Occasional anxiety is a normal reaction we all experience to certain stressful situations that happen in our lives. For most people, it’s a momentary feeling. This might happen from a new or unfamiliar event, like public speaking. Temporary anxiety happens to everyone and doesn’t interfere with daily life.
However, anxiety disorders (AD) are more serious and can stop a person from enjoying their life. Scientists believe there may be genetic and environmental causes along with other individual factors involved.
Anxiety disorders are complex and can involve other mood or emotional disorders. It’s important to speak with a mental health professional if your anxiety is not occasional but more severe and is disrupting your life.
Benadryl is one product containing diphenhydramine. It’s an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine that’s used for allergies. The active ingredient in Benadryl is diphenhydramine, which may cause drowsiness, and some people find it helps them sleep.
General anxiety may cause restlessness, nervousness, and difficulty falling asleep. Some people with these symptoms may use diphenhydramine for its sedating effects. But diphenhydramine is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as an anxiety medication. There are better options available.
Let’s take a closer look at diphenhydramine’s uses, side effects, and effectiveness.
Diphenhydramine is an older antihistamine that’s used to treat allergy symptoms. During an allergic reaction, your body releases histamine, a substance that certain cells in the body produce in response to allergens. Diphenhydramine works to limit the effects of histamine.
It helps with symptoms of allergic reactions like itching, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, and cough from various conditions like seasonal allergies, common cold, hives, and other allergic-type reactions.
Diphenhydramine is also used in other OTC products to treat motion sickness and temporary sleeplessness.
The medication has been around for many years and is considered a first-generation (older) antihistamine. It is not selective in blocking histamine receptors in the body. This means diphenhydramine causes certain side effects such as drowsiness, or sleepiness. Newer antihistamines may have fewer of these side effects.
Risks of taking diphenhydramine
If you have certain health conditions, diphenhydramine may not be right for you. Talk with your doctor before taking diphenhydramine if you have:
- enlarged prostate
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can be caused by chronic bronchitis or emphysema
- thyroid problems
- liver problems
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor about the safety of using diphenhydramine. They can tell you more about the risks.
- increase liver and kidney problems
- cause adverse reactions such as dizziness and falls
- worsen certain health conditions
Diphenhydramine is widely used as a temporary sleep aid for its sedating effects. For some people who experience occasional sleeplessness from anxiety, diphenhydramine may offer short-term relief. But
The dosage of diphenhydramine can depend on various factors like:
- reason for use
- dosage form (oral, topical)
- your age
- your health condition
- other medications you take
It’s important to use the smallest dose of diphenhydramine for the shortest amount of time that will provide symptom relief while minimizing side effects. Diphenhydramine is not for continued regular use.
Always talk with your pharmacist or doctor about all your medications to learn if diphenhydramine is appropriate and safe for you.
Typical dosages for allergic conditions (seasonal allergies) for oral diphenhydramine you swallow:
- For adults and children ages 12 years and older, the dosage is 25 to 50 milligrams (mg) every 4 to 6 hours as needed.
- For children ages 6 to 11 years old, the dosage is 12.5 to 25 mg every 4 to 6 hours as needed.
- For children under 6 years old, you should always speak with your child’s doctor.
Typical dosages for diphenhydramine topical (cream, gel, spray):
- For adults and children 2 years and older, it can be applied to the affected area 3 to 4 times for relief of itching, rash, and other skin conditions.
- For children under 2 years old, you should always talk with your child’s doctor.
Do not use more diphenhydramine than your doctor recommends. Using too much diphenhydramine can cause serious side effects.
Always talk with your doctor or pharmacist before using Benadryl.
Diphenhydramine has some common side effects like:
- dry mouth
Serious side effects include:
- hyperactivity, irritability (especially in children)
- restlessness, agitation
- muscle spasms
- trouble thinking
- memory problems
- increased heart rate
- trouble urinating
- restless leg syndrome (can worsen in some people with this condition)
Diphenhydramine is only approved for short-term use. Using the medication for a long period of time may cause other side effects including:
- blurred vision
- memory problems
It’s important to talk with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis before self-medicating with diphenhydramine.
Yes, you can overdose on diphenhydramine. Taking too much can be life threatening.
Always talk with your doctor and pharmacist before taking OTC products.
Overdose symptoms may include:
- blurred vision
- decreased sweating
- heart problems (arrhythmia)
- involuntary movements
- dry eyes, mouth
- nervousness and anxiety
- trouble breathing
Call the Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222 if you think you’ve taken too much Benadryl or other products containing diphenhydramine.
If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, call 911 or go to an emergency medical center right away.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the safety of diphenhydramine with other medications you take including prescription, and OTC products (vitamins, herbs, supplements, medications).
Diphenhydramine can interact with other medications that cause drowsiness, dizziness, or sleepiness. Ask your doctor for more information.
- Alcohol. Alcohol may increase drowsiness and dizziness and cause other serious side effects.
- Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Librium, Valium, Ativan) may cause serious side effects like dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. Older adults may experience impaired thinking, judgment, and motor coordination.
- Antidepressants. Antidepressants(paroxetine, Zoloft, Prozac, and others) may cause serious side effects like dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. Older adults may experience impaired thinking, judgment, and motor coordination.
- Antipsychotics. Antipsychotics (chlorpromazine, haloperidol, fluphenazine, risperidone, olanzapine, aripiprazole, paliperidone, and others) may cause bladder problems, fever, dry mouth, blurred vision, confusion, dizziness, or lower heart rate.
Be careful with any tasks that require mental alertness like operating machinery or driving if you experience drowsiness or dizziness while taking Benadryl.
If you experience a serious allergic reaction or a life threatening reaction to Benadryl, call 911 or go to an emergency medical center immediately.
Anxiety can be a temporary reaction to a stressful situation, or a more long-term condition known as an anxiety disorder. There are many types of anxiety disorders, so getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step to finding treatment.
Symptoms of anxiety may include:
- fast heartbeat and breathing
- trouble focusing or concentrating
- trouble sleeping or insomnia
- fear or unreasonable worry
- muscle tension
- restlessness, irritability
Learn about what triggers your anxiety symptoms and reach out to a healthcare professional if your symptoms are interfering with your daily life.
You can search online to find a mental health professional or support group with these organizations:
Treatment depends on the type of anxiety, symptoms, and if there are other coexisting conditions such as depression.
Treatment for generalized anxiety disorder and other types of anxiety disorders includes:
- other lifestyle measures to manage anxiety
Some medications that may be prescribed to treat anxiety include:
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (paroxetine and escitalopram)
- serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) (venlafaxine)
- tricyclic antidepressants (imipramine)
- benzodiazepines (alprazolam), only for short-term use because there is serious risk of dependence and misuse
Psychotherapy options to help anxiety include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- psychodynamic therapy
Lifestyle strategies to manage anxiety include:
- regular exercise
- meditation, deep breathing, yoga
- stress management
- good sleep habits
- healthy diet
- avoid excess alcohol
Benadryl is a popular antihistamine medication that has been used for cold and allergy relief for many years.
Benadryl is not intended for long-term use, and while it may reduce anxiety symptoms in some individuals, the risks outweigh the benefits. Although it might provide temporary sleepiness, these effects don’t last with regular use.
If you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms, talk with your doctor about the best treatment options for you.