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:
- Itchy eyes
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose and throat
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:
- 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.
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.
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:
- Dry mouth
Risks and Warnings
Although it’s generally safe for most healthy individuals, Benadryl comes with some warnings.
Taking too much Benadryl can cause an overdose.
This can lead to dangerous and potentially life-threatening symptoms such as:
- 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.
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)
- 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.
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
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Anxiety Disorders. (2022).
Diphenhydramine Toxicity. (2022).
New guideline provides clinical recommendations for specific insomnia drugs. (2017).
Pharmacotherapy of Anxiety Disorders: Current and Emerging Treatment Options. (2020).
Treatment of anxiety disorders. (2017).