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Updated on September 28, 2021

Benadryl and Alcohol Interactions

What is Benadryl?

Benadryl is a common over-the-counter (OTC) medication used to treat various health issues. The active ingredient in all Benadryl formulations is Diphenhydramine, an antihistamine that blocks the development of allergy symptoms.1 

Benadryl is available in liquid, pill, gel, cream, and spray forms depending on the intended use, but oral Benadryl is the most common. 

Box of Benadryl

Children's oral Benadryl may be composed of different components from adult oral Benadryl, but several inactive ingredients are included in all oral formulations. The complete list of ingredients may be found on the product label.

Types of Benadryl

There are various types of Benadryl products used across the world. In the United States and Canada, the most common products are:

  • Benadryl Allergy: Taken orally; the active ingredient is Diphenhydramine (a first-generation antihistamine).
  • Benadryl Topical: Comes in the form of gels and creams; contains 2% diphenhydramine and zinc acetate 0.1% as the active ingredients.
  • Benadryl Allergy Plus Congestion: Taken orally and contains Diphenhydramine and phenylephrine (decongestant) as the active ingredients.

Uses of Benadryl

Benadryl (oral) is used to alleviate allergy symptoms such as watery eyes, itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, stuffy nose or throat, nausea, and vomiting.2 In addition, this medication effectively manages the discomfort and irritation associated with insect bites and rashes resulting from exposure to plants such as poison sumac, poison oak, and poison ivy.

As an anti-nausea drug, Benadryl is often used to keep motion sickness at bay. In addition, it's used as a sleep aid (for people with difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep). A dose of Benadryl may also help reduce abnormal movements that arise with early-stage Parkinson's disease or due to effects of other drugs.

Benadryl can alleviate the symptoms but does not address the root cause of many ailments or speed up the recovery process. This drug is not recommended for managing sleeplessness in children.

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How to Take Benadryl

The dosage of Benadryl will depend on the specific condition being treated, the body's response to treatment, and age. Typically, a doctor will prescribe a dosage that produces the desired results. It's extremely important to follow the dosage instructions provided on the product label if you buy Benadryl without a prescription.

Benadryl may be taken with or without meals as an oral pill, tablet, or liquid. When taking liquid Benadryl, use a special measuring instrument, either a dropper or a measuring cup. Remember, you may not obtain the proper dosage with a household spoon, so do not use one lest you risk overdosing.

When taking a tablet or strip of Benadryl, one should allow it to dissolve in the mouth before swallowing. For chewable, health providers recommend chewing thoroughly before swallowing.3

Benadryl taken thirty minutes before starting a motion event, such as traveling in a vehicle, will prevent motion sickness. Also, take Benadryl approximately 30 minutes before bedtime to help you fall asleep. However, contact your doctor if you have insomnia that persists for more than two weeks.

Importantly, only six doses of oral Benadryl may be taken each day at a maximum. Adults (18 years and older) and adolescents over the age of 12 may consume up to 300 mg of Benadryl per day to achieve desired results. 

On the other hand, Children 6 to 12 years old may take up to 150 mg each day. Topical Benadryl products (such as the cream, gel, or spray) are only authorized for children aged 2 and above.

Do not take Benadryl with other antihistamines such as cough syrup as these may interact and increase side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion. 

In case of an overdose, contact the poison control helpline at 1-800-222-1222. If the victim is unresponsive and can't be awakened, call 911 for further assistance.

Side Effects & Risks of Taking Benadryl

Benadryl may cause both mild and severe side effects depending on the user. Some of the most common effects of Benadryl are listed below:  

Short-term side effects:

  • Dizziness
  • weakness
  • Dry mouth, nose, or throat
  • Headache

Adverse side effects:

  • Dementia
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Disturbed coordination
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Euphoria
  • Early menses
  • Sudden infant death

Long-term side effects:

  • Memory loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Dependence
  • Anxiety

Rare side effects:

  • Hallucination
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Depression
  • Weight gain

What Happens if You Mix Benadryl and Alcohol?

Both Benadryl and alcohol affect the nervous system; therefore, introducing them into your system concurrently will negatively affect the functionality of the central nervous system (CNS), thus affecting essential processes like respiration. 

Although the effects of mixing alcohol and Benadryl vary from one person to another, the most responsible practice is to refrain from drinking alcohol or taking substances that contain alcohol while taking Benadryl. 

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6 Dangers of Mixing Benadryl and Alcohol

Since you are able to get Benadryl without a prescription at pharmacies and grocery stores, you may assume that it is safe in any situation. Benadryl is a powerful medication with dangers. Here is what you need to know about the severe side effects of mixing Benadryl and alcohol:

1. Cognitive impairments

Diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl, inhibits the function of an endogenous (produced inside the body) neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is very critical for learning and memory, and blocking its action temporarily impairs these processes. 

Alcohol also has a temporary negative effect on learning and memory. When coupled, alcohol and Benadryl may significantly impair these cognitive capabilities.

2. Loss of consciousness

Some people are more likely than others to pass out while sedated. Combining Benadryl with alcohol is also more likely to induce a state of unconsciousness in these individuals, and this can be dangerous due to the risk of falls and other related injuries. Mixing Benadryl and alcohol also increases the risk of overdose, which may be life-threatening.

3. Complications in seniors

The body's capacity to break down alcohol decreases as it ages. As a result, alcohol may stay in the system of older individuals for longer than it does in the system of younger people. 

For seniors, a dangerous mix of Benadryl and alcohol may cause a harmful interaction in the body. Sedation and disorientation may cause problems with their motor abilities, increasing the risks of falls and other accidents.

4. Dehydration

Benadryl works by drying up the nasal passages, which helps alleviate congestion. While this may be advantageous for those suffering from allergies, the drug may dehydrate the whole body, affecting heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and elimination.

Similarly, alcohol is a known diuretic. It causes the body to lose water through the renal system (kidneys, bladder, and ureter). A combination of alcohol and Benadryl in the body can cause drowsiness, discomfort, and severe hangovers.

5. Increased Risk of Dementia

A University of Washington study found that using antihistamines on a regular basis for a long time raises your chance of dementia.4 In the study, it was noted that the risk of dementia was 54% higher among participants who took Benadryl for a period of three years compared to those who took it for three months or less.5 

Excessive alcohol intake is a problem in the same way, and research has proven this to be true. Combining these drugs is much more dangerous because of this additional risk.

6. Risk of injury/accident

Even without combining Benadryl with alcohol, it's still recommended that you should not drive or operate machinery. This is because Benadryl can depress the central nervous system, affecting a person's ability to stay alert. 

In fact, according to the human and drug performance records of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the effect of Benadryl on the ability of a driver to stay alert is greater than that of alcohol.6  

Considering the effects of alcohol intoxication and the fact that alcohol can enhance Benadryl, mixing the two can be dangerous to not only you but also to those around you.

Can I Overdose on Benadryl and Alcohol?

Drinking alcohol while taking Benadryl can lead to an overdose. Considering its availability as an OTC medication, the risk of someone mixing it with alcohol is much higher. There is also an increased risk of Benadryl-alcohol overdose since Benadryl is known to stay in the body system for a long time.

Symptoms of Benadryl and alcohol overdose include: 

  • Blurry vision
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of balance or inability to walk
  • Dry, red skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

For an overdose to occur, there need to be sufficient amounts of both drugs in the system, and the amount may vary from person to person. However, health experts recommend completely refraining from alcohol when using Benadryl.

How Long After Taking Antihistamines Can I Drink Alcohol?

Antihistamines such as Benadryl are known to stay in the body for up to 48 hours. But this could be extended in older adults. It's highly recommended that you wait until the drugs wear off  before drinking alcohol. 

Since the rate of elimination from the system may vary from person to person, it's prudent to consult your healthcare provider about when it's safe to resume alcohol use after antihistamine medication.

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

You have a drinking problem if your alcohol intake habits cause distress or harm in your life and that of your family and loved ones. The extent of the problem may vary from one person to another. 

Essentially, if you're starting to lose control over your drinking habits or cannot cope without a drink, then you have an alcohol problem that may need addressing. 

Other signs that you may have a drinking problem include: decreased productivity at work, uncontrollable cravings, difficulty stopping, and withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, shaking, restlessness, nausea, and insomnia.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

  • Inpatient Programs — Inpatient treatment is the option for alcohol addiction treatment. These intensive programs are usually 30, 60, or 90 days but can be longer in certain cases. Throughout the duration of your stay at an inpatient rehab facility, you will live on site is a safe, substance-free environment. You will go through medically supervised detoxification first, then behavioral therapy and other services will be added to your regimen. Most programs will will help you set up an aftercare program upon completion.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) Partial hospitalization programs (also called intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs) are comparable to inpatient programs, but you return home after each session. Some PHPs provide food and transportation, but this varies by program. Their services may include detoxification, medical services, behavioral therapy, support groups, and other holistic or custom treatments. PHPs accept new patients, along with patients who have completed an inpatient treatment program and still require intensive care.
  • Outpatient Programs Outpatient programs are less intensive and offer a more flexible treatment schedule. They are best for people who have responsibilities at work, home, or school and are highly motivated to achieve sobriety. Outpatient treatment programs customize your treatment sessions around your personal schedule. Outpatient programs can help new patients achieve success, and may also be a part of aftercare program once a patient completes an inpatient or PHP.
  • Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) Certain patients with Alcohol Use Disorder will qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Medications can help you detoxify, reduce cravings, and normalize bodily functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol) are the most common medications used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder. MAT is most effective when combined with other treatment therapies.
  • Support Groups Support groups are peer-led groups that help people stay sober. They can be a first step in overcoming alcoholism or a component of an aftercare plan. Many of them follow the 12-step approach, however there are secular options that don't follow the 12-step approach as well.

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Resources

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Diphenhydramine” MedlinePlus Allergy Symptoms,” American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Diphenhydramine chewable tablet,” Cleveland Clinic Common anticholinergic drugs like Benadryl linked to increased dementia risk,” Harvard Health, 24 June, 2019 Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergics and Incident Dementia,” Jama Internal Medicine, March 2015 Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Washington State PatrolTreatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help,” National Institute of Health (NIH)

Related Pages

Benadryl and Alcohol Interactions

Alcohol Drug Interactions

Ritalin Uses, Effects, Risks & Addiction

Methylphenidate (Ritalin) Interactions

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