Benadryl for Anxiety: What You Need to Know

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
July 8, 2022

You’ve probably heard of Benadryl. It’s a common over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine that’s often used to manage allergies. It also has a sedative effect, which means it can make you sleepy.

Because of this, some people use it for the short-term treatment of anxiety symptoms.

However, it’s not a long-term solution, and it doesn’t have FDA approval for the treatment of anxiety.

In this article, I’ll talk about what Benadryl is, how it may help anxiety, its side effects and risks, and other anxiety treatment options that may be safer and more effective.

What Is Benadryl?

Benadryl is a name brand for the antihistamine diphenhydramine.

Typically, Benadryl is used to relieve allergy symptoms like:

It can also be used to help manage symptoms of the common cold by reducing nasal congestion

Benadryl risk factors

While Benadryl is safe for most people to take, you should avoid it if you have certain health conditions, including:

  • Glaucoma
  • Breathing problems
  • Trouble urinating

You also shouldn’t use Benadryl:

  • As a sleep aid for children
  • With other products containing diphenhydramine

Though everyone reacts differently, Benadryl typically makes people drowsy. 

Avoid driving, drinking alcoholic beverages, and taking any other type of sedative or sleeping pill after taking Benadryl.

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Does Benadryl Help Anxiety?

Although some people say that Benadryl helps their anxiety, it is not approved by the FDA for anxiety symptoms.

Therefore, do not take it for anxiety unless your healthcare provider specifically recommends it.

The only FDA-approved antihistamine for anxiety is hydroxyzine (Atarax, Vistaril).

For some people, this can be an effective alternative to benzodiazepines.

Although benzodiazepines can treat anxiety, they can also be addictive and have significant side effects.

According to research, hydroxyzine can treat anxiety symptoms, insomnia, and panic attacks. It’s safe for children and pregnant individuals, and it carries few side effects.

In contrast, Benadryl has not been extensively studied and is thought to be less effective for treating anxiety overall.

Benadryl and sleep

Antihistamines such as Benadryl make you feel sleepy by blocking excess production of histamine and histamine release in the brain.

Among other things, histamines (natural chemicals produced by the body) affect your sleep and wake cycles.

Typically, your brain’s histamine levels naturally decrease before you go to sleep. When antihistamines block histamine production, your brain thinks it’s time to sleep.

Some people take Benadryl as a sleep aid.

However, medical providers don’t recommend this because it hasn’t been tested and approved as a sleep aid.

Additionally, Benadryl may make you feel groggy and drowsy, may not help you fall asleep faster, and may do more harm by disturbing your normal sleep/wake cycle.

Since Benadryl isn’t recommended for anxiety, there is no suggested dose for this purpose.

If you’re using Benadryl for hay fever or allergies, the typical dosage is 25 or 50 milligrams (mg) every 4–6 hours for anyone 12 and older.

In children aged 6–11, the recommended dosage is 12.5 or 25 mg every 4–6 hours. Children under six should only take Benadryl if recommended by their pediatrician.

Side Effects

Most antihistamines, including Benadryl, are generally well-tolerated. They don’t have many significant side effects, but you can develop a tolerance over time.

Some common side effects of Benadryl include:

Risks and Warnings

Although it’s generally safe for most healthy individuals, Benadryl comes with some warnings. 

Overdose 

Taking too much Benadryl can cause an overdose.

This can lead to dangerous and potentially life-threatening symptoms such as:

  • Agitation 
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Heart problems

In very severe cases, a Benadryl overdose can cause coma and death. 

If you or a loved one may have overdosed on Benadryl, seek immediate medical attention.

Call the poison control helpline at 800-222-1222 or, if someone is unconscious, having a seizure, or is having trouble breathing, call 911.

Interactions

Benadryl can interact with other medications and substances.

One common interaction is alcohol. If you’re taking Benadryl, consuming alcohol can exacerbate the sedation effect and make you very dizzy, drowsy, and sluggish.

Additionally, Benadryl can interact with some medications, including:

  • Gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • Tramadol (Ultram)
  • Lisinopril (Zestril)
  • Melatonin
  • Trazodone
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec

Do not take Benadryl if you take any of these medications.

If you aren’t sure if a medication you’re taking interacts with Benadryl, contact your healthcare provider.

Anxiety Treatment Options

If you have anxiety, your doctor can work with you to create a treatment plan, which usually consists of a combination of medication and talk therapy.

Medications that can treat anxiety include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These are often used to treat depression and anxiety. SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), and sertraline (Zoloft).
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): These are used to treat depression, anxiety, OCD, and other mood disorders. They include desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and levomilnacipran (Fetzima).
  • Benzodiazepines: These sedative medications treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. They include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and diazepam (Valium). Benzodiazepines have serious side effects and can be habit-forming, so they are generally not used long term.
  • Antipsychotics: Also called neuroleptics, these medications treat schizophrenia, psychosis, and anxiety. Antipsychotics include aripiprazole (Abilify), asenapine (Saphris), and cariprazine (Vraylar).

Your provider may also recommend psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Therapy can help you understand your thoughts and provide you with additional tools to work through and manage anxiety symptoms when they arise.

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Seeking Help for Anxiety

If you have anxiety that’s affecting your life, contact your doctor.

They can evaluate your symptoms, help make the right diagnosis, and recommend treatments that can help you manage your anxiety.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable mental healthcare with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a healthcare provider in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Benadryl good for anxiety?
Do not take Benadryl for anxiety without a provider’s recommendation. While some people say Benadryl helps their anxiety, it is not tested or approved for treating anxiety. Other medications, like SSRIs and SNRIs, can effectively treat anxiety symptoms.
What kind of Benadryl helps with anxiety?
Benadryl is the brand name for diphenhydramine. All forms of diphenhydramine can treat allergies, hay fever, and common cold symptoms. None of them are approved to treat anxiety.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.

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