What is TikTok Benadryl challenge? Trend that has caused the death of a 13-year-old boy explained

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The challenge first went viral in 2020 and now seems to be gaining popularity again - but it’s proved harmful and even fatal to some young people

A 13-year-old boy has died after taking part in a viral TikTok trend called the Benadryl challenge. Jacob Stevens died less than a week after attempting the challenge which involves people taking large quantities of over-the-counter allergy medicine Benadryl.

It first went viral in 2020, and in that same year, people were being hospitalised after taking too many of the tablets. Those who took part in the trend were also warned that they could be putting themselves in a potentially fatal position. Some youngsters did die as a result of attempting the challenge. It led to the manufacturer of the drug, Johnson and Johnson, issuing a statement saying that the trend was “extremely concerning” and “should be stopped immediately”. 

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The challenge has now claimed the life of another teenager in the United States, according to his father. Sadly, this is not the first time a young person has died after mirroring an activity they saw on social media. In the UK, 12-year-old Archie Battersbee died in August last year after being kept in a coma for three months after attempting another TikTok challenge known as the blackout challenge.

The Benadryl challenge and the blackout challenge are just two TikTok challenges which could be very harmful to people who take part in them. So, just what is the Benadryl challenge, what have health experts said about it and what happened to Jacob Stevens? Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Benadryl challenge?

The Benadryl challenge sees people take higher quantities of allergy tablets Benadryl than what is recommended with the aim of experiencing a high from legal medication. It first went viral in 2020, and now appears to be gaining popularity again.

When you search for the hashtag #BenadrylChallenge now, TikTok does show a warning message, and people cannot see any videos showing this content. The message reads: “Some online challenges can be dangerous, disturbing, or even fabricated. Learn how to recognize harmful challenges so you can protect your health and well-being”. People are also advised to think about whether or not the people in the videos have special skills, if something could have gone wrong, and if they are confident that they will be safe if they do it themselves. Another message from TikTok reads “if a challenge is risky or harmful, or you are not sure if it is, don’t do it.”

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TikTok trend the Benadryl challenge has caused harm or even death to young people.TikTok trend the Benadryl challenge has caused harm or even death to young people.
TikTok trend the Benadryl challenge has caused harm or even death to young people.

What happened to Jacob Stevens?

Jacob Stevens, who lived in Ohio, United States, was being filmed attempting the Benadryl challenge when he started having a seizure, according to his father. In an exclusive interview with US news outlet ABC6, Justin Stevens said his 13-year-old son was at home with friends when he overdosed on Benadryl medication. He added: "When he did it all came at once and it was too much for his body.”

Jacob was taken to hospital, where he was placed on a ventilator, but doctors told his family he would not wake up. Justin said: “No brain scan, there was nothing there. They said we could keep him on the vent so that he could lay there but he will never open his eyes, he’ll never breathe, smile, walk or talk." Jacob died six days after he had attempted the challenge earlier this month.

What have health experts said about the Benadryl challenge?

Speaking to NationalWorld, Dr Ross Perry said the trend is “dangerous to even attempt” and warned people against doing it themselves. “In worst case scenarios this can result in death.  Even in mild cases, taking Benadryl can cause side effects such as sleepiness, dry mouth, constipation, and inability to pass urine. You may also experience delirium, psychosis and seizures.”

Dr Gareth Nye, a senior lecturer of anatomy and physiology at Chester Medical School, told NationalWorld that overdosing of particular antihistamine medication can lead to the poisoning of receptors found throughout the body in nerves, cardiovascular system and organs. “Poisoning these receptors leads to paralysis, coma, delirium and in many cases death. Long term use of this medication can also impact your long term ability to fight off infections, disrupt your stomach activity and can impact sexual function.”

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What have the manufacturers of Benadryl said?

Johnson and Johnson have issued an updated statement about the Benadryl challenge on the Benadryl website which warns that “abuse or misuse can lead to serious side effects with potentially long-lasting or even life-threatening consequences” and advises that all medicines should be kept out of the reach of children.

The statement continues: “We understand that consumers may have heard about an online “challenge” involving the misuse or abuse of diphenhydramine. The challenge, which involves ingestion of excessive quantities of diphenhydramine, is a dangerous trend and should be stopped immediately. Benadryl products and other diphenhydramine products should only be used as directed by the label.

“Collaboration and education are critical to putting an end to this dangerous misuse. We are working with TikTok and other social platforms to remove content that showcases this behaviour. We will look to partner across industry and with key stakeholders to address this dangerous behaviour.”

What has TikTok said about the challenge and Jacob Stevens’ death?

Representatives from social media platform TikTok have offered "sympathies" to Jacob Stevens’ family. A statement given to The Mirror read: "Our deepest sympathies go out to the family. At TikTok, we strictly prohibit and remove content that promotes dangerous behaviour with the safety of our community as a priority. We have never seen this type of content trend on our platform and have blocked searches for years to help discourage copycat behaviour. Our team of 40,000 safety professionals works to remove violations of our Community Guidelines and we encourage our community to report any content or accounts they're concerned about."

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