Hooked on Benadryl: It’s Much More Than a Harmless Dependency

Long-term Benadryl abuse can cause serious memory loss and even dementia.

Ad·dict·ed /??dikt?d/ adjective: Physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance, and unable to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects.

The concept may sound a little silly, especially when there are millions of people battling much more serious addictions. However Benadryl, or diphenhydramine, has been linked to serious mental complications when used in excess and for long periods of time.

Benadryl is an anticholinergic drug. Some people use it as an over-the-counter sleep aid, while others enjoy the sedative and euphoric effects it provides as a result of dopamine release. However, tolerance can develop in as little as few days, meaning you have to take more and more to achieve the same results. Sound familiar?

Thanks to Benadryl’s effects on the central nervous system, abuse and dependency becomes possible, though it’s much more common in those with a history of substance abuse.

Your Brain on Diphenhydramine

According to a JAMA Internal Medicine study, excessive use of anticholinergic drugs, like older antihistamines, tricyclic antidepressants, and bladder-control medications, cause an increased risk of dementia in many patients.

Before even getting to that point, long-term Benadryl use is linked to short-term memory loss. Anticholinergic medicines affect the central nervous system and cause you to get sleepy. In doing this, the drugs lower the brain’s choline levels, which can cause memory impairment in as little as two or three days.

Additional adverse effects associated with Benadryl abuse include:

  • Nausea
  • Excitability and fast heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Dry Mouth
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision

The University of Washington and Group Health conducted a study of 3,500 people who used these medications daily over the course of more than seven years. Their findings showed that 800 participants ultimately developed dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies came to similar conclusions.

In the end, if the reward outweighs the risk, diphenhydramine should be used in the lowest therapeutic dose possible.

Symptoms of Benadryl Withdrawal

The effects associated with the discontinuation of Benadryl may not be as bad as heroin or alcohol withdrawals, but they are nonetheless very real and should be monitored.

There aren’t currently any known medications that help ease withdrawals from Benadryl. As with most medication used for long periods of time, tapering down is always the safest and least uncomfortable bet.

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Insomnia and restlessness
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Cold-like symptoms

Learn more about other commonly abused over the counter drugs.


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