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Updated on January 30, 2023
5 min read

Benadryl Addiction & Overdose (Symptoms & Treatment)

What is Benadryl (Diphenhydramine)?

Benadryl is a brand name FDA-approved over-the-counter medication. Benadryl’s active ingredient is diphenhydramine, which is classified as an antihistamine medication.

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) decreases or eliminates symptoms associated with allergies and the common, such as:

  • Rash
  • itching
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy eyes/nose/throat
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing

Diphenhydramine works as an anticholinergic by blocking histamine and acetylcholine. Both are responsible for allergic reactions and cold symptoms.

Box of Benadryl

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Benadryl Side Effects

When taken in the correct dose, side effects from Benadryl are typically mild to moderate. However, Benadryl can still produce unwanted side effects.

Common side effects of Benadryl:

  • Sedation, tiredness, and/or sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Disturbed coordination
  • Drying and thickening of oral and other respiratory secretions
  • Difficulty urinating

Severe Side Effects of Benadryl

Benadryl may cause severe side effects. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:

  • Changes in heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Tremor
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Nausea

Is Benadryl Addictive?

Yes, if you frequently take high doses of Benadryl, there is a risk for diphenhydramine addiction. Although Benadryl is not physically addictive, users can develop a psychological dependency.

Diphenhydramine Abuse

Diphenhydramine can be abused due to Benadryl's sedative effects and its accessibility. The drug can also be used with benzodiazepines and alcohol to increase diphenhydramine's sedative effects, which can be dangerous.

If you take more than the recommended amount of Benadryl, you may experience changes such as:

  • Perception
  • Hallucinations
  • Vision
  • Mood

Research in the United States shows that there's been an increased use of antihistamines as sleeping aids. However, people who rely on Benadryl for sleep have been shown to have a less restful sleep.

Symptoms of Benadryl Addiction

  • Tolerance — A need for increased amounts of Benadryl to achieve intoxication or  diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of Benadryl
  • Withdrawal — Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, and physical discomfort
  • Increased Use — Benadryl  is often taken in larger amounts than the individual intended 
  • Loss of Control — The individual is persistently unsuccessful in efforts to cut down on Benadryl’s use
  • Loss of Time — A lot of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain, use, and recover from the effects of Benadryl abuse
  • Functioning Decline — Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of Benadryl abuse 

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Symptoms of Benadryl Overdose

It is possible to overdose on Bendaryl. If you take large amounts of the drug, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Very 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, if not fatal. If you believe you are experiencing or witnessing an overdose, visit your local emergency room or contact your local poison control center.

Benadryl Overdose Symptoms in Toddlers

Benadryl and other antihistamine products are not safe or effective in children younger than six. Therefore, the medication should only be used with a prescription from a licensed medical provider.

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

  • 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 or contact your local poison control center. 

Benadryl Addiction Treatment Options

The first step to all addiction recovery is recognizing a problem and evaluating what resources and supports are needed to overcome it. A good first step is often to talk to your primary healthcare provider about your concerns and explore what level of care is right.

Detoxification

If you've been taking the drug for a long time, suddenly stopping may be dangerous without medical attention and support. Detoxification or rehabilitation sites can assist you safely during the detox period. 

Individual Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling 

Individual counseling is a meeting between yourself and a licensed mental health therapist. These meetings are used to 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 

Group therapy is a form of treatment in which a group of individuals with a common issue, such as substance abuse, meet regularly under the guidance of a trained facilitator. Group therapy can assist the individual in finding support, discussing issues in a less judgmental space, and gaining insight from other members.   

Peer Support Groups (i.e., Narcotics Anonymous) 

Peer support groups such as NA are meetings led by community members that encourage honest introspection. 

Assisting Medication 

There are now several medications on the market particularly designed to assist with substance abuse and dependence. Some work as Agonist treatment blocking the receptors in the brain that would allow for a high.

Other medications may assist in treating other psychological disorders exacerbating addiction, such as depression or anxiety. These medications are only FDA-approved for alcohol and opioid use disorders.

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Benadryl FAQs

Is diphenhydramine habit forming?

Yes. Though diphenhydramine (Benadryl) hasn't shown to be physically addictive, long-term use can lead to psychological addiction.

Is it safe to take Benadryl daily?

Benadryl should not be used long-term. Consult your doctor for an accurate recommended dose and treatment length.

What happens when you stop taking diphenhydramine (Benadryl)?

It is possible to experience acute withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking diphenhydramine if you have developed a dependency on the drug.

Is Benadryl addictive as a sleep aid?

Yes. Benadryl has not been shown to be physically addictive, however a psychological drug addiction to diphenhydramine can occur if used for an extended period.

How many antihistamines can you take in a day?

Refer to the drug information and disclaimers on the specific antihistamine to find the recommended dosage. Do not exceed this dosage. If you have further questions, consult a healthcare professional.

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Updated on January 30, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on January 30, 2023
  1. Omudhome Ogbru, PharmD. Diphenhydramine, (Benadryl), Antihistamine, Side Effects, Dosing, Uses. 30 Aug. 2017, www.medicinenet.com/diphenhydramine/article.htm
  2. “Diphenhydramine: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Aug. 2018, medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682539.html.
  3. Treatment, Center for Substance Abuse. “Exhibit 2-6, DSM-IV-TR Criteria for Substance Abuse and Substance Dependence - Managing Chronic Pain in Adults With or in Recovery From Substance Use Disorders - NCBI Bookshelf.” Managing Chronic Pain in Adults With or in Recovery From Substance Use Disorders., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92053/table/ch2.t5/
  4. American Psychiatric Association. . Anxiety Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.)https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm05
  5. Borke, Jesse. “Diphenhydramine Overdose.” Mount Sinai Health System, www.mountsinai.org/health-library/poison/diphenhydramine-overdose
  6. Trouble Sleeping? Experts Say Skip Antihistamines. www.bcm.edu/news/experts-warn-against-antihistmaines-sleep-aid.

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