Diphenhydramine, the active ingredient found in common over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as Benadryl, can be deadly when taken in high enough doses. There are plenty of cases that attest to this fact.
Take the 2015 death of a 10-month old Delaware boy. His daycare provider fed him Benadryl so that he could fall asleep, but the child never woke up. The provider was later charged with criminally negligent homicide.
In 2013, a 22-year-old Georgia woman who was found dead in a creek. Authorities determined that she intentionally took too much Benadryl and fell into a cold stream. She died from severe diphenhydramine intoxication and hypothermia.
Diphenhydramine, a substance that depresses the central nervous system, can be deadly enough on its own. When it is consumed with alcohol, another CNS depressant, the risk of death is exacerbated.
Simply put, it is never safe to mix diphenhydramine with alcohol, and such polysubstance abuse should be avoided altogether. Yet people may engage in this behavior accidentally. They may take Benadryl to fall asleep and wash it down with a glass of wine without thinking anything of it. Sometimes, they engage in this sort of use as recreation, to amplify the sedative effects both substances impart.
In other cases, the victims may not have had a choice.
A Connecticut mother was accused of killing her two children by administering diphenhydramine in one and diphenhydramine and alcohol in the other. A toxicologist later revealed that the child who was fed both substances had a blood-alcohol content of .09, which surpasses the legal threshold of drunkenness in most states.
What Is Diphenhydramine?
American chemist and professor George Rieveschl was researching muscle-relaxant drugs at the University of Cincinnati when he came to realize the potential of a 19-syllable antihistamine compound in the early 1940s. He tested it as a muscle relaxer.
Rieveschl ended up synthesizing diphenhydramine in 1943, which, according to The New York Times, ended up becoming a profitable endeavor.
Parke-Davis, the largest drugmaker at the time, bought the rights to Benadryl and marketed the drug in 1946. According to the Times, Rieveschl received a 5 percent royalty for the duration of the medication’s 17-year patent. All told, Benadryl sales rose to $6 million a year, and the Ohio-born chemist benefited handsomely.
The same could be said for Parke-Davis, which is now a subsidiary of Pfizer. Benadryl, which is the trade name for diphenhydramine, is a perennial, best-selling over-the-counter medication.
To fathom how this medication functions, you would have to understand the nature in which humans respond to allergies. When people become allergic to something, they sneeze, get stuffy or runny noses, and develop itchy, watery eyes, among other conditions. These bodily responses are governed by histamines, chemicals that are created by your immune system.
As this WebMD article states, histamines act like bouncers at a club where they help you get rid of things that are bothering your body, such as an allergy. As an antihistamine, diphenhydramine blocks those responses, which alleviates allergy symptoms.
Thus, diphenhydramine medications relieve sneezing, red, itchy or watery eyes, and the common cold. It also provides relief for a runny nose caused by hay fever.
Diphenhydramine is available as a capsule, liquid-filled capsule, tablet, dissolving tablet, powder, oral liquid, and dissolving strip. The substance can come alone or in combination with other fever reducers, decongestants, or pain relievers.
Though diphenhydramine is most readily available in OTC medicines, it is still capable of producing effects. Users take it recreationally because it reportedly induces calm, mild euphoria, and hallucinations.
The Dangers of Diphenhydramine
Even in OTC formulations, diphenhydramine can produce a multitude of concerning side effects.
Those Reported Effects Include:
- Excitement (especially in children)
- Dry mouth, nose, and throat
- Appetite loss
- Muscle weakness
- Increased chest congestion
Diphenhydramine also causes serious side effects, including painful urination and vision problems.
Diphenhydramine Overdose Symptoms
Acute diphenhydramine poisoning can lead to cardiovascular collapse and death, two to 18 hours after use. It also is capable of producing life-threatening overdose symptoms that can impact the heart, nervous system, bladder, kidneys, and stomach, among other organs.
Those Overdose Symptoms Include:
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Visual/auditory hallucinations
- Increased sleepiness
- Inability to urinate
- Blurred vision
- Very dry eyes
- Ringing in the ears
- Dry mouth
- Enlarged pupils
The Effect of Alcohol
Whether it is whiskey, wine, beer, or rum, alcohol remains the most commonly abused, addictive substance in the world.
Despite being legal, alcohol is a debilitating substance of abuse.
The Following Are Symptoms of Abuse Associated With Alcohol:
- Drinking gets in the way of work, school, or other activities and obligations because of hangovers or sickness.
- Someone drinks even though they might drive, boat, or participate in some other activity that becomes dangerous when alcohol is consumed.
- Their drinking leads to blackouts and/or memory losses.
- Someone gets into accidents or sustains injuries after he or she drinks.
- Someone drinks when it makes health complications or mental health issues worse.
Other Behaviors and Effects of Alcohol Addiction Exhibit Themselves in the Following Ways:
- Alcohol becomes the center of someone’s life. That person always makes sure there is enough alcohol on hand and only engages in activities that involve drinking.
- They lose control over how much they drink.
- They may experience withdrawal symptoms when they go without drinking such as feeling sweaty, shaky, anxious, or sick.
- They give up hobbies or favorite pastimes to drink.
- They spend the majority of their time drinking or recovering from drinking.
- They drink even though it harms family, friendships, career, or education.
- They begin their day drinking, drink alone, or staying drunk for long periods.
- They attempt to hide their drinking and make excuses.
- They consistently turn to alcohol to relieve stress or solve problems.
- They cannot quit drinking despite repeated attempts.
Alcohol can produce withdrawal symptoms after someone stops drinking. Like those produced by benzodiazepine withdrawal, these can be life-threatening.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically appear within eight hours of your last drink. However, symptoms can appear days later, usually peaking in 24 hours to 72 hours. They can also last for weeks.
Those symptoms include:
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Jumpiness or shakiness
- Mood swings
- Unclear thinking
- Loss of appetite
- Sweaty, clammy skin
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heart rate
- Tremor of the hands or other body parts
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pallor (pale and unhealthy pale appearance)
A serious form of alcohol withdrawal that is called delirium tremens (DTs) can occur and cause the following symptoms, which are very dangerous:
- Severe confusion
The Dangers of Diphenhydramine and Alcohol Use
Diphenhydramine medications like Benadryl and alcohol don’t mix. They both work to depress the central nervous system (CNS), slowing it down to such a degree that a user can experience profound sedation and drowsiness.
The dangers of injury and death are heightened when someone attempts to operate a motor vehicle or machinery while intoxicated from both substances.
What’s more, you should also be aware of taking diphenhydramine with substances that have alcohol in them, such as laxatives and cough syrups.
Young people are especially vulnerable to OTC medication abuse, as such products are cheap and easily accessible.
Why Professional Treatment Is Necessary
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are dangerous in their own right, which is why someone with an alcohol use disorder should never attempt to quit on their own. When alcohol is combined with a diphenhydramine medication, the consequences become even direr.
That’s why professional treatment is an absolute necessity; it can reverse the deadly course of multiple substance abuse.
By enrolling in a professional recovery program, you can access comprehensive, specialized, and evidence-based treatment. This process starts with acute treatment, where the alcohol and diphenhydramine are removed from your body. You will also be administered medications during this phase to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms and any health issues that could arise.
In acute treatment, you will be monitored by doctors, nurses, and other medical staff around the clock.
- Nutritional assessments
- Emotional regulation
- Medical education
- Motivational enhancement
- Relapse prevention
- The 12 steps of recovery
- Wellness skills
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills
- Genetic testing
- Family-focused therapy
- Trauma-informed sessions
After treatment, a caseworker can connect you to a supportive recovery community to help you sustain your sobriety.
Get Help Today
You do not have to fall victim to alcohol and diphenhydramine abuse. A professional recovery program can provide services to treat you and the people to support you.
Call 855-956-4940 anytime, day or evening, for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable addiction recovery specialists. They can help you locate the right treatment option. Contact us online for more information.