Alcoholic Content of Cough and other Over-the-Counter Medicines

Alcohol is often a major component of cough syrups and other over-the-counter medications and preparations. Following is an alphabetical list of many medicines with a high alcohol content. 1

Medication Percent Alcohol
Ambesol 70.0
Ambesol Gel 70.0
Contact Severe Cold 25.0
Contrex 20.0
Cotussis 20.0
Dalidyne 61.0
Dent’s Toothache Drops 60.0
Dewitt Coldsore 90.0
Double Action Kit 60.0
Dristan Ultra 25.0
Formula 44D 20.0
Geritonic 20.0
Gerizyme 18.0
Gevrabon 18.0
Hall’s 22.0
Jiffy 56.5
Night Relief 25.0
Nyquil 25.0
Pfeiffer Coldsore 85.0
Queldrine 25.0
Quiet Night 25.0
Romilar III 20.0
Romilar CF 20.0
Terpin Hydrate with DM 40.0

Not surprisingly, a major use of the very highest proof alcohol is medicinal. 2

Alcohol is listed as medicinal in the United States Pharmacopoeia. 3

It’s important to be aware of how much alcohol your medications contain. Laws against driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) do not distinguish between blood alcohol content (BAC) that comes from drinking alcoholic beverages, from medications, or from that produced naturally in the body (endogenous ethanol production). They’re all the same to a breathalyzer and in the eyes of the law.

Breath testing machines are not reliable and often register falsely high readings. Therefore, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Always be sure to drink alcohol carefully when taking pharmaceuticals. Ask your physician or pharmacist about any precautions or prohibitions and follow the advice given.

This web site does not provide medical opinion or advice and none should be inferred. Always consult a qualified physician or other qualified health professional for health and medical advice.


  • 1. Percentages determined from labels and other sources, including Alcohol Content in Over the Counter Medications, West Baltimore Group of AA web site; Know What You’re Taking! South Dakota State University, Drinking Under the Influence Program web site.
  • 2. Levinthal, Charles F. Drugs, Behavior, and Modern Society. Boston, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon, 1996, p. 231.
  • 3. U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention. United States Pharmacopeia. Rockville, MD: U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, 1995.

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