Benadryl Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, And Treatment Options

Last Updated: July 16, 2020

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Benadryl is the first-generation antihistamine medication which has sedative properties. It is primarily used to treat different types of allergies, insomnia, and other sleep-related issues. It is available as an over-the-counter medicine. Read further to find out what is Benadryl, can it be addictive, what are the risks associated with Benadryl misuse, and how can one be treated for it?

What Is Diphenhydramine?

Benadryl belongs to the first generation of antihistamine drugs. Diphenhydramine works by blocking the production of the chemical histamine in the body. Histamine is responsible for causing allergic symptoms. Once histamine production is blocked, patients immediately feel relief in their symptoms. It is a slow-acting drug. Benadryl half-life is 4.3 hours, which means that its effects start wearing off between four to six hours. For this reason, it is required to be taken every 4-6 hours.

What Are the Brand and Generic Names For Benadryl?

Benadryl generic name is diphenhydramine or DPH. Diphenhydramine oral is available under various brand names, some of which are listed below:

  • Benadryl
  • Banophen
  • Genahist
  • Sominex
  • Unisom
  • ZzzQuil

Pills and oral benadryl medication on white background.
Topical diphenhydramine is available in the following products:

  • Benadryl Itch Stopping Gel and Extra Strength Itch Stopping Gel
  • Itch Relief
  • Banophen M-S
  • Allerdryl
  • Banophen Anti-Itch
  • Diphenhydramine-D Cream

Diphenhydramine is also available in multi-ingredient medications. Some of the brand names of these medicines include the following:

  • Benadryl Severe Allergy & Sinus Headache, Cold
  • Theraflu Nighttime Severe Cold & Cough
  • Sudafed Sinus Nighttime Plus Pain
  • Delsym Cough + Cold Night Time
  • Tylenol PM
  • Pain Relief PM Extra Strength
  • Contac Day and Night Cold and Flu
  • Respa C&C
  • Diabetic Tussin Night Time Cold & Flu

What Are Diphenhydramine Formulations?

Diphenhydramine For Children

Generic and branded formulations are available in the form of a gel, lotion, cream, and spray. The dosage for children depends on their age and weight. It is not recommended to be used for children under the age of 2. Diphenhydramine formulations for kids include:

  • Children’s tablets are available in the form of flavored, chewable 12.5 mg tablets.
  • Benadryl liquid for children is also available, which has 12.5 mg diphenhydramine per 5 ml of the oral solution.
  • Benadryl ointment, lotion, spray, or gel may be used as a topical solution for itching and skin rashes.

Diphenhydramine For Adults

For adults, diphenhydramine oral formulations include:

  • Capsules and tablets are available containing 25 mg of diphenhydramine.
  • Benadryl elixir liquid may be used for flexible dosing according to the doctor’s advice.
  • Topical gel is available in the form of ointment, cream, gel, spray, and lotion.

Benadryl dosage for adults is usually 25-50 mg taken every 4 to 6 hours.  Diphenhydramine is also available in the form of diphenhydramine HCI Injection, USP.

What Is Diphenhydramine Prescribed For?

Benadryl ingredients may include different components, depending on a formulation which is used to treat various allergic symptoms. Diphenhydramine is prescribed for the following conditions:
Sick woman with seasonal allergy lying in bed.

  • Cold
  • Flu
  • Allergies
  • Insomnia
  • Itching
  • Skin rash
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Other allergic symptoms

One of Benadryl side effects is drowsiness and sedation because of which it is also prescribed for sleep-related problems. Doctors may also prescribe Benadryl for anxiety. A doctor’s prescription for Benadryl is not required.

Can Diphenhydramine Be Taken With Other Antihistamines?

In some cases, doctors may prescribe different types of antihistamines to be taken together depending on the severity of symptoms. However, antihistamines and other drugs should never be mixed without the advice of a doctor as it can result in serious side effects and overdose.
Can one take Benadryl with Zyrtec? Yes, in certain situations, doctors may prescribe Benadryl with Zyrtec. They belong to different generations of antihistamines which may be taken together upon the advice of a medical doctor.
Can one take DPH with Claritin? Yes, Claritin as some other alternatives to Benadryl can be consumed simultaneously on the advice of a doctor. Since Claritin causes less drowsiness, a doctor may prescribe it during the day. Diphenhydramine may be prescribed for the night so that it can help patients sleep.

Benadryl Addiction

Can Benadryl Be Addictive? It is an antihistamine whose main side effect is drowsiness. Since it helps patients in achieving a sound and peaceful sleep, they can start abusing this medication and get addicted to Benadryl.
According to a study about diphenhydramine abuse conducted by J Psychopharmacol, this medication can be abused and lead to Benadryl addiction.

How Does Benadryl Addiction Occur?

Diphenhydramine sedative effects are the primary reason why one can become dependent on this drug. Eventually, the body becomes tolerant to diphenhydramine on that dosage. Users then take a higher dosage of DPH to achieve the same effects. Such behavior leads to addiction, which may have to be overcome by professional medical treatment.

What Are The Risks Of Diphenhydramine Abuse?

Signs And Symptoms Of Diphenhydramine Addiction

There are some common signs through which one can identify if someone is addicted to diphenhydramine. Diphenhydramine is a habit-forming drug which can lead to its dependence.
depressed man sitting head in hands on the bed
Some of the symptoms and of Benadryl addiction are listed below:

  • Unable to fall asleep without taking diphenhydramine
  • The physical dependence on diphenhydramine to make one feel normal
  • Feeling anxious and confused when a dose of diphenhydramine is skipped
  • Heart palpitations and low blood pressure
  • Agitation and mood swings
  • Depression
  • Physical weakness
  • Body jitters and shivering
  • Difficulty in urinating
  • Problems with concentration and focus
  • Nightmares and Impatience
  • Hallucinations and delusions

Another sign of addiction to Benadryl is when one is taking this drug without medical need trying to achieve diphenhydramine high.

Side Effects Of Diphenhydramine Addiction

Adverse reactions of DPH addiction include the following physical conditions:

  • Short-term memory impairment
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation

Risks Of Diphenhydramine Overdose

Benadryl overdose can lead to inevitable severe repercussions. According to this study about dose-dependent toxicity of diphenhydramine overdose, DPH overdose can lead to acute toxicity. Patients should immediately seek medical help in case of an overdose of diphenhydramine. Some of the risks associated with DPH overdose are listed below:

  • Blurred vision
  • Fast heart-rate
  • Extreme drowsiness with the inability to stay awake
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • And other

Beware Of Diphenhydramine Interactions

Benadryl drug interactions should also be considered as some drugs may cause an overdose and increase the side effects. Diphenhydramine interacts with other antihistamines, muscle relaxers, narcotic pain medicines, and MAOIs. Benadryl and alcohol should never be taken together as it can lead to severe side effects.
Benadryl pregnancy category is classified as “B,” making it safe to be used by pregnant women. Diphenhydramine is safe only as long as it is taken according to the prescribed dosage and frequency as advised by the doctor.

Benadryl Addiction Treatment

Benadryl addiction not only affects users physically but emotionally and psychologically as well. They may isolate themselves from friends, family, and loved ones. Their professional and personal lives are adversely affected. Therefore, it is imperative that one tries to treat themselves or their loved ones from the Benadryl addiction whenever they suspect any misuse.

What Are The Options For Benadryl Addiction Treatment?

For extreme cases, Benadryl addiction treatment may involve induction in a rehabilitation program. In severe cases of addiction, detoxification may be necessary. This treatment may be carried out in an outpatient program or a residential program depending on the severity of the addiction.
In mild to moderate cases of addiction, treatment usually involves gradually tapering off diphenhydramine by increasing the duration between doses as well as decreasing the dosage. Stopping DPH cold turkey may increase the withdrawal symptoms, which can result in a relapse. So gradual tapering off is the better option.
woman in white lab coat doing medical detox

Benadryl Withdrawal Symptoms

The withdrawal symptoms associated during the treatment of Benadryl addiction are not so severe as compared to the withdrawal symptoms of other harder drugs like cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and alcohol. Benadryl withdrawal symptoms include the following:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion

What Other Therapies Are Involved In Benadryl Addiction Treatment?

During treatment, patients are also offered various therapies to help them regain control over their lives. These may include:

  • psychological therapies,
  • meetings,
  • counseling,
  • support groups,
  • individual and group therapies,
  • and other healthy activities.

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Published on: June 5th, 2019

Updated on: July 16th, 2020

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.


Leave a comment

  • Richard
    OMG, over the course of 1 week I was popping Benadryl like crazy because I was very sick and working 16 hour days at a hospital, and on my 8th dayl. One night I was sitting in my office and I had such a violent jerk of my entire body, I almost was thrown out of my chair. I was taking other meds with Benadryl in it as well so I was toxic. I went home and I was laying in bed trying to sleep and I began to see dark shadows and they looked like they were trying to get me to go over to them, and appeared to be floating . I thought WTF is going on here and actually thought they were ghosts or demons, and I got up very fast and ran over towards they and attempted to push them out of the way, but they disappeared once I tried to touch them. I went back to bed and they came back so this time I turned the light on, they vanished. I went back to bed and this time when they came back there were more of them. I thought someone was playing a joke on me so I ran upstairs to find everyone in bed. I went back to bed and they came back so I was chasing them around the basement for a while and said F%$# it, I’m going to bed, I knew it most be a side effect because I knew they weren’t real. By this time I was tired and just fell asleep. Crazy eh? I ended up in the hospital because I told my wife and she along with some first responders left me no option. I slept for 3 days straight. I hope this story helps someone. This was over a year ago and I’m doing just fine now.
    • minx
      Thank you for this. I had a psychotic break due to an overdose of Klonopin and Benadryl. I was in the hospital for five days and I did a number on my heart and kidneys. I slipped back into using Benadryl and need to wean myself off it. I’m glad you made it through, that gives me hope.
    • John wick
      How much did you take?
  • Carol english
    I stopped taking benadryl for 2 days and my arm started to itch really bad I had to wean myself off of them