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When you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder, you may search for relief in any form. Whether medication, therapy or a natural remedy, the search for a way to calm your nerves can be exhausting.
Some people may use Benadryl® for anxiety treatment. The over-the-counter medication is typically used for relief from allergy symptoms and itching, but is Benadryl for anxiety an effective treatment?
This article will explore whether Benadryl is an effective medication for anxiety disorders and anxiety relief.
Can Benadryl help with anxiety? Before we get into Benadryl for anxiety, we’ll go over what anxiety is first.
Anxiety is what you might feel when you’re going through a stressful situation — a problem at work, a fight with a friend or partner, money trouble or more. This type of anxiety is actually a very normal response that goes away once whatever is causing the stress is gone.
When that anxiety or worry doesn’t go away though, you could be dealing with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, are a group of psychiatric disorders that affect how you feel, think and behave. More than 40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder, making them some of the most common psychiatric disorders.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, and they vary in symptoms and causes. The most common are:
Generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder causes excessive or persistent feelings of anxiety, dread or worry.
Panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterized by recurring panic attacks, which are a sudden feeling of intense fear along with physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, dizziness or shortness of breath.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD can cause repetitive behaviors (compulsions) and recurring, intrusive thoughts (obsessions). Repetitive behaviors like hand washing, constantly checking if a door is locked or other “rituals” are performed to provide temporary relief from obsessions.
Some symptoms of anxiety disorders can vary and are unique to each disorder. However, there are anxiety symptoms that are common to many anxiety disorders, including:
Nervousness and restlessness
Stomachaches or nausea
Increased heart rate
Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
Avoiding people, objects or situations that may cause anxiety
Only being able to concentrate on current worries or concerns
Dealing with any of the above anxiety symptoms can indeed be stressful. So, could Benadryl for anxiety be the answer?
Before we get into any benefits of Benadryl for anxiety, keep reading for a quick overview of this particular medication.
Benadryl is one of several brand names for the medication known as diphenhydramine. Diphenhydramine is in a class of medications called antihistamines. When you experience an allergic reaction, your body produces a substance called histamine, which is what causes allergy symptoms. Diphenhydramine works to block histamines.
Benadryl is most often used to relieve symptoms of allergies such as irritated eyes, runny nose or coughing. People may also use diphenhydramine for motion sickness, insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) or movement problems.
It’s important to note that diphenhydramine isn’t recommended for long-term use.
As with any medication, there can be side effects. Common adverse effects of diphenhydramine include:
Dry mouth, throat or nose
More serious adverse effects may include blurred vision or urinary retention (trouble urinating).
Other medications can interact negatively with diphenhydramine, especially if they cause drowsiness. These include medications for depressive disorder, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, narcotic medications and more.
Diphenhydramine is an older type of antihistamine and isn’t selective in blocking histamine receptors, which is why Benadryl may make some people drowsy or sleepy.
But does Benadryl help with anxiety?
Generalized anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders may cause restlessness, obsessive thoughts and trouble falling asleep. So some people may use Benadryl as a sleep aid.
Although Benadryl may cause drowsiness in some, studies show there are other medications with more benefits to calm down someone’s nerves.
A 2017 study compared diphenhydramine, benzodiazepine (alprazolam) and the anticonvulsant pregabalin (a seizure medication) for anxiety symptom relief and found that diphenhydramine wasn’t as effective as the other medications for calmness.
While Benadryl might be used as a temporary sleep aid, it’s also not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of anxiety.
While some antihistamines have been studied for anxiety treatment, only hydroxyzine is FDA-approved.
It may be tempting to use Benadryl to calm yourself down when dealing with anxiety, but it’s probably not your best option. Fortunately, there are many other options for the treatment of anxiety disorders.
Whether your anxiety is a short-term response to a stressful situation or a long-term condition in the form of an anxiety disorder, there are ways to manage your symptoms.
Your treatment plan can depend on what kind of anxiety disorder you have, so getting an accurate anxiety diagnosis is a good first step.
From there, your healthcare provider will recommend common treatments such as psychotherapy (talk therapy), lifestyle changes, medication for anxiety or a combination of these.
Therapy for anxiety may include types of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, psychodynamic therapy and more. However, anxiety disorder symptoms and effects differ significantly between individuals, so therapy will be tailored to address your particular needs.
Commonly used medications for anxiety include:
Anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines (alprazolam)
Our guide on medications for anxiety covers all the pharmacotherapy options for stress and anxiety symptoms.
Making certain lifestyle changes may not treat an anxiety disorder itself, but it can help reduce stress and anxiety. Exercise, eating a healthy diet and mindfulness have all been shown to improve anxiety levels.
You can find a treatment plan that’s best for your anxiety with a licensed psychiatrist online.
Does Benadryl help with anxiety?
Unfortunately, Benadryl is not a long-term solution for treating anxiety disorders. While this medication might work as a temporary sleep aid, Benadryl is inefficient in reducing other anxiety symptoms over time.
There are plenty of other options for reducing anxiety symptoms and managing an anxiety disorder — whether it's therapy, medication, lifestyle changes or a combination of treatments.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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