Medications Can Affect a Breathalyzer

  • By:DUI Blog

While some medications can cause a person to be “under the influence,” there are some medications that can actually cause a breathalyzer to give a high BAC reading either because they contain alcohol or because they contain components that can cause a false positive.

Got a toothache, canker sore, or cold sore? If you relieve the pain with some Anbesol and are subsequently pulled over, a breathalyzer might detect the alcohol in the medication rather than the alcohol that was consumed, if any. The oral gel is 10 percent benzocaine, 0.5 percent phenol, and a whopping 70 percent alcohol. That 70 percent alcohol content can certainly cause an increased breathalyzer reading. Other cold sore medications can have alcohol contents of up to 90 percent.

Congested from a cold or flu? Think twice about taking Vicks Formula 44 before getting behind the wheel. Formula 44 Cough contains 10 percent alcohol and Formula 44D contain 20 percent alcohol. Taking a swig of the Formula 44 before a breathalyzer can contribute to causing a person to blow above the legal limit of 0.08 percent BAC.

Another medicine people take to help them sleep through the symptoms of a cold or flu is NyQuil. However, one of the reasons why it helps people sleep is because it contains 25 percent alcohol. Not only can taking NyQuil before driving cause a person to be “under the influence” even if they are not drunk, it can also cause a person to test above the legal limit.

Believe it or not, some cough drops contain alcohol. Although cough drops may not have as much alcohol in them as the other cough medications mentioned above, they could still cause a higher breathalyzer reading. This is especially true if a piece of the cough drop gets caught between the teeth after it’s chewed.

Does asthma have you reaching for the inhaler? Unfortunately, Albuterol, which is the medication within inhalers, contains methyl groups. Breathalyzers test for the presence and amount of methyl groups, which are the primary chemical bonds found in alcohol. Therefore, if a person submits a breath sample to law enforcement shortly after using an inhaler, the BAC reading may be erroneously high.

This list is not exhaustive. Be sure to read the labels on both prescription and over the counter drugs. Remember that, not only can medications cause someone to be “under the influence” for purposes of a California DUI, but they can also cause a person to provide an unusually high BAC reading on a breathalyzer.

I’ll offer an extra word of warning to the sick asthmatic with a toothache who may be reading this.

Posted in: Chemical Tests, DUI Arrests and Procedures, DUI Field Equipment, DUI Laws, Field Evidence, Field Sobriety Tests


60 Responses to “Medications Can Affect a Breathalyzer”

  1. Nick Achen

    I had been using Anbesol and listerine for a month for a bad tooth, was breathalyzed and accused of dui, have you seen previous cases that a BAC was high from using Anbesol? which contains 70% alcohol!

    December 19, 2013 - 10:02 am #
    • James

      Hi Nick, I was wondering what your outcome was with the anbesol?

      I have recently been arrested for dui but did not consume any alcsol and the other thing I can think that could have caused that reading was either spiked drinks or it was the anbesol I took prior to driving. I just wanted to see if anbesol could have potentially caused a high reading? And if so how was this proven at court. I would be very grateful if you could let me know.

      February 16, 2016 - 5:14 pm #
  2. Nancy

    Can coricidin cause you to blow a bac

    November 29, 2014 - 7:03 pm #
  3. tom a

    i have a real bad flu and have been taking Dayquil which clearly states no alcohol- and use a hand held breathylyzer to make sure i dont trigger a automotive one ive had for 4 yrs now- with 1 to go {i know i’m careless} and it’s showing a whopping .24 bac

    January 5, 2015 - 7:25 am #
    • Kenneth

      Supposubly, higher body temperature can cause false readings, I am also looking into acid reflux, because I have been having issues myself with mine. I haven’t drank in almost two years, I drink Monster and Coffee regularly and smoke. Have extremely bad acid reflux. For past week been having issues with it, the company says i blew .024 and higher on warns and fails and before that like a .01 something now how is this possible if no alcohol is consumed. I am personally leary of cold medicines, I take Excedrin Migraine for bad migraines. I am also prescribed medication for acid reflux which seems to have gotten worse. I am still waiting for them to give me an answer on acid reflux. If it can be caused by acid reflux (which can be caused by carbonated drinks, stress, coffee, tobacco) then why aren’t we warned about this. This will be second year with device and had the interlock replaced recently because of issues. I am debating on switching to another company because of the issues.

      February 3, 2015 - 1:54 pm #
      • Ann Denise

        Acid reflux medicine makes your acid reflux worse because it reduces stomach acid and worsens digestion. Many people are prescribed these medicines when their actual problem is making too little stomach acid.
        This causes food to literally rot and ferment (alcohol) in your G.I. trac. This may be part of the problem. To effect a cure, don’t drink anything while you’re eating a meal so that you don’t water down your stomach acid, eat lemons with dinner, eat more raw fruits and vegetables which contain high plant enzymes for digestion and consider going to a classical homeopath for a real life-long cure.

        November 23, 2016 - 3:36 pm #
        • Cathy Gray

          What does this have to do with false positives?

          April 13, 2018 - 12:06 pm #
      • Deanna

        Its the monster some energy drinks perfumes air fresheners can trigger it even if u were drinking the night before to depending on how much it can still show up positive

        April 10, 2018 - 4:23 am #
    • Brandy

      I was on a handheld breathalyzer as well for a month and took dayquil almost the whole time ( ugh 3 viruses back to back to back) and never blew a BAC… so sorry this happened to you!

      February 11, 2017 - 3:50 am #
  4. keri holloway

    HCG drops caused my to blow a .134 on my intoxalock this morning.

    May 5, 2015 - 3:59 pm #
    • Annonomus

      Hgc drops?

      September 21, 2019 - 12:49 am #
  5. Ken

    I have a monitor in my truck. I blew and failed thought it could be the cold and flu syrup but I was sure it was out of my system. I don’t know why or the combination of that and tiredness.

    May 24, 2015 - 4:18 pm #
  6. Naomi

    I have recently been diagnosed with PNH and Aplastic Anemia and had and my CBC (complete blood count) at the emergency room where I was taken after collapsing was 3.2. Could this affect my BAC? I got a DWI at a level near 3.0 and I hadn’t had more than a couple glasses of wine?

    I am also taking Cyclosporine (prescribed) for my blood cancer and it has high levels of alcohol. Is this a factor?

    Please advise and thank you so very much for your time and insight.

    June 21, 2015 - 8:26 pm #
  7. Ian kierans

    Would warfarin or pregabalin or salmon inhaler, or tramadol affect my breath test as i was stopped and blew over the limit???

    July 27, 2015 - 11:19 am #
  8. Rachel

    I was at the lake & had not even finished my first beer when a police officer IMMEDIATELY made me test. I am both an asthmatic & diabetic. I blew a 0.34 but passed field sobriety tasks easily. Still went to jail. Public intox. & nearly a dui because “car keys were on my person”. Aka pants pocket.

    September 2, 2015 - 1:17 am #
    • Common sense

      That sounds like what I have been thru too. In my case I had more than one incident ALL bogus and now have had 3…
      So their tricks have gotten me “a record” just beautiful, right.

      May 2, 2018 - 8:28 am #
  9. Davin

    Yeah I’m on soberlink and I took some nyquil for namonia and now I’m going to jail.

    January 14, 2016 - 5:24 pm #
  10. Beth

    I am using an inhaler which has gotten me in trouble but the big problem is that I am required to have an interlock device but due to the ethanol content in the inhaler I cannot use the interlock device and am told my only option is to suspend my license. I firmly believe the one size fits all penal system is severely flawed for those folks who have to pick health over civil rights.

    January 29, 2016 - 6:01 pm #
  11. Kris

    I blew a false positive the other morning, it was 9am and I had nothing to drink obviously. I have no idea how I blew a .1 and then a .o8 two minutes later? I take nexium, gummie B12, B1, and sertaline, I took these before I got in the car to drive. do any of these cause a false positive? Please help!!!

    April 17, 2016 - 8:49 am #
    • Kris

      Also Hairspray

      April 17, 2016 - 2:35 pm #
  12. Kris


    April 17, 2016 - 2:34 pm #
  13. Pat

    Can carmex lip balm cause a false positive bac

    April 24, 2016 - 9:07 pm #
    • Robin


      June 20, 2016 - 8:51 am #
    • valeesa Barnes


      September 5, 2016 - 1:24 pm #
      • Jr

        Yes or no

        November 7, 2016 - 1:58 pm #
        • Mac

          Yes, it did for me. It’s because of the phenol in it.

          December 16, 2017 - 2:59 pm #
  14. Luci

    So if you are arrested and took day quil prior to taking a breathalyzer how do you prove it? Your word can’t be enough in court…

    May 4, 2016 - 5:30 am #
    • Jr

      Blood test

      November 7, 2016 - 2:00 pm #
  15. Donna

    My daughter is on Zxanax . She had two drinks at home. Got behind a wheel of a car . Was never seen driving by a police officer . Someone called on her and a police officer came to get home and gave her a breathalyzer test. Can the Zxanax alter the test and make it higher ?

    June 6, 2016 - 10:35 am #
    • Robin

      No it cannot.

      June 20, 2016 - 8:51 am #
    • Sean Dugeon

      This combination would not create a higher BAC, however, it can be considered a Combination effect, and would show more on the field sobriety tests. One should never mix alcohol and prescription drugs. Read the labels next time.

      August 18, 2016 - 2:44 pm #
  16. Melissa

    Can Mirtazipine cause and increase on a breath tester/

    July 9, 2016 - 9:02 pm #
    • Leah

      I’d be interested to know also as I am on mirtazapine

      May 17, 2017 - 4:12 am #
  17. Sandy

    Can Lyrica cause a bad breathalizer test/300mgs. a day

    August 14, 2016 - 9:38 pm #
  18. Sandy

    Can Lyrica cause a high breathalizer test ? 300mgs. a day

    August 14, 2016 - 9:40 pm #
  19. mark

    can beta blockers 6 a day cause any change to breath test. and 2 omeprazole for acid reflux

    September 13, 2016 - 9:07 am #
  20. Bob

    Can it pick up a valium?

    September 26, 2016 - 11:49 am #
  21. Jacqueline Brandes

    I have to take a steroid for a work related injury; Prednisone. Will this affect my Interlock inhaler?

    November 29, 2016 - 2:02 pm #
  22. Angela Kennedy

    Can taking prescribed norco pain medication and xanax affect an interlock breathalyzer in your car as a false positive

    December 12, 2016 - 11:11 am #
    • Megan

      No it cannot

      August 28, 2017 - 6:51 am #
  23. Jessica Segura

    Can taking one dosage of Nyquil make you fail a breathalyzer?

    December 16, 2016 - 8:50 am #
  24. Becky

    I am on both and also have a interlock device. It does NOT effect the results.

    December 17, 2016 - 12:51 pm #
  25. merrill

    I am on Anastrol [anti cancer drug] temtabs and Codalgin Forte tablets after 2 glasses of wine over a 1hour period.when breatherlised I had a reading of.110, 1 hour later I still had the same reading. could these prescrided medications have this affect?

    January 8, 2017 - 6:43 pm #
  26. Red

    Can hydroxyz pam with a couple of drinks about 2 hours before a for an sobriety test and a breathalyzer affect the results

    March 5, 2017 - 4:42 pm #
  27. Stephanie terry

    Can concerta aka ADD medication cause you to spike a breathalyzer?

    April 13, 2017 - 2:26 pm #
  28. Ann

    Can mylanta cause a failed test?

    April 14, 2017 - 7:16 am #
  29. Jay

    Can Dentures give you a false reading or higher readings

    September 6, 2017 - 5:04 pm #
  30. Donna Daniels

    I was stopped for a dui I had taken benadryl and 2 types of blood pressure medication
    And my back was.14 I had toothache medication (oral gel and blood pressure medication in my purse but they said I wasn’t or didn’t appear to be drunk but I was arrested stayed in jail for 4 days and was in there with blood pressure of 200/123 for 2 days until treated lost job license and car because of a false reading

    September 15, 2017 - 11:21 am #
  31. Dina

    Can hydocodone cause a false breathalyzer

    September 28, 2017 - 4:26 pm #
  32. Dina

    He was also taking tramadol and hydrocodone for his shoulders that he has to have surgery on. Plus a few days before his test he was taking Nyquil and Dayquil for cold an flu…

    September 28, 2017 - 4:34 pm #
  33. Neil Reed

    Can alcohol suspension gels, like AndroGel uses, cause a false positive?

    November 2, 2017 - 4:00 am #
  34. Neil Reed

    Can alcohol suspension feels, like AndroGel, give you a false positive?

    November 2, 2017 - 4:01 am #
  35. Angel Garza

    I had a really high bac and was using inhaler that night so can that cause it to go up?

    November 5, 2017 - 8:26 pm #
  36. Chuck

    Would Albuterol and Vicks coupled with my fever have caused me to register abnormally high? I mean if i had done a full treatment 2 vials not 10 mins before I was tested. My test showed a 2.0 or 2.4 . I weigh 125 pounds. If i had this bac I would not have been conscious much less able to walk.

    November 6, 2017 - 6:31 am #
  37. Kellie

    I wanted to know if you are in an accident and the police come out and think I’m under the influence of controlled substance they gave me a blood alcohol test and I blew a 0.00000. I was arested because they gave me Road side test and they said I didn’t pass. I will never be able to pass that test as I’ve had 5 knee surgeries and a shoulder surgery. I was not on or doing anything. I was in shocked and upset I had my son in the car with me. I was put in jail on the 31st of October and never saw the judge. My question is can they still charge me or not. I went to the police station and tried to get the info on my case they had nothing. They told me to call the DA’s office, I did they had no idea what I was talking about. They had no information on me.

    November 26, 2017 - 12:12 pm #
  38. Dave K.

    Can hydrocordone cause a .05 bac reading if taken with non alcohol cold syrup?

    March 9, 2018 - 9:42 am #
  39. Regina

    Can over the counter nighttime Cold and Flu make you fail a breathalyzer

    January 29, 2019 - 10:05 am #
  40. Crystal

    Can theraflue expressmax make you blow over the legal limit

    May 13, 2019 - 6:39 pm #
  41. Crystal

    If you took it before you blew in to your ignition Interlock

    May 13, 2019 - 6:41 pm #
  42. Jack Leon

    I read a .2 on the breathalyzer prior to blowing. The arresting officer did not observe me when I put a big chunk of Chapstick in my mouth chewed and swallowed it. Chapstick has phenol. By how mouth would the BAC increase read?

    October 16, 2020 - 1:18 pm #