Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Can recovering alcoholics take cough syrup?"
My boyfriend is a recovering alcoholic and isn't sure if he should take cough syrup. He's been sick for a few days and is having trouble sleeping because of the cough. Can he take over the counter cough medicine?
Alcohol serves an important purpose in many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications. It is used both as a solvent and a preservative. Obviously, medicines that come in liquid forms are the ones likely to contain alcohol. It is good that your boyfriend in recovery to be especially careful when taking any kind of OTC or prescription medications. Many OTC medications contain alcohol (i.e., Nyquil) or ingredients that could trigger a relapse. Whether or not certain cough syrup with alcohol could endanger the sobriety all depends on the strength of his sobriety but he should not risk it. It is always good idea to read the ingredients on the label. There are several cough syrups that are alcohol-free, such as Tussin DM. When in doubt about a medication, he should consult a pharmacist about the strength of alcohol used as an ingredient. The volume of alcohol can range from as low as 1 percent to as high as 25 percent in night-time cold syrups. Another option is to make sure that his medicine contains no alcohol is that he takes tablets or capsules. I would recommend a visit with a primary care doctor for more information about appropriate medications for recovering alcoholics. He may also ask the doctor to prescribe Benzonatate 100 mg capsules to treat his cough.
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