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Benadryl and Alcohol

The Dangers of Mixing Benadryl and Alcohol

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is a brand-name of an over-the-counter (OTC) medication that’s classified as an antihistamine. It’s used to help relieve symptoms of seasonal allergies such as hay fever, other allergies, and the common cold, as well as itchy skin due to insect bites, hives, and other causes.

When alcohol mixes with Benadryl, the combination can be dangerous. While Benadryl doesn’t affect the liver, it is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. People may not realize that alcohol is also a depressant. When Benadryl mixes with alcohol, the impact on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) can lead to severe and heightened side effects. In some cases, this combination can be life-threatening.

When consumed, Benadryl acts as a depressant on the nervous system. Drugs classified as depressants slow down the body’s nerve and brain function. Usually, this slow-down effect is not dangerous, but it can become threatening if another depressant is taken simultaneously. Benadryl and alcohol are both CNS depressants. An individual may have forgotten they took Benadryl or did not know about the potential dangers. Either way, the two combined in the body can take a severe toll.

First-generation antihistamines will cause drowsiness in just about everybody and alcohol does that too, so if someone is taking alcohol and antihistamines the chance of having a double dose of that drowsiness are very, very high. The depression of the central nervous system (CNS) can cause slow rate of breathing, decreased heart rate, loss of consciousness and can lead to a coma in rare cases.

Benadryl and Alcohol
The risk of falling unconscious is one of the main reasons why mixing Benadryl and alcohol often leads to personal injury. Unfortunately, that isn’t the only health risk that someone can experience.

Risks and Side Effects of Mixing Benadryl and Alcohol

Drowsiness

  • Benadryl can cause side effects, including drowsiness and sedation, which impair reaction speed and coordination. Combining Benadryl with alcohol can intensify these side effects and will impair an individual’s daily functioning. This can be fatal if it involves certain activities, such as driving or operating heavy machinery.

Loss of consciousness

  • Some individuals are more prone than others to losing consciousness when sedated. In these individuals, mixing Benadryl and alcohol is more likely to cause a loss of consciousness. This can be dangerous due to the likelihood of falls and other accidents.

Dehydration

  • Benadryl and alcohol are both known to dehydrate the body. Combining them can increase the risk of dehydration. This can cause discomfort at the time and may worsen a hangover.

Complications in older adults

  • Aging slows the body’s ability to break down alcohol so that it may stay in the system of an older adult for longer than someone younger. This slowdown increases the time a person will be at risk of a harmful interaction between Benadryl and alcohol.

Learning and memory impairment

  • Benadryl blocks the action of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is necessary for memory and learning, so blocking its action may temporarily impair these processes.
  • Alcohol is also known to inhibit memory and learning temporarily. So, mixing Benadryl and alcohol may again have a more noticeable effect on learning and memory.

Interactions with other types of medication

  • Benadryl may interact with other types of medication, which can increase the side effects. Taking these other types of medications with alcohol could also increase the risk of side effects.

Examples of medications that may interact with Benadryl include:

Other sources of alcohol

  • Some types of medication, including laxatives and cough syrup, also contain alcohol. They can include up to 10 percent alcohol, which may interact with Benadryl.
  • As a consequence, taking Benadryl with these medications when consuming very small amounts of alcohol may still increase the risk of adverse side effects.

Sex

  • In general, females are more susceptible to alcohol-related harm. This is because their bodies typically contain less water for alcohol to mix with, meaning that the same amount of alcohol would be more concentrated in a female than in a male.
  • Mixing Benadryl with alcohol may be particularly hazardous for females, as consuming smaller amounts of alcohol could trigger adverse interaction effects.

Misuse

  • As Benadryl and alcohol both cause sedation and drowsiness, it may seem tempting to exploit this combination as a sleeping aid. However, this can also heighten other adverse side effects that will interfere with sleep, such as dizziness and nausea.

Dementia

  • Excessive alcohol consumption to be associated with a higher risk of dementia. It is possible that consuming large amounts of Benadryl and alcohol over long periods of time could be linked to an increased risk of dementia.
  • However, longitudinal research would be required in people who consume high levels of Benadryl and alcohol to know whether this has any effect on the risk of dementia.

Benadryl and Alcohol Overdose

An excessive combination of Benadryl and alcohol could lead to an overdose. However, you would likely have to ingest significant doses of both drugs. If you overdose on alcohol and Benadryl and lose consciousness, death is one of the risks.

While Benadryl is an over-the-counter (OTC) medication and is commonly used, it can cause dangerous side effects. That’s why it should never combine with alcohol.

Taking more than the directed dose of Benadryl makes an overdose more likely. Side effects will be uncomfortable, rather than euphoric. Anecdotal evidence about Benadryl highs suggests that the results are more unsettling rather than enjoyable.

Benadryl and Alcohol
Drinking alcohol and taking Benadryl makes it harder to control body movement well for people of all ages. But it may be even riskier for seniors.

Do not underestimate how dangerous this medication is; just because it is available without a prescription, it doesn’t mean it can’t kill you if you take enough of it. There is a very fine line between being a bit sleepy and having significant problems like heart problems and seizures, which can be life-threatening. According to the National Institute for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [1], in 2016, a study demonstrated that diphenhydramine or Benadryl overdoses made up 3.2% of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. In the same study, diphenhydramine ranked among the top 15 drugs most frequently involved in drug overdose deaths in the U.S

Symptoms of Benadryl Overdose

Symptoms and side effects of a Benadryl overdose include:

  • Enlarged pupils
  • Agitation
  • Dry eyes 
  • Blurry vision
  • Delirium
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to urinate
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Intense, sudden depression
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Dry, red skin
  • Passing out or falling asleep
  • Nervousness or paranoia
  • Physical tremors
  • Unsteady gait
  • Loss of balance, or inability to walk
  • Nausea or vomiting

Taking Benadryl with other potent drugs can also increase the risk of overdose. These drugs include:

What Is an Alcohol Overdose?

An alcohol overdose happens when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as heart rate, breathing, and temperature control—start to shut down. 

What tips the balance from drinking that produces impairment to drinking that puts one’s life in danger varies among individuals. Sensitivity to alcohol (tolerance), age, speed of drinking, gender, medications you are taking, and amount of food eaten can all be factors.

Alcohol use and taking opioids or sedative-hypnotics, such as sleep and anti-anxiety medications, can increase your risk of an overdose. Examples of these medications include sleep aids such as zolpidem, eszopiclone, and benzodiazepines such as diazepam and alprazolam [2]. 

Even drinking alcohol while taking over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl can be dangerous. Using alcohol with opioid pain relievers such as morphine and oxycodone or illicit opioids such as heroin is also a very dangerous combination. Like alcohol, these drugs suppress areas in the brain that control vital functions such as breathing. Ingesting alcohol and other drugs together intensifies their individual effects and could produce an overdose with even moderate amounts of alcohol.

Critical Signs and Symptoms of an Alcohol Overdose

  • Mental confusion, stupor
  • Difficulty remaining conscious, or inability to wake up
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Dulled responses, such as no gag reflex (which prevents choking)
  • Extremely low body temperature, bluish skin color, or paleness

Benadryl and Alcohol Abuse, Withdrawal, and Treatment

Polydrug Abuse: Benadryl and Alcohol 

Benadryl is available without a prescription, it is common for people to believe that it is safe. However, this over-the-counter medication has many of the same addictive qualities as other prescription drugs and some street drugs [3]. When combined with alcohol, abuse of Benadryl can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. 

Benadryl can be abused if people use it incorrectly. People may misuse and abuse Benadryl for delirium since it is so readily available. The symptoms can be severe and are even worse if the drug is combined with other substances like alcohol. A person can develop Benadryl tolerance and addiction. A lot of people who abuse medications that contain these ingredients experience side effects like hallucinations and sleepiness.

Polydrug abuse is the improper use of multiple drugs or substances such as Benadryl and alcohol simultaneously, and it is dangerous. The joined effects of Benadryl and alcohol enhance the desired effect of the individual drugs and intensify the potentially harmful side effects of each substance. 

It is important to remember that mixing drugs can bring about unpredictable results. Also, the short-term and long-term consequences of polydrug abuse are challenging for medical professionals to predict as they vary based on the combination and amount of substances used.

Withdrawal from Benadryl and Alcohol 

Withdrawal from multiple drugs or substances is significantly more complicated and difficult than withdrawal from one substance. Because of this, it is important, and potentially lifesaving to undergo detox in an inpatient, medically assisted setting. 

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) Withdrawal

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) addiction withdrawal is a real threat. Someone who abruptly stops taking this drug after they’ve become addicted may suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms. 

There are presently no known medications that aid ease withdrawals from this over-the-counter medication. As with most drugs used for prolonged periods of time, tapering down is always the safest and least unpleasant bet. 

Signs and Symptoms of diphenhydramine (Benadryl) withdrawal include:

  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Insomnia and restlessness
  • Stomach cramps
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Cold-like symptoms

Alcohol Withdrawal

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) [4], alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that may happen when someone who has been drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis suddenly stops drinking alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually happen within 8 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 to 72 hours but may go on for weeks. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness or shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Not thinking clearly

A severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DT) can cause:

  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Seeing or feeling things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • Seizures
  • Severe confusion

Benadryl and Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Medically-Assisted Detox

During a medically assisted detox program, the individual will be provided with continual, 24/7 supervision by highly trained medical professionals. They will be available to monitor your vital signs (including heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and temperature) and to intervene in the case of a medical emergency.

Withdrawing from alcohol on its own can be difficult. However, withdrawing from alcohol simultaneously with another substance such as Benadryl adds to the potential risk. For this reason, continual monitoring is essential to ensuring your safety. 

The encouragement and provided in a medically assisted detox program decreases the possibility of relapse after treatment and improves the chances of safely and successfully transitioning into a therapy program.

Inpatient or Residential Treatment

Although completing detox removes the immediate dangers of polysubstance abuse, it is not an effective standalone treatment for an addiction to alcohol and Benadryl. Detox must be followed by evidence-based, comprehensive addiction treatment that includes therapy to help you learn more about the roots of your addiction and better understand the triggers that further addictive behaviors. 

Therapy for substance use disorders often includes different types of psychotherapy. The most common type of therapy used in addiction treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on encouraging the person to analyze and examine their behaviors and thoughts to understand the causes of their addiction better. 

As treatment advances, they are encouraged to modify their thoughts and behaviors to promote healthier and safer responses to events, situations, and people that would once have resulted in turning to substances as a coping mechanism.

Benadryl and Alcohol
You aren’t alone. You deserve to get help.

Find the Right Treatment Plan at We Level Up NJ

Polydrug abuse can lead to severe consequences. If you’ve tried to quit in the past but ended up using Benadryl and alcohol again, that’s a clear sign you need professional help. Get them the safest help they need and deserve. Our team at We Level Up NJ specializes in creating an ideal environment for a future free of substances.

Sources:

[1] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557578/

[2] NIAAA – https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-dangers-of-alcohol-overdose

[3] SAMHSA – https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf

[4] NIH – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000764.htm

[5] We Level UpPrescription Drug Abuse

[6] We Level UpAlcohol Detox