Dimenhydrinate is an over-the-counter drug used to treat and prevent motion sickness. Its use has potential side effects if it is not used according to recommendations.
Dimenhydrinate is an over-the-counter medication, commonly known as Dramamine or Gravol, that is used to treat motion sickness and the symptoms associated with it. It can also be used recreationally to have calming effects or induce a high sensation. Due to these desirable effects, dimenhydrinate can become addictive.
Use and abuse of dimenhydrinate can lead to various and sometimes dangerous side effects. It is important to recognize the signs of dimenhydrinate use to prevent addiction.
Symptoms of Dimenhydrinate Abuse
The symptoms of chronic or abusive use of dimenhydrinate are oftentimes difficult to notice because they are very similar to the symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression. A person may be abusing dimenhydrinate if they experience the following physical and psychological symptoms.
Physical Symptoms of Dimenhydrinate Abuse
Some common physical side effects of dimenhydrinate abuse include:
- Dilated pupils
- Facial skin flushing
- Severe drowsiness or sleepiness
- Trouble breathing, speaking or swallowing
- Loss of consciousness
Psychological Symptoms of Dimenhydrinate Abuse
Psychological side effects of dimenhydrinate abuse include:
- Excitability or hyperactive
- Seeing hallucinations
- Feeling confused
- Becoming violent
Other Side Effects of Dimenhydrinate Use
Even when taken at the recommended dose, dimenhydrinate can have uncomfortable side effects. The side effects of dimenhydrinate (normal use) include:
- Dizziness that is new or worsening
- Blurry vision
- Dry mouth, nose or throat
- Ears ringing
- Problems with coordination
Severe Side Effects of Dimenhydrinate Use
Severe side effects from dimenhydrinate use include a fast, pounding or irregular heartbeat or allergic reaction. An allergic reaction is usually identified by hives or skin rash, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face, mouth or throat. If a person experiences either of these severe side effects, they should call their doctor immediately or seek medical help.
Effects of Long-Term Dimenhydrinate Abuse
Dimenhydrinate is an antihistamine, meaning that it blocks histamine receptors in certain nerves. It works to prevent nausea and dizziness because it binds to histamine receptors on nerves in the inner ear which regulate balance and response to sudden movements. Long-term use of dimenhydrinate, and therefore long-term blocking of histamine binding to its receptors, can lead to damage of these nerves.
A person may become tolerant of dimenhydrinate when they use is over a long time, making the desired high associated with dimenhydrinate use harder to achieve. This effect may cause individuals who use dimenhydrinate recreationally to take higher doses. This use is dangerous and may lead to overdose, which can be fatal.
Signs of Dimenhydrinate Overdose Include:
- Disorganized thinking or speech
- Irrational behavior
People who use dimenhydrinate regularly and for long periods may experience withdrawal symptoms if use is stopped, including:
- Feeling sleepy
- Loss of appetite
- Being forgetful
- Easily agitated
- Increased clumsiness
Signs of Dimenhydrinate Addiction
If a person is using dimenhydrinate recreationally or chronically and begins to crave it between uses, or does not feel normal unless they are using it, these may be signs of addiction.
Other signs of dimenhydrinate addiction include:
- Sleeping more than usual (associated with the sedative effect)
- Antisocial behavior (including withdrawing from friends)
- Paranoia (due to the hallucinations associated with use)
- Being overly secretive or trying to hide use
- Finding packages in the trash
Persons with mental health conditions such as anxiety, schizophrenia or depression, or substance use disorders are more likely to use dimenhydrinate repetitively. A person struggling with addiction to other substances will also be more likely to abuse dimenhydrinate. Because dimenhydrinate is an easily accessible over-the-counter drug, it is important to watch for signs of abuse in teens.
Dimenhydrinate Addiction Intervention
As with any substance use disorder, addiction to dimenhydrinate is dangerous and should be taken seriously. Individuals actively using dimenhydrinate for effects other than its intended use should seek help.
If an overdose of dimenhydrinate is suspected, it is important to get help immediately.
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Young, G.B.; Boyd, D.; Kreeft, J. “Dimenhydrinate: evidence for dependence and tolerance.” Canadian Medical Association Journal, March 1988. Accessed June 14, 2019.
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