tuss DM Expectorant, Benedryl, Benedryl Decongestant, Cheracol, Contact Severe Cold, Dimetapp, Dristan Cough, Dristan Ultra, Formula 44 and Formula 44 D, Nyquil, Pertussin, Robitussin AS, Robitussin CF, Robitussin DAC, Robitussin PE, Robitussin DM, Sudafed Cough Syrup, Cotylenol, Novahistine Cough, Novahistine Cough and Cold, Novahistine DM, Novahistine DMX, Triaminic Expectorant, Vicks Cough, Wal-Act and Wal-Phed.
- Photo Credit "Medicines" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: coxy (Matt Cox) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.
Remedies to Help a Cough
A cough can be a sign of an infection, a bronchial or lung disorder, asthma or just a reaction to dry conditions....
What Cold Medicine Is Safe for a Diabetic?
Guidelines by the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) indicate most over-the-counter cough and cold remedies may be ineffective, and doctors suggest...
Side Effects of Cold Medicine
While cold medicines are helpful in relieving many of the symptoms related to the common cold, they can cause a variety of...
The Effect of Asthma Inhalers on Breathalyzer Tests
Law enforcement and other authorities commonly measure suspects' blood alcohol level using the "breathalyzer" or breath alcohol analyzer test. The reading from...
Does Alcohol Affect High Blood Pressure Medications?
High blood pressure is a relatively common condition, and many people take blood pressure medication in order to control it. Any medication...
Is Bourbon the Best Alcohol for Cough Suppression?
Bourbon is a whiskey made in America. For whiskey to be bourbon, it must be made of at least 51 percent corn....
Drugs That Have False Readings on Blood-Alcohol Tests
When a police officer pulls over a driver whom he suspects is driving while under the influence of alcohol, he will likely...
Does Nyquil Contain Alcohol?
Nyquil contains an array of ingredients including acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, doxylamine succinate and alcohol. The inclusion of alcohol in the drug does not...