Trazodone Addiction: An Unassuming Drug with Dangerous Potential

Many in the medical field consider trazodone safer than other antidepressant drugs because it seems to be less habit-forming.

In contrast, benzodiazepines (another drug used to treat depression) are much more addictive and can cause excruciating side effects when they’re removed from a dependent individual’s routine.

Trazodone, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to cause the same dependency issues and it can be quite helpful in treating depression and a variety of other disorders when used correctly.

However, trazodone is also increasingly becoming a substance of abuse too. Users may take it in higher doses or mix it with other drugs to cause powerful sedative effects and a mild high.

This type of abuse can and does come with a range of serious side effects though, including addiction. And once an addiction is developed, it can be incredibly difficult to overcome it without professional help.

This comprehensive guide to trazodone addiction takes a closer look at this unassuming prescription medications. It outlines what trazodone is, how it works, some of the serious side effects of abusing it, its addictive potential, and what it takes to treat a trazodone addiction.

What Is Trazodone & What Is It Used For?

Trazodone is a medication primarily used to treat depression. As such, it’s classified as an “antidepressant.”

Users who take trazodone properly may experience improvements in mood, appetite, and energy levels as well as decreased anxiety and insomnia.

It is a prescription medication, and it can only be obtained through a physician.

It’s marketed under the following brand names:

  • Desyrel
  • Oleptro
  • Trialodine

While it’s only been approved by the FDA for use in treating major depressive disorder, many doctors also prescribe it for a variety of other reasons. These may include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bulimia
  • Benzo/alcohol dependence
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Central nervous system degenerative diseases
  • Schizophrenia
  • Chronic pain disease
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Sexual dysfunction

Trazodone is not a controlled substance.

A controlled substance is one which is regulated by the government. This can include illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine, and it can also include legal medications obtainable through a valid prescription like OxyContin or Xanax.

These drugs are federally monitored because they have been shown to be especially dangerous and particularly habit-forming. They also tend to have harsher penalties associated with their possession, sale, and trafficking.

But don’t be fooled – just because trazodone doesn’t full under the category of a controlled substance doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

In fact, there are a variety of serious side effects that taking this drug normally can cause. Plus, when it’s combined with other substances or taken in high doses, it can be particularly dangerous and can even cause a life-threatening overdose.

And like other drugs that are considered “non-habit-forming,” trazodone use and abuse can still lead to a debilitating and consuming addiction.

Generally, a narcotic is a drug or other substance that has sleep-inducing properties – which trazodone clearly has.

However, the term has recently been increasingly associated with opioids like OxyContin, Vicodin, and heroin. This association has become so frequent and so widely accepted in the medical community that the term narcotic is now used almost exclusively to refer to opioids.

To sum up then, trazodone is technically a type of narcotic (in the loosest sense of the word) because it has sleep-inducing properties. However, since narcotics are now used almost entirely to describe opioids, most people don’t consider it a narcotic.

How Does Trazodone Work?

Trazodone is an antidepressant that also has sleep-inducing properties – that much we know already. But how does it work specifically?

Well, trazodone is what’s known as a “serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor” or SARI. That means that it specifically affects the way the brain produces and interacts with serotonin – one of the brain’s main chemicals that cells use to communicate with each other.

A few other major communication chemicals in the brain (called neurotransmitters) are acetylcholine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

Experts believe that an imbalance of these messenger chemicals is to blame for disorders like depression and anxiety.

When neurotransmitters are released in the brain, they interact with specialized cells called receptors to cause certain actions (like releasing an electrical charge) in the nerve.

Nerve cells also absorb these chemicals without them interacting with these receptors – a process called reuptake. During reuptake, the neurotransmitters don’t cause the desired effect.

What trazodone does is it actually stops the reuptake of serotonin by nerve cells. And that means that more serotonin remains floating between cells, giving it even more of a chance of interacting with receptors.  

SARIs also tend to stimulate other receptors that are involved with dopamine and other neurotransmitters too.

There are a variety of other antidepressants on the market. But how do they compare to trazodone? And what do they do differently?

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs (Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft) – These drugs deal exclusively with the reuptake of serotonin. And unlike SARIs, they do not have the added effect of reacting with other non-serotonin receptors along the way.
  • Tricyclic Antidepressants or TCAs (Elavil, Anafranil, Norpramin) – One of the earliest antidepressants, these drugs block the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. They also affect other chemicals which often led to numerous unwanted side effects.
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors or MAOIs (Marplan, Nardil, Parnate) – Another early antidepressant, MAOIs have been replaced by more modern drugs with fewer side effects. This type of drug blocks the reuptake of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine – not just serotonin.
  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Klonopin) – These drugs primarily interact with the brain chemical GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) to create its antidepressant effects.

Can Trazodone Be Abused?

It certainly can.

Just like any other medication, trazodone can be and often is used for recreational purposes – even though it’s marketed as non-habit-forming.

It can be taken in especially high doses on its own, it can be used improperly (i.e., snorting), and it can also be mixed with other drugs like alcohol, benzos, or opioids too.

To make matters worse, since this drug is widely thought to be safe and non-addictive, doctors may not be on the same level of alert for drug-seeking behaviors in patients. And that means that getting a legal prescription for recreational purposes may actually be easier with trazodone than with other drugs.

So, what is the trazodone high like anyway? Why do people abuse this drug in the first place?

Well, on its own, trazodone doesn’t create the same euphoric (extremely joyous) high that may be common with other drugs.

However, when it’s abused, it can cause extreme sedation, relaxation, and even auditory hallucinations for some individuals. It may even cause a light mood elevation too. And for some individuals, these effects alone can be particularly appealing.

When it’s mixed with other CNS depressants like alcohol, these effects can end up being even more dramatic too.

One of the most notable side effects of trazodone abuse, though, is extreme drowsiness. Many users report not being able to keep their eyes open a mere 45 minutes after taking the drug. As a result, many people will end up falling asleep before enjoying the moderate effects.

Side Effects of Taking & Abusing Trazodone

As with most prescription medications, taking trazodone can cause a variety of side effects, some of which can be quite dangerous.

In many cases, these side effects are mild when taken in proper doses. However, when it’s used recreationally or alongside other substances, these side effects may become more severe.

Below is a list of the most common side effects of trazodone use and abuse.

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bad taste in mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Weakness or tiredness
  • Nervousness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feeling unsteady when walking
  • Decreased ability to concentrate or remember things
  • Confusion
  • Nightmares
  • Muscle pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Rash
  • Sweating
  • Changes in sexual desire or ability
  • Uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body
  • Numbness, burning, or tingling in the arms, legs, hands, or feet
  • Decreased coordination
  • Tired, red, or itchy eyes
  • Ringing ears

Some side effects of this drug can be quite serious too. If you or a loved one experiences any of the following side effects, be sure to call the doctor or emergency services right away.

  • Chest pain
  • Fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness (coma)
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Painful, long lasting erections

Mixing prescription drugs can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. And just like many other medications, taking trazodone with other drugs can cause a variety of effects – some of which can be deadly.

One particularly serious side effect of mixing trazodone with certain medications is the risk of developing what’s known as serotonin syndrome. This condition occurs when the brain becomes overloaded with serotonin. And it can be life-threatening.

The medications that increase this risk include:

  • Amitriptyline
  • Celexa
  • Cymbalta
  • Flexeril
  • Lexapro
  • Prozac
  • Wellbutrin
  • Zoloft
  • Norco
  • Oxycodone

Certain illicit drugs like ecstasy, LSD, cocaine, and amphetamines are all also associated with serotonin syndrome. And taking them alongside trazodone can make the risk of this condition even higher.

On top of that, there are a variety of other drugs that can increase the negative side effects of taking trazodone such as dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. These drugs include:

  • Abilify
  • Ambien
  • Ativan
  • Benadryl
  • Klonopin
  • Lamictal
  • Lyrica
  • Topamax
  • Xanax

Serotonin syndrome or SS is a serious condition brought on by too much serotonin (a brain chemical) collecting in the body.

Most of the time, it’s caused by taking two different medications that affect serotonin differently. For example, if one drug causes more serotonin to be released and another stops that serotonin from being reabsorbed, these two effects can add up to substantially more serotonin in the brain than usual.

Some symptoms of SS include:

  • Agitation
  • Abnormal eye movement
  • Diarrhea
  • Heavy sweating not due to activity
  • Fever
  • Mental status changes such as confusion or hypomania
  • Muscle spasms
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Shivering
  • Tremor
  • Uncoordinated movements

If left untreated, serotonin syndrome can lead to unconsciousness and death. The severe muscle breakdown caused by tremors can also lead to life-threatening kidney problems as well.

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Is It Possible to Overdose on Trazodone?

Yes.

While trazodone is generally one of the safer prescription CNS depressants, taking too much of it can lead to a serious overdose.

On top of that, mixing this drug with other addictive substances – especially those that decrease the rate of breathing like opioids, alcohol, or benzodiazepines – can lead to severe respiratory depression.

The lack of oxygen to the brain caused by this respiratory depression can cause permanent brain damage too. And that can mean drastic changes and dysfunctions in bodily control, thinking, emotion, and even personality may result.

Ultimately, deaths can occur from overdosing on this drug alone, though these occurrences are rare. It may also cause long-term heart and breathing problems as well.

There are a few signs of a trazodone overdose to be aware of. Some of the most common include:

AIRWAYS AND LUNGS

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stopped breathing

HEART AND BLOOD VESSELS

  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure, sometimes leading to fainting
  • Slow heart rate

NERVOUS SYSTEM

  • Coma (lack of responsiveness)
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Lack of coordination
  • Tremor

OTHER

  • Abnormal erection that lasts for more than 4 hours and can cause permanent damage to the penis.

An overdose on trazodone can be quite serious. And as a result, if you notice the signs above, call 9-1-1 or poison control (1-800-222-1222) immediately. Only the experts here will be able to tell you exactly what to do to treat the victim.

Do not try to make the victim throw up unless you’re told to do so by poison control or a health care provider. Doing so may cause unnecessary damage and result in further complications.

If the victim is unconscious and you have to leave their side to call for help, be sure to place them into the recovery position. This simple step can reduce the risk of choking and other serious conditions.

There are a few pieces of information to have on hand before calling.

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the medicine and the strength of the medicine (if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed
  • If the medicine was prescribed for the person

Being able to provide it quickly and accurately can go a long way towards improving the outcome of the victim.

Is Trazodone Addictive?

Trazodone is regularly used by physicians specifically because it does not seem to be as habit-forming as other medications used to treat the same disorders. Even still, like many other unassuming substances, trazodone abuse can still lead to addictive over time.

According to the FDA label on trazodone products:

Although trazodone hydrochloride has not been systematically studied in preclinical or clinical studies for its potential for abuse, no indication of drug-seeking behavior was seen in the clinical studies with trazodone hydrochloride.

However, just because there wasn’t any indication of drug-seeking behavior in patients in these studies doesn’t mean that trazodone is non-addictive. And in fact, the FDA label continues:

However, it is difficult to predict the extent to with a CNS-active drug will be misused, diverted, and abused.

It also advises prescribing physicians to be especially on the lookout for indications of abuse in patients.

And once that abuse becomes so ingrained in normal everyday behavior, addiction can very easily develop as a result.

To be clear, other drugs are certainly more addictive than trazodone. Substances like crack, heroin, and crystal meth have been shown to cause physical dependency in as little as just a few uses. Prescription opioids, for example, can produce physical tolerance in just a few hours.

But even still, just because there are other drugs that are more addictive doesn’t mean that you or your loved one can’t get hooked on trazodone.

Abuse and addiction aren't one and the same. And while the two often occur alongside one another, someone abusing a drug isn’t always addicted to it.

It’s important, then, to understand that there are fundamental differences between abuse and addiction.

Abuse – Abuse is defined simply enough: any time a substance is used contrary to its intended and legal purpose is considered abuse.

For instance, in the case of illicit drugs like heroin or cocaine, any use of these substances is considered abuse since these drugs are illegal. However, the waters get a little murkier when it comes to legal drugs like prescription medications.

For drugs like trazodone, using it in any way other than how it was prescribed is considered abuse. This covers an especially wide range of activities, some of which many people may not consider. Below are just some examples of how trazodone and other prescription medications can be abused.

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Taking it more frequently than prescribed
  • Taking trazodone at a time other than what was prescribed
  • Taking it with other substances to increase its effects
  • Taking trazodone without a legitimate prescription, even if the rightful owner has the same condition
  • Giving it to someone else, even if they have the same condition
  • Selling trazodone to others or giving it away as a gift

Addiction – Addiction isn’t as cut and dry as abuse. And in fact, many different organizations have their own definition of addiction that may differ from others. That’s because addiction is a brain disease. And as far as we’ve come studying it, it’s still difficult to see exactly what’s going on in the brain of a patient. As such, experts need to rely on spotting the symptoms of addiction in order to diagnose it.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as such: “A chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control, and those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs.”

There are three key points in this definition worth noting.

  1. It is chronic and relapsing, meaning without the proper treatment, it often comes back time and time again.
  2. It involves compulsive drug seeking and use. That means that addicts cannot control their drug use due to the substantial changes in the brain.
  3. Drug use continues despite adverse consequences. Many times, addicts will keep on using a drug while their life falls apart around them.

It is possible, then, to abuse a drug without being addicted to it. However, continued abuse leads to physical changes in the brain over time. Eventually, those changes will make it difficult – if not impossible – to control drug-seeking behaviors and use. And soon enough, addiction can and will develop.

In order to have the absolute best chances of treating an addiction, catching and treating it early on is key. And that means that the sooner you can identify a trazodone addiction, the better your odds are going to be of overcoming it.

Below are just a few ways to help you identify a trazodone addiction (in yourself or in someone you love) before it's too late.

  • Take a Short Online QuizThis may be the quickest and easiest way of getting a better idea of how bad the problem has gotten. It usually only takes a few minutes to complete, and it can go a long way towards putting you or your loved one on the path to recovery.
  • Use NIDA’s Self-Assessment ToolsThese tools are used by one of the country’s most trusted authorities on addiction. And there are plenty of different ones to choose from – whether you only have a few minutes to spare or you’d like to take a much deeper dive.
  • Have a Look At the DSM-V GuidelinesThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.) is the official book used by practicing physicians and psychiatrists all over the world. It provides 11 scenarios that may indicate a substance use disorder (addiction). And if you or your loved one has experienced more than two in the last year, chances are it means addiction has set in.
  • Talk to An Addiction ProfessionalFinally, talking to a qualified addiction professional is often the absolute best way of determining whether or not addiction is present. And on top of that, these phone calls require no obligation, are 100% free, and typically last less than 20 minutes. It also offers callers the chance to ask questions, get clarification, and understand what options are best suited for their particular situation.

Treating a Trazodone Addiction

It’s widely agreed by most health organizations that addiction is a disease. And as such, it requires actual treatment to overcome.

For some, this treatment might come in the form of local support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. And it’s true that these groups provide a wealth of support that can go a long way towards kicking a substance abuse habit to the curb for good.

But as helpful as they may be, they often aren’t enough for the overwhelming majority of addicts to get clean permanently.

That’s where professional addiction treatment programs come in. These programs are designed to offer the absolute best chances for future sobriety. That’s because they’re built off of empirical data from peer-reviewed studies and a run by qualified professionals including physicians, psychiatrists, and certified nursing staff.

When it comes to professional treatment, there are three main steps involved: detoxification, rehabilitation, and aftercare.

Detoxification is usually the very first stage of a professional treatment program. It deals exclusively with the initial stage of quitting when the body is forced to get used to functioning normally without the addictive substance.

This adjustment period is typically accompanied by a range of uncomfortable and even deadly physical and mental symptoms known as withdrawals. And these withdrawals can often be so uncomfortable that many recovering addicts will turn back to substance abuse simply to get some form of relief.

For trazodone specifically, withdrawals tend to vary depending on the severity of abuse and the duration of the addiction. But in most cases, the withdrawals may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia

For some, this may seem easier to handle than withdrawals of other drugs. Heroin, for instance, tends to cause severe nausea, diarrhea, muscle aches, and other flu-like symptoms, many of which are quite uncomfortable.

However, these mental withdrawals can actually be just as tortuous as physical ones when not treated appropriately. And in certain extreme cases, they can actually be even more life-threatening without the proper care due to the risk of self-harm.

A professional detoxification program will help treat these symptoms and ensure that patients remain safe throughout the trying withdrawal process. They’ll also make sure that patients stay comfortable along the way, making it far less likely that they’ll relapse.

The exact length of a detox program will depend on a number of factors including the severity of the addiction and the type of drug that was abused. The video below dives a little bit deeper into these factors and detox as a whole – so you can know what to expect.

This is the second stage of treatment. While detox deals primarily with the physical side of addiction, rehabilitation is more concerned with the mental side.

By using evidence-based treatments like one-on-one counseling, group talk, and behavioral therapies, these programs help to reverse the compulsive drug-seeking behaviors that often go along with addiction.

There are three main types of rehabilitation programs.

  • InpatientAn inpatient program requires patients to actually stay on campus grounds over the course of treatment (~30 days). This more controlled environment offers a higher level of care. However, the tradeoff here is that they can make it quite hard to attend school or a job at the same time.  
  • Outpatient – This program is much more flexible than inpatient. Rather than 24/7 care, outpatient programs require patients to come in for treatment sessions on certain evenings only. That way, patients can do as they please throughout the day and night. However, less intensive care may also make the risk of relapsing even higher.
  • Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) – These outpatient programs offer a higher level of care. Usually around 3 months, treatment sessions in these programs typically last longer and occur more frequently throughout the week. 

But finding the right rehab center to meet your specific needs can be tough. The video below will help you figure out the right questions to ask during your search for the right rehabilitation facility.

After graduating from an addiction treatment program, the struggle with cravings and powerful triggers isn’t over. And for many, the period following professional treatment is when the real struggle begins.

Part of this struggle comes from the fact that recovering addicts in this phase often don’t get the same level of support that they’ve grown accustomed to in a professional program. And ultimately, that leads them to lose motivation, give in to temptation, and sometimes go through a full-blown relapse.

Aftercare programs are designed to provide much-needed ongoing support after a professional program. Many recovering addicts attend these programs years and even decades after quitting. And in addition to keeping them motivated to stay sober, they also connect recovering addicts with others in similar situations, thus expanding their social support network.

Some aftercare programs used today may include:

  • Outpatient Professional Programs after receiving inpatient care
  • 12-Step Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous
  • 12-Step alternative support groups like SMART Recovery
  • One-on-one counseling with a professional therapist
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Overcoming Trazodone Addiction with Northpoint Washington

While trazodone may appear harmless on the surface, abusing this prescription drug can very easily lead to a serious substance use disorder. And like any other addiction, it can cause substantial problems in nearly every aspect of a user’s life.

That’s why it’s so important to know how to identify the signs of a trazodone addiction and to understand how best to treat it.

At Northpoint Washington, we provide the most high-quality detoxification and rehabilitation services in the Pacific Northwest. Our inpatient and medical detox services ensure that each of our patients gets the level of comprehensive care that’s been proven to give recovering addicts the best shot at long-term recovery.

Our facility in Edmonds, Washington offers fully individualized programs including dual diagnosis specialties and a variety of holistic treatments not found anywhere else. Plus, our staff-to-patient ratio is one of the highest in the area, so you can be sure you’re always getting the attention you deserve.

We’re also proud to be nationally accredited by the Joint Commission – a testament to our commitment to only the highest standards.

In the end, we are passionate about recovery. And we’d love to be a part of your journey to sobriety. So, give us a call, send us a message, or chat live with us today to get started.

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