Diphenhydramine and Alcohol: Long-lasting, Dangerous Health Effects

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diphenhydramine and alcohol

With the onset of the spring and fall seasons often comes sniffling, sneezing, and runny noses for millions of Americans. While the arrival of fall signals the change of seasons and the upcoming holidays and spring points to warmer summer weather, there are sometimes several weeks in between that are hindered by unpleasant seasonal allergy symptoms. To relieve the frustrating symptoms of seasonal allergies, many people turn to a popular over-the-counter medication, Benadryl. In addition to helping reduce the symptoms of seasonal allergies, Benadryl is also helpful when you have been exposed to common allergens such as bee stings, poison ivy, and others. Benadryl or diphenhydramine is found almost everywhere, which makes it simple to purchase. In most areas (some states have rules regarding diphenhydramine purchase), Benadryl is easily found in most convenience stores, gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, and even discount stores (Dollar Stores). 


Due to the simplicity many experience when purchasing Benadryl or the frequency with which it is recommended to solve various ailments, Benadryl has a reputation for being a “safe” drug. While this is accurate when Benadryl is used as prescribed, it is not meant for use in all situations. Like many other drugs, including over-the-counter medications, Benadryl use is not without potential side effects. Package warnings indicate Benadryl use will often result in drowsiness and other side effects that make using it while participating in specific activities unsafe and potentially dangerous. Additionally, the most severe effects of Benadryl use occur when mixing it with alcohol. People who combine Benadryl and alcohol typically develop a dependency on the effects of both, which can rapidly lead to addiction. Overcoming addiction to Benadryl and alcohol is not something that should be attempted without the assistance of a professional addiction treatment center like The Hills in Los Angeles. 


What is Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)?

Diphenhydramine is an over-the-counter antihistamine used to address symptoms related to seasonal allergies or acute (sudden) allergenic reactions. Marketed under the brand name Benadryl, diphenhydramine is used by millions of people every year. Benadryl is available in various forms, including chewable tablets, pills, creams, gels, sprays, and liquid options. The wide range of options makes Benadryl suitable for a range of conditions and people of all ages. However, the flexibility of the medication also means it is often used for ‘off-label” purposes or misused by those looking to achieve the “high” that can be achieved by mixing Benadryl with other substances. 


Drugs such as Benadryl are classified as antihistamines. When taken as prescribed, they work within the body to reduce the production of histamines. Histamines are naturally occurring chemicals in the body responsible for producing the symptoms you experience when you have an allergic reaction or experience seasonal allergies. Benadryl is only approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat allergy symptoms in its brand-name formulary. However, as previously noted, it is often misused or used for other purposes. Because the drug frequently causes drowsiness, it is commonly misused as a sleep aid or mixed with other drugs to produce feelings of intense relaxation and sedation. 


Even used as directed on the packaging or by a medical provider, diphenhydramine will produce a range of side effects. The most common of these include dizziness, dry mouth, headaches, and drowsiness. However, the reverse can occur for some, and Benadryl use will lead to agitation and excitability. However, it is important to note that for the majority of people, diphenhydramine has a sedating effect. When combined with other drugs, such as alcohol, that share a similar effect, the effects of both drugs are enhanced and dangerous, potentially life-threatening results can occur. Both Benadryl and alcohol act as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. A CNS depressant acts within the brain to slow down its reaction to messages from the body. This includes slowing down important and life-sustaining functions such as breathing and heart rate. 


Is It Possible to Get Addicted to Diphenhydramine? 

It is possible to develop a tolerance to the effects of diphenhydramine. Additionally, Benadryl is widely and frequently abused due to the effects it produces either alone or when combined with other drugs. Although developing a tolerance does not indicate you are addicted based on the guidelines for diagnosing an addiction or substance use disorder, it does mean you have (or could have) a potentially dangerous relationship with substances that should be addressed through treatment at an addiction treatment center like The Hills. 


While addiction to Benadryl as a standalone substance is not common, it is possible to develop a psychological addiction to it as you can with alcohol or other addictive drugs. When you experience an emotional urge to use (cravings) diphenhydramine coupled with a tolerance to its effects, you have developed an addiction. Although this does not meet the definition of addiction as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM), it does mean you struggle with a chemical dependency and should seek help from the professionals at an addiction treatment center to safely and successfully overcome your reliance on diphenhydramine. 


The Dangerous Effects of Alcohol and Diphenhydramine

As noted above, diphenhydramine and alcohol are both depressants. When taken individually, they slow the speed of the brain and vital body functions. When combined with another drug from the same drug class, the sedating effects of both substances are magnified. When alcohol and diphenhydramine are mixed, the effects often lead to dangerous levels of sedation, often to the point where you lack the physical and mental alertness to accomplish day-to-day tasks safely and effectively. In the most severe cases, “double-dipping” on sedatives can lead to medical emergencies and death. 


In addition to significant and possibly dangerous levels of drowsiness, combining Benadryl and alcohol can lead to other effects as well. For some people, the high levels of sedation experienced when combining diphenhydramine and alcohol can lead to loss of consciousness. This can be harmful if you have consumed a large amount of alcohol and experience vomiting or other side effects that could result in medical emergencies. Without immediate medical intervention, severe consequences could result. Impacts on learning and memory are also a side effect of combining alcohol and diphenhydramine. Benadryl blocks the activities of acetylcholine, a specific neurotransmitter responsible for learning and memory functions. Alcohol consumption also leads to short-term memory impairment. Combining the two may lead to noticeable memory and learning deficits.  


Current research also suggests combining diphenhydramine and alcohol may lead to long-term cognitive illness, including dementia. In addition to its sedative qualities, diphenhydramine is an antihistamine drug. Some research points to a connection between increased dementia risk in those who take at least one antihistamine drug daily for three years. Additional studies have indicated excessive alcohol consumption may increase one’s risk for developing dementia. Considering the results of these studies, it is possible to conclude that combining alcohol and diphenhydramine may be linked to increased dementia risk. 


Getting Help for Diphenhydramine and Alcohol Dependency

When you struggle with a dependency on alcohol and diphenhydramine, it is called polysubstance abuse. When people abuse or misuse two substances together, the effects of each drug are enhanced, sometimes with harmful and dangerous results. Additionally, the long-term effects and challenges you face when seeking sobriety from polysubstance abuse can be challenging to predict. For this reason, it is vital to seek detox and treatment help at a professional rehab like The Hills. 


During medically supervised detox, you can safely and successfully overcome the struggles of alcohol and diphenhydramine dependency under the support and guidance of trained medical professionals. As you progress through detox and the process of cleansing your body of any remaining drugs or alcohol, members of your treatment team will work with you to ensure your safety. They will provide medical and mental health monitoring and, if necessary, give medications to help ease the intensity of specific withdrawal symptoms. The presence of medical and mental health staff during the detox process allows you to focus on getting well without the interference of withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, choosing medically supported detox over “cold turkey” detox reduces the chances of relapse during detox and increases the opportunity for positive treatment outcomes. 


Once you have completed detox at The Hills, your team of treatment providers will help you seamlessly transition into a therapeutic treatment program designed to help you overcome dependency on drugs and alcohol. As part of therapy, you will learn and practice vital coping skills that will help you manage triggers and avoid relapse in the future. Relapse prevention is a critical part of addiction treatment as relapse is a common challenge many struggle to stay sober face. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicates as many as 60% of newly recovered addicts will struggle with relapse. At The Hills, we aim to help you leave treatment with the tools needed to avoid this pitfall to lasting recovery.


Overcoming drug and alcohol dependency is not without its challenges. When trying to put alcohol dependency in the past, there are added challenges associated with safely and successfully getting and staying sober. At The Hills, we understand the difficulties you face when choosing to seek help overcoming addiction. At our luxury Los Angeles, California rehab, we will work with you to ensure your unique and individualized treatment plan addresses your holistic treatment needs. Comprehensive and individualized planning is essential to providing well-rounded treatment care that helps each of our patients get and stay free from the weight of addiction. 


If you or a loved one are ready to begin your journey towards sobriety, the admissions team at The Hills is here to answer your questions. If you would like to learn more about our luxury drug and alcohol rehab or about how our programs can help you overcome addiction, contact us today.





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