Updated on April 3, 2024
7 min read

Benadryl Addiction & Overdose (Symptoms & Treatment)

Key Takeaways

We all know allergies and colds are a pain to deal with. That’s why most people look for accessible medications like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to provide relief.

Benadryl is the brand name of an FDA-approved over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Its active ingredient is diphenhydramine, which is classified as an antihistamine medication.1

While antihistamines like Benadryl don’t cure allergies or colds, they can help alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms of these conditions.2 Unfortunately, Benadryl is often misused by many who struggle to fall asleep, creating an unhealthy dependence and, sometimes, addiction.

Box of Benadryl

Is Benadryl Addictive?

Benadryl is addictive, though not in the typical way most drugs are. Most addictive drugs trigger the brain’s reward system, hooking people to the rush that comes after using substances.

Benadryl, on the other hand, is addictive because of its sedative effects. People who have trouble sleeping or feel intense anxiety are most likely to become psychologically dependent on the medication, believing they can’t sleep or relax without it.

What Happens When You Misuse Diphenhydramine?

Benadryl isn’t a “traditional” drug of abuse. However, if you frequently take high doses without any counsel from a doctor, there is a risk of diphenhydramine addiction.

Benadryl addiction causes a psychological dependency on the drug, which still fits the criteria of substance abuse or dependence.3 This reliance can become debilitating, causing side effects like:

  • Perception shifts
  • Hallucinations
  • Affected vision
  • Mood swings

Sometimes, people even take Benadryl with alcohol and benzodiazepines (other medications used to treat anxiety, seizures, or even insomnia) to increase its sedative effects. This can be very dangerous and worsen Benadryl’s side effects.

These worsened side effects include:

  • Disturbed coordination
  • Drying and thickening of oral and respiratory secretions
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • Nausea

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Signs of Benadryl Addiction

Research in the U.S. shows there’s been an increased use of antihistamines as sleeping aids. However, people who depend on Benadryl have shown diminished sleep quality in the long term. They may also experience an altered mental state, dry mouth, and urinary retention.5

Other signs of Benadryl addiction include:

  • Tolerance: A need for increased amounts of Benadryl to achieve the same effects
  • Withdrawal: Experiencing symptoms like insomnia, irritability, and physical discomfort
  • Increased use: Taking Benadryl in larger amounts than intended 
  • Loss of control: Persistently failing to cut down on Benadryl use
  • Loss of time: Excessive time spent on trying to obtain, use, and recover from the effects of Benadryl abuse
  • Functioning decline: Giving up or slowing down on important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of Benadryl abuse

Older people who depend on Benadryl as sleep medication can experience sleepwalking and other parasomnias. They may also have night terrors and an increased risk for dementia.5

If you’re concerned that you may have a Benadryl addiction, we highly recommend going to your healthcare provider to talk about these concerns. Getting the help and support you need is always possible, as many centers and foundations are dedicated to addiction recovery.

Benadryl Withdrawal Symptoms

Abruptly stopping Benadryl after misusing it for a long time can cause withdrawal symptoms. If the symptoms are too uncomfortable to handle, we highly advise seeing your healthcare provider for medical support.

Benadryl withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness and agitation
  • Confusion
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Flu-like symptoms

Managing any addiction withdrawal symptoms can be taxing and require a combination of medical support, self-care strategies, professional or psychological treatment, and even encouragement from family and loved ones.

It’s never shameful to need all of these things to manage your symptoms. Patience and solid support are critical to a successful recovery.

Symptoms of Benadryl Overdose

It’s possible to overdose on Bendaryl. If this happens, call emergency services immediately.

Taking large amounts of the drug can lead to the following symptoms:4

  • Inability to urinate
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Dry eyes
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Delirium
  • Depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there)
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Nervousness
  • Tremor
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

An overdose can be dangerous or even fatal. If you believe you are experiencing or witnessing an overdose, visit your local ER and contact your local poison control center.

Benadryl Overdose Symptoms in Toddlers

Benadryl and other antihistamine products are unsafe and ineffective in children under 6. Therefore, the medication should only be used with a prescription from a licensed medical provider.

When storing antihistamines, it’s important to keep them out of the reach of children. Symptoms of antihistamine overdose in toddlers include:

  • Seizures
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Tremors
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Dry Eyes
  • Dry Mouth
  • Dry red skin

If you believe your child is experiencing a drug overdose, visit your local emergency room and contact your local poison control center.

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How Can You Prevent Benadryl Addiction?

Preventing Benadryl addiction is very feasible as long as you have the right support and sources of information.

Here are some prevention strategies:

  • Always follow dosage guidelines and use Benadryl for its intended purpose, even if it is OTC.
  • Avoid long-term use so you don’t develop a dependence—Benadryl is recommended for short-term use.
  • Be more cautious when giving Benadryl to children and the elderly, as they’re more susceptible to its side effects.
  • Stay educated about the risks and potential of addiction when it comes to different drugs.
  • Look for alternatives for allergy medications that are non-sedating.
  • Consult your doctor before taking anything, even OTC medications.
  • Monitor Benadryl use closely and seek help if needed.

Benadryl Addiction Treatment Options

The journey to recovery is never easy, but it helps to have proper support channels and discipline to avoid relapsing. It can be difficult, but it’s not impossible to bounce back from Benadryl addiction.

A good first step is to talk to your primary healthcare provider about your concerns and determine the best level of care. Some of the treatment options available to people with addiction include:


Detoxification or rehabilitation sites can assist you safely during the detox period. Suddenly stopping the drug may be dangerous without medical attention and support. This is especially true if you've been taking the drug for a long time.

Individual Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling 

Individual counseling involves meeting with a licensed mental health professional. These meetings assist you in understanding:

  • Triggers for substance abuse
  • Strategies to reduce or stop substance abuse
  • Techniques and skills to help you move forward after treatment

Group Therapy and Support Groups

Group therapy is a form of treatment in which a group of people with a common issue, such as substance abuse, meet regularly under the guidance of a trained facilitator.

It can assist people in finding support, discussing issues in a judgment-free space, and gaining insight from other members.

There are also peer support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which are meetings led by community members who encourage honest introspection.

Medication Treatment 

There are now several medications specifically designed to help treat substance abuse and dependence. Some work to block the receptors in the brain that allow for a high.

Other medications may assist in treating other psychological disorders exacerbating addiction. These include depression or anxiety. These medications are only U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved for alcohol and opioid use disorders.

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Alternative Treatments for Allergies and Colds 

If you’re looking to avoid Bendaryl addiction, there are alternative medications for allergy and cold symptoms. Remember to consult your healthcare provider first before switching to any of these options, as they may advise you on what works best for you.

Non-drowsy Medication AlternativesDecongestants
Loratadine (Claritin)Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
Cetirizine (Zyrtec)Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE, Benadryl Allergy D Plus Sinus)
Fexofenadine (Allegra)
Levocetirizine (Xyzal)

Natural and Home Remedies

When it comes to home remedies, it’s best to use them for milder symptoms. If you’re suffering from severe symptoms, call your healthcare provider to get medical intervention.

Here are some home remedies you can use to deal with discomfort/mild symptoms:

  • Nasal saline solution to clear your nasal passages
  • Air filters to reduce allergens when indoors
  • Consuming honey to build tolerance to local allergens (note that this still needs more scientific backing)

Before making big lifestyle or medication changes, you should consult with an expert or your doctor. They can ensure that any new medications don’t interfere with existing ones you’re already on.

They can also recommend comprehensive lifestyle changes to better deal with allergies and colds. They may do this to avoid any possibility of addiction, keeping you as safe and healthy as possible.

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Updated on April 3, 2024

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