Dramamine is a brand-name motion sickness medicine. Dimenhydrinate—itself a chemical combination of the antihistamine diphenhydramine and a methylxanthine stimulant called 8-chlorotheophylline—comprises the primary active ingredients in Dramamine (original formulation).
Together, these compounds help to alleviate the symptoms associated with motion sickness, such as nausea, dizziness, and vomiting and to offset some of the drowsiness common to this type of treatment.1
What Is Motion Sickness?
Motion sickness is a condition that commonly develops under certain circumstances, such as while boating (especially on choppy waters), sitting on a turbulent flight, or riding in a car on winding roads.
Motion sickness is thought to develop as a result of a mismatch of sensory signals processed by your brain. Your brain receives sensory information from many places, including your eyes, inner ears, joints, and muscles. When the usual processing of these parallel signals is somewhat disrupted—for example, by unusual motion in a car, boat, or plane—you may begin to feel sick.
For example, think about a common scenario that invokes motion sickness: reading in the backseat of the car. Your eyes are looking at something stationary (the book) and you don’t have a clear view of the road (you’re likely looking at the back of the seat in front of you). However, your inner ears send signals to your brain that indicate that you are moving. With these mixed signals, you may start to feel bad quickly. Initially, you may feel slightly uneasy in your stomach, but these feelings can rapidly progress to dizziness and nausea or vomiting.2
While anyone may get motion sick, women (especially those who are pregnant) and children are especially vulnerable.3,4
Motion Sickness Medicines
Motion sickness will usually resolve not long after you remove yourself from the situation that caused you to get sick, and the condition is not especially harmful; however, it can be very distressing. Dramamine and other motion sickness medications can help to lessen your symptoms and provide some relief.
Dramamine primarily acts as an antihistamine. Other brand-name, over-the-counter antihistamines approved to treat the symptoms of motion sickness include:
In some cases, motion sickness/nausea medications may also be prescribed. Each of these medications comes with their own warning labels and instructions for use, so it is important to read the box of the specific medication you are using.
In the case of Dramamine, it is recommended to take the medicine 30–60 minutes before starting an event that may trigger your motion sickness, such as a plane or boat ride.1
There are several different Dramamine products which contain various active ingredients. These include an all-day version and a non-drowsy version. The original formula can be taken every 4–6 hours, but no more than 8 tablets should be taken in a 24-hour period.1
The doses and daily maximums differ for children, so it’s important to read the instructions fully when giving one of these medicines to a child. Dramamine should not be taken by children under 2 years old unless directed by a doctor, and this applies even to the kids’ version of the medicine.1
While Dramamine is generally safe, there are some side effects to be aware of before you take it.
Side Effects of Dramamine
Like any medicine, Dramamine does have some risks and adverse effects. Many of the side effects are mild and will resolve on their own, but it is possible to experience more severe side effects as well. In this case, you should stop using Dramamine right away and seek medical attention, if necessary.
Common side effects of Dramamine include:5
- Dry mouth, nose, and/or throat.
- Excitability in children.
- Blurred vision.
- Ringing in the ears.
More severe side effects that may require medical attention include:5
- Onset of or worsening of dizziness.
- Pounding heart.
- Irregular heartbeat.
Drinking alcohol while taking Dramamine can increase the risks.
Mixing Dramamine with Alcohol
Healthcare professionals warn against mixing Dramamine and alcohol. Alcohol can intensify the side effects of Dramamine, such as drowsiness and dizziness.6
Common side effects of both Dramamine and alcohol are drowsiness and impaired motor coordination. This can be a particularly dangerous combination when someone under the influence of these substances gets behind the wheel of a car or attempts to operate heavy machinery.
Consuming alcohol with motion sickness medicines also increases your risk of overdose.6 Signs of an overdose on Dramamine include:
- Dilated pupils.
- Severe drowsiness.
- Loss of coordination/stumbling.
- Trouble speaking clearly.
- Problems swallowing (dysphagia).
If you, or someone you know, are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it is important to seek emergency medical care right away. A full recovery is likely if the person gets proper medical care and if they survive the first 24 hours.7
Motion Sickness Medicines and Alcohol: Do Not Mix
It is safe to say that motion sickness medicines and alcohol do not mix. Dramamine, like all motion sickness medicines, can interact in dangerous ways with other drugs. It is important to be very cautious when taking Dramamine if you are using any other substance, and alcohol is no exception to this.
If you are going to drink alcohol and want to combat your motion sickness without risking sedation or Dramamine overdose, some alternative methods you can try include:4,8
- Changing your position: This could mean driving the car instead of riding in it, moving from the back seat to the front, or picking a window seat in a plane.
- Keep your head firmly against the back of your seat.
- Staying hydrated.
- Avoiding tobacco.
- Eating small, frequent meals.
- Lying on your back and closing your eyes.
- Sucking on a flavored lozenge.
- Trying distractions such as listening to music or focusing on your breathing.
- Consuming ginger: research has shown it can effectively reduce nausea.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. (2016). Motion Sickness.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2013). Motion Sickness.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Motion Sickness.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. (2018). Dimenhydrinate.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Harmful Interactions, mixing alcohol with medicines.
- Beaufort Memorial. (2017). Dimenhydrinate overdose.
- Lien et. al. (2003). Effects of ginger on motion sickness and gastric slow-wave dysrhythmias induced by circular vection. American Journal of Physiology, 284(3), G481-G489.