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Dimenhydrinate Addiction

Written by Thomas Christiansen

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Deep Shukla, PhD, MS

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Medically Reviewed by Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Updated 07/15/2020

Key Takeaways

  • The active ingredient in Dramamine is diphenhydramine, which is best known for being the drug in Benadryl
  • Dramamine is often misused by people taking too many oral tablets, although it can also be injected
  • Both short- and long-term effects of Dramamine can be serious, and can lead to overdose and death
  • Using Dramamine with other central nervous system depressants is especially dangerous
  • The active drug in Dramamine is one of the most common drugs used in suicide overdose attempts

Dimenhydrinate, also known as Dramamine, can cause overdose and death. Learn more about the dangers of this common over-the-counter drug.

When people think of Dramamine, they often think of it as the motion sickness drug. However, Dramamine can be addictive. Dramamine is often abused because it has hallucinogenic effects and can cause euphoria. These effects are linked to the drug’s ability to block the brain chemical acetylcholine. The drug itself is a combination of two other drugs:

  • Diphenhydramine, the antihistamine in Benadryl
  • 8-chlorotheophylline, a drug that can stop diphenhydramine’s side effect of sleepiness

Dramamine may also be misused by people with schizophrenia, whose drugs often cause abnormal movement. Because Dramamine can block a brain chemical called acetylcholine, these abnormal movements may improve. Further, because Dramamine may relieve anxiety, people with other mental health conditions are also at risk for misuse.

How is Dramamine Abused?

Most Dramamine misuse occurs when people take oral tablets. However, the drug is also available in gel capsules which some people puncture to inject the fluid. Some people will combine Dramamine with other drugs to increase its effects. A dimenhydrinate high can cause euphoria and hallucinations at a dose of 300 mg in adults.

Dimenhydrinate Addiction Symptoms

When someone starts to become addicted to drugs, there may be outward signs. Often, the signs manifest as changes in behavior. Symptoms that are consistent with having a drug problem are:

  • Being withdrawn
  • Avoiding family and friends
  • Spending a lot of time with new friends
  • Disinterest in activities that used to be enjoyed
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems
  • Missing appointments and deadlines
  • School or work problems
  • Personal or family problems
  • Recklessness
  • Legal problems

Physical Dependence vs. Addiction

Doctors have found that both tolerance and physical dependence can develop with Dramamine use. The concepts of tolerance, dependence and addiction are all intertwined.

  • Tolerance: Increasingly higher doses of the drug are needed to get the desired effect.
  • Dependence: Needing a drug to keep up physical and mental function. When you are dependent on a drug and stop taking it, withdrawal symptoms can occur.
  • Addiction: Compulsive use of a drug despite negative consequences.

Physical Signs

Sometimes signs of Dramamine use can show up as physical symptoms. While not all signs will happen for everyone, some general signs include:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Swelling
  • Tremors
  • Shallow breathing
  • Rash
  • Flushed skin

Behavioral Signs

Behavioral signs of Dramamine use may be present with, or even instead of, physical signs. These symptoms can include:

  • Sleepiness or problems sleeping
  • Appetite loss
  • Memory problems
  • Depression
  • Hallucination
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Being irritable
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Excitation
  • Euphoria
  • Nightmares
  • Delirium

Dramamine Abuse Side Effects

At high doses, Dramamine can cause several different side effects including:

  • Confusion
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there
  • Temporary amnesia
  • Paranoia

Short-Term Effects

In the short term, the main effects of Dramamine include feeling sleepy and dizzy, especially at recommended doses. However, if Dramamine is misused and higher doses are taken, short-term side effects can include hallucinations and euphoria.

Long-Term Effects

With long-term use, Dramamine abuse can cause:

  • Drug interactions
  • Chronic psychosis
  • Delirium
  • Tolerance, leading to high doses and overdose
  • Death.

Side Effects of Polysubstance Abuse

Because Dramamine is a central nervous system depressant, doctors recommend not using it with other depressants like alcohol. Using multiple depressants at the same time can cause increased side effects. Using Dramamine with other drugs can also be dangerous.

The active drug in Dramamine is sometimes put into other street drugs. For example, heroin is sometimes cut with this agent. Dealers do this because as an antihistamine, the drug can reduce itching, a common side effect of heroin.

What Causes Dimenhydrinate Addiction?

Diphenhydramine, the active drug in Dramamine, triggers the brain’s reward system. It causes a surge in the brain chemical dopamine, the main reward system chemical. Although the drug is about 10 times less potent than cocaine at activating dopamine, it nonetheless has potential for abuse.

Dimenhydrinate Abuse Facts and Statistics

Because Dramamine is available as an over-the-counter drug, little data exists about how frequently it is abused. However, the number of Poison Center calls about antihistamine exposure is increasing. Antihistamines like Dramamine were responsible for 4.7% of Poison Center calls in 2017. Although a disproportionate number of Poison Center calls are made for children, this is not true for antihistamines. Almost 63% of calls about antihistamines were for adults ages 20 or older. In more than two-thirds of these cases, the antihistamine was the only drug used. Many of these overdoses may be intentional. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the active drug in Dramamine is the second most common culprit in suicides by overdose. The agent, diphenhydramine, was responsible for more than 11% of drug overdose suicides in 2016.

Can You Overdose on Dimenhydrinate?

Dramamine overdose is possible and can be very serious. In 2017, there were 82 deaths linked to antihistamines like Dramamine. In children, Dramamine overdose is common. For this reason, the drug should not be given to children under age two. Overdosing on Dramamine can have fatal results for a child. Between 2013 and 2017, there were 13 reported cases of children dying because of antihistamine overdose. Adults are also at risk for a Dramamine overdose. This is especially true if the adult has taken a 500 mg dose or higher.

Dimenhydrinate Overdose Symptoms

Dramamine overdoses in adults can lead to symptoms like:

  • Trouble speaking
  • Problems swallowing
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures

Signs of Dramamine overdose can take up to two hours to appear and can be deadly within 18 hours. Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Flushed face
  • Hallucinations
  • Trouble walking
  • Convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death

If a Dramamine overdose is suspected, seek emergency medical help immediately.

Dimenhydrinate Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one is struggling with Dramamine use, help is available. Many different types of rehab are available to address specific needs. Treatment options include:

Detox

Medical detox is the first step in addiction recovery. Under close medical supervision, the person stops using the drug. Withdrawal symptoms and cravings are managed by a medical team.

Residential

For this stage of treatment, the person lives on-site during residential rehab, focusing on their recovery.

Outpatient

People with a solid support system and living arrangements may live offsite for outpatient rehab.

Dual Diagnosis

People with mental health problems as well as problems with Dramamine can get both problems treated at the same time in a dual diagnosis program.

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