Diphenhydramine Addiction

In today’s world, opioids are the most widely abused substances in the United States. Not only does the country consume 80% of the world’s total supply of opioids, but 130 people die every single day from an overdose. In addition to this crisis, however, is the abuse of several other mind-altering and dangerous substances, including over-the-counter medications like diphenhydramine.

Diphenhydramine, which is the main ingredient in Benadryl, is easily one of the most abused over-the-counter medications in the country. Coming in either tablet, capsule, or liquid form, people have easy access to this substance because of its common availability in pharmacies, grocery stores, and other locations such as gas stations and chain stores like Walmart and Target. While some states have made it illegal for children under 18 to buy diphenhydramine products like Benadryl, Nytol, and Wal-dryl, other states do not have this law put in place, allowing teenagers of all ages to purchase this medication.

In general, diphenhydramine products are used to treat allergies and severe allergic reactions. People turn to the use of this medication when experiencing seasonal allergies or other allergies such as a peanut allergy or an allergy to another medication. Even children as young as two can take diphenhydramine products. While Benadryl and other diphenhydramine products have proven to save the lives of people who have gone into anaphylactic shock, it should never be treated as the sole treatment for a severe allergic reaction.

Diphenhydramine is undoubtedly utilized most to help treat symptoms associated with allergic reactions, however, it has also been effective in treating symptoms of the common cold (such as a runny nose), motion sickness, Parkinson’s disease, and other movement disorders that cause extrapyramidal symptoms. Keeping with off-label use, many people turn to the use of diphenhydramine as a sleep aid, which can serve as a slippery slope for those who struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, as this can easily turn into a full-blown Diphenhydramine addiction.

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Diphenhydramine is an H1 receptor antagonist, which means that when it is consumed, it blocks these receptors in the brain, stopping the effects of histamine in the body. Histamine is a chemical in the body that works to help protect the immune system from allergens. In many instances, the release of histamine when an allergen enters into the body is effective in “attacking” the allergen so it does not impact one’s physical health. However, when people are very allergic to something like peanut butter or pollen, the body releases an excessive amount of histamine, which can lead to contraction of muscle tissues in the lungs, dilation of blood vessels, speeding of one’s heart rate, and secretion of gastric acid into the stomach. When this type of reaction is occurring, consuming diphenhydramine products like Benadryl can stop these effects, as it is an anti-histamine medication. As a result, those who take it for its intended purposes can prevent everything from mildly intrusive allergic symptoms to death caused by anaphylactic shock.

When diphenhydramine is abused, however, it produces relaxation, a sense of mild euphoria, and hallucinations – all effects that those who abuse this medication are looking to obtain.


There is a lack of general information regarding the differences between being addicted to a substance and being dependent on a substance. When it comes to a popular over-the-counter medication like diphenhydramine, that confusion remains, as many people think that since they can just go into a store and purchase this medication that it can’t possibly be dangerous to use. Unfortunately, misconceptions like these are not only wrong, but they are also dangerous.

Diphenhydramine is a medication that the vast majority of Americans have in their medicine cabinets, as it helps treat several allergic effects. However, what many people do not realize is that diphenhydramine can be addictive.

When someone is addicted to substances like opioids, cocaine, alcohol, and even diphenhydramine, it means that he or she has a psychological dependency on the substance. He or she fully believes that without the use of diphenhydramine or other addictive substances, that he or she cannot function and/or will be left in a state of chaos. As with most mind-altering substances, abusing diphenhydramine can alter the way in which the brain works. This causes the brain to shoot off signals to the person to keep using because whenever he or she uses, the brain is rewarded with a sense of relaxation and euphoria. The term “addiction” does not apply to one’s physical desire to keep using, as the term used to describe that process is dependence.

Being dependent on a substance means exactly that – the user is dependent on it. He or she cannot just stop using diphenhydramine or another addictive substance without experiencing painful and intrusive physical withdrawal symptoms, as the body has become so adjusted to functioning along with the chosen substance of abuse. Therefore, any time that a person limits how much he or she uses or stops using altogether, his or her body cannot handle the absence of the substance.

In many cases, people become both addicted and dependent on substances, meaning that both their psychological and physical state have them continuing to abuse substances. This is extremely common, which is why several individuals in recovery go through detox, where they can address their physical symptoms, prior to entering into therapy to manage their psychological health.

For those who abuse diphenhydramine, however, dependency does not occur, meaning that their bodies do not experience the constant need to use or develop withdrawal symptoms when unable to use. They can, however, become addicted to this substance, which means they feel psychologically unable to stop using. As mentioned before, the biggest draw to abusing diphenhydramine is that doing so causes relaxation and euphoria. However, it can also do desirable off-label things such as help people sleep, which can be desirable in itself. Regardless of why a person has turned to the abuse of diphenhydramine, he or she can easily become addicted to it.


Despite diphenhydramine being widely used and generally considered safe, many people utilize this substance for recreational and/or self-medication purposes, which often leads to addiction. Since the drug is cheap and sold over the counter throughout the United States, people of all ages have access to this substance, including teenagers who are unable to obtain alcohol or more potent drugs like prescription medications or heroin. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that special warning labels are placed on all products containing diphenhydramine. These warning labels specifically state not to use diphenhydramine with sedatives or other diphenhydramine products. Doing this can increase one’s risk of overdose, as sedative products can cause respiratory failure, which can cause death.

Anybody who abuses diphenhydramine products can develop an addiction to this substance regardless of how old they are. Many people who struggle with sleep problems like insomnia have found themselves dealing with diphenhydramine addiction, as have those who are abusing other more powerful substances but want to increase their high by adding this medication to the mix. Additionally, people who struggle with health problems that cause symptoms such as tremors and muscle spasms are prone to abusing this medication, as doing so relieve those symptoms. People who are on antipsychotic medications, like those who are being treated for schizophrenia, are also at risk for developing a diphenhydramine addiction, as it can help manage side effects of their antipsychotic medications.

It is also important to note that those who do not have regard for the dangers that diphenhydramine can cause (such as those who are addicted to it) are more likely to improperly administer this medication to their infants and children when they are having a hard time sleeping. This is not what this medication is for, rather it is to help children who are experiencing allergic reactions. Studies continue to show that administering Benadryl to infants and children can be deadly. In fact, in 2017, there were 4 infant/child deaths caused by misuse of this medication in Connecticut alone.


Diphenhydramine has its benefits, however even when it is used as directed, it can cause side effects that can be dangerous, never mind when it is being abused. The abuse of any medication, including one that is over-the-counter, will produce effects that can be minor to life-threatening, short-term to long-term. When diphenhydramine is being abused, the user can suffer from several different physical and psychological effects, as well as negative impacts on their personal and professional lives.

Physical effects of diphenhydramine addiction

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Tightness in chest (known as angina)
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased heart rate
  • Inability to urinate
  • Nausea
  • Jitters
  • Overall sense of physical weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Organ damage to the kidneys and liver
  • Poor coordination

One of the most significant physical side effects is sedation. A normal dose of diphenhydramine can create driving impairment that equals a blood alcohol level of 0.10. That’s higher than the blood alcohol limit associated with most state drunk driving laws, which is 0.08.

Psychological effects of diphenhydramine addiction

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Problems concentration
  • Poor focus
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Impatience
  • Confusion
  • Nightmares
  • Depression

When diphenhydramine is abused in high doses, hallucinations and delusions can occur. Hallucinations refer to seeing someone or something that is not there, while delusions occur when someone is adamant in a thought, belief, etc. that is untrue and not associated with reality. For example, someone who is experiencing a delusion might believe that someone is following/spying on them when in reality, that is not occurring at all.

Other lesser-known symptoms associated with diphenhydramine addiction include itchy skin, flushed skin, increased body temperature, extreme restlessness, and erectile dysfunction. It is also extremely dangerous for people who have preexisting kidney problems to use this drug, never mind abuse it. Additionally, diphenhydramine addiction has been strongly linked to the development of dementia, especially in those older individuals who abuse this medication.

Personal and professional effects of diphenhydramine addiction

Whenever someone is addicted to a mind-altering substance, he or she can experience a variety of different negative effects of that addiction. In addition to the several physical and psychological side effects that one can experience when struggling with diphenhydramine addiction, there are countless personal and professional effects that can develop as a result of this type of addiction. Consider the following:

  • Increased conflict with friends, family, and loved ones
  • Secretive and/or dishonest behavior surrounding one’s use, such as attempting to use in private or stealing money to fund the addiction
  • Isolating oneself from others, resulting in the loss of close relationships
  • Being demoted or terminated from a job as a result of behaviors associated with diphenhydramine addiction (e.g. dozing off at work, calling out sick frequently, making mistakes in the workplace while under the influence)
  • Financial problems related to spending funds on diphenhydramine or losing a job
  • Increased interaction with the law as a result of poor conduct related to diphenhydramine addiction (such as driving while under the influence, getting into physical arguments, etc.)
  • Inability to carry out everyday responsibilities
  • Feeling unable to function as a result of being excessively drowsy or feeling ill because of heavy diphenhydramine abuse

People who have found themselves experiencing a diphenhydramine addiction have ended up losing sight of their career goals and dreams for their families, as well as losing relationships, money, and trust. It can take years of hard work and dedication to restore good standing with friends, family, and loved ones, as well as to rebuild trust and respect after struggling with a diphenhydramine addiction.

If you or a loved one have a Diphenhydramine addiction, we can help you today.
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If you are taking diphenhydramine to get high or you know someone who is, addiction might be a problem. You may be addicted the drug if: 

  • You continue to use diphenhydramine even though your symptoms are gone
  • You take diphenhydramine because you’re desperate to find drugs
  • You combine diphenhydramine with another substance such as alcohol
  • You hide how much you use or deny using it
  • You spend more time thinking about and trying to get high
  • You spend more time alone or time with people who aren’t really your friends
  • You’re having problems with school or at work
  • You can’t relax or feel normal without diphenhydramine

If any of these problems sound familiar, it’s time to make the decision to end your substance abuse for good. As mentioned before, a continued diphenhydramine addiction can be extremely dangerous, despite it being a medication that can easily be purchased over-the-counter. Diphenhydramine can be compared to alcohol in the sense that both substances are readily available but are addictive. So, even if it is not difficult to obtain, the dangers associated with diphenhydramine addiction can be deadly.

Realizing that you have a diphenhydramine addiction can be completely earth-shattering, even if you know that you have been misusing this medication. The denial that is associated with the disease of addiction can be so strong that even those who have suffered tremendous consequences related to their diphenhydramine addiction still cannot believe that they are addicted to it. This is not abnormal by any means, however, it is a very dangerous component of addiction, as it keeps several people from reaching out for the help they need or taking what they learn in rehab and utilizing it to its fullest.


At 12 Keys in Florida, we are able to treat people who are struggling with diphenhydramine, ranging from those who are experiencing a mild addiction to those who are watching their lives crumble around them because of their use. While we are known for the exceptional detox services that we have provided countless clients, most of those who are coming to us for a diphenhydramine addiction do not require medical detox unless they are also addicted to other substances that can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as heroin, prescription painkillers, or meth. Therefore, clients who have enrolled in our program to receive treatment for diphenhydramine addiction often go right into the therapeutic aspect of care. At our Florida facility, therapy is provided through residential treatment, intensive outpatient programming, outpatient treatment, and aftercare programming. Each client will be guided towards the treatment program that is best for their needs.

Residential treatment

Residential treatment at 12 Keys is the most involved, hands-on form of treatment that we offer. Clients who are in this program will reside at our facility for 30, 60, or 90 days. During that time, they will participate in several different therapies that can help them to uncover the hidden causes behind their diphenhydramine addiction, bring them to the forefront, and address them in a healthy, effective manner with the help of a trained and licensed therapist, counselor, or psychologist. Residential treatment is usually the best option for those who:

  • Have made several attempts to get sober but have been unsuccessful
  • Have a co-occurring condition
  • Need to be removed from their environment in order to focus on getting sober (e.g. those who are living in unhealthy living situations)
  • Are experiencing a severe addiction to diphenhydramine
  • Are abusing diphenhydramine with other addictive substances

Intensive outpatient program (IOP)

Our intensive outpatient program is very similar to our residential programming because of the therapies that are offered and the quality of employees we have on our staff. The most significant difference between residential treatment and our IOP is that those who are enrolled in this program do not live at the facility, rather they continue to live at home. As a result, clients can continue to maintain a life outside of treatment, however, the time they spend at our IOP made impede on how much of an involvement they can have in their personal lives. This is because clients of our IOP usually go to the facility nearly every day of the week for the entire day, making it challenging to continue to work or do other things outside of treatment. However, the several benefits of attending an IOP usually supersede these issues.

Our intensive outpatient program is ideal for those who:

  • Do not need medical detox or around-the-clock supervision
  • Require a level of treatment that is not as intense as a residential treatment but goes more in-depth than outpatient treatment
  • Have a safe and substance-free home to return to in between going to the facility
  • Are able to travel back and forth to and from the facility on their own

Outpatient treatment

Outpatient treatment, which is usually the shortest-term care we provide, allows clients to continue to live at home just as they would in our intensive outpatient program. However, clients of our outpatient treatment program do not come to the facility as frequently as they would in an IOP. Generally, clients come a few times a week for a couple of hours at a time. They might come in the morning or in the evening, depending on what their personal and professional schedules look like. The flexibility of our outpatient treatment allows clients to keep working, continue to take care of children, and uphold all other responsibilities that they have outside of treatment. People ideally suited for outpatient treatment include those who:

  • Have a mild to moderate substance use disorder
  • Do not have medical detox needs
  • Are in the beginning stages of their diphenhydramine addiction
  • Cannot take time off of work or be away from their children for an extended period of time

If you are struggling with an addiction to diphenhydramine, do not be fearful of reaching out for help. We can help you find the right program for you so that you can begin recovering as quickly as possible.


At 12 Keys in Florida, we can help you or a loved one make an active addiction a thing of the past. We understand how difficult it is to get started in recovery, which is why we employ only the most qualified professionals and utilize evidence-based treatments in every program that we offer.

Call us right now. We are ready for you.

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