Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
Trazodone is a tetracyclic antidepressant medication that acts on serotonin levels in the brain to regulate moods. It can also be prescribed for insomnia and sleep disorders.
Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain that serves to moderate moods, attention, appetite, and energy levels. It changes the chemical makeup of the brain and can boost moods, which can make a candidate for abuse.
Trazodone is not typically considered to be habit-forming when used as directed, but recreational use of the medication can lead to drug dependence and potential addiction. Stopping trazodone suddenly, or “cold turkey,” after dependence is formed can lead to difficult withdrawal symptoms, which can make it hard to stop taking the drug without medical intervention and professional help.
Trazodone addiction is often managed with the aid of medications, therapies, and supportive treatment methods.
What Is Trazodone?
Trazodone is a serotonin modulator. While it is primarily used to treat depression, it is also prescribed for sleep disorders and schizophrenia.
Trazodone belongs to the SARI drug class, making it a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor. This means that it increases levels of serotonin, one of the brain’s neurotransmitters (or chemical messengers) that help to regulate mood, appetite, and energy levels.
Brand names of trazodone include the following:
Trazodone can also be misused and taken recreationally for its relaxing and sedative effects. On the street, it is often called sleepeasy. When abused, it is often taken with other drugs or alcohol.
Trazodone is intended to be taken orally. Misuse can include chewing the tablet, crushing and snorting or smoking it with other drugs such as meth or marijuana, or adding it to alcohol and drinking it.
How Does Trazodone Impact the Mind & Body?
Trazodone works in the brain by acting as both a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (blocking the reabsorption of serotonin back into the brain so that the levels of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter remain higher) and a serotonin receptor antagonist. It is not a true SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), although it acts similarly to these drugs.
Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers involved in keeping moods even, helping you to feel balanced, energetic, and attentive. In this way, trazodone can help with symptoms of depression — by elevating moods, focus, appetite, and energy levels, all of which can be negatively impacted when depressed.
Trazodone can have sedative effects and make you feel drowsy, dizzy, lightheaded, or faint upon standing up too quickly. It can affect your movements and ability to think clearly. It can also cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation as well as sexual problems, tremors, muscle pain, and weakness.
What Are the Effects of Taking Trazodone?
Trazodone is most commonly prescribed to treat major depressive disorder (MDD). When taken as directed for depression, trazodone can help to improve low moods and energy levels, increase focus and concentration, and enhance appetite.
It tends to have fewer side effects than other SSRI medications. It is considered safe and effective when taken as intended and directed.
Trazodone use, and especially misuse, can have serious risks, however. Trazodone use —particularly when mixed with other serotonergic agents such as triptans, SNRIs, or SSRIs — can lead to the dangerous serotonergic syndrome, which can lead to diarrhea, chills, muscle rigidity, fever, seizures, and even death.
It can potentially lead to increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors in young adult and pediatric users.
Long-term use or abuse of trazodone can lead to drug dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and even possibly addiction.
Trazodone Dependence vs. Addiction
When taken as prescribed and under the direction of a medical or mental health professional, trazodone is not considered to be very habit-forming. When misused, however, it can lead to drug dependence and addiction.
One of the symptoms of drug addiction is often dependence, but you can be dependent on a drug without being addicted to it. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use while dependence is a physical and/or psychological “need” to take the drug.
- Physical side effects when you stop taking the drug (withdrawal symptoms)
- Mood swings based on when you are taking the drug and when you are not
- Cravings for the drug
- Needing to take more of the drug to feel the effects (drug tolerance)
- Taking more of the drug at a time or for longer than intended in a sitting
- Inability to stop taking the drug even if you want to and have tried to
- Behavioral changes and shifts in personality
- Interpersonal issues related to drug use
- Compulsive drug-seeking and using behavior
- Issues at work, school, or home
- Physical or mental health issues due to drug use
Drug dependence occurs when trazodone makes chemical changes in the brain, and the system adapts to the drug’s persistent interaction. Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease that impacts you socially, interpersonally, physically, and psychologically.
Is Trazodone Addictive?
Typically, trazodone is not considered to be highly addictive. However, regular abuse of trazodone can lead to drug dependence and addiction.
Risks for addiction are compounded when trazodone is abused and used with other drugs or alcohol. Taking the drug in a way other than it is prescribed (such as chewing it, crushing it and snorting or smoking it, or any use without a valid prescription) can raise the odds for the onset of addiction.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Trazodone Addiction?
Addiction can cause changes in behavior, physical appearance, mental state, and social life. Signs of trazodone addiction can include the following:
- Using trazodone without a prescription or outside of the way it was prescribed
- Exaggerating symptoms or visiting multiple doctors to get more prescriptions of trazodone
- Unsuccessful attempts to stop using trazodone
- Pervasive thoughts about using trazodone and a lot of time spent obtaining it, using it, and recovering from it
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Social circle changes, increased secrecy, and isolation
- Shift in personality
- Using trazodone in physically hazardous situations
- Continuing to use trazodone even when it has negative mental, physical, and interpersonal consequences
- Cravings for trazodone
- Drug tolerance
- Drug dependence and withdrawal symptoms when you aren’t using trazodone
What Are the Causes of Trazadone Addiction?
Addiction can be caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Some of the potential risk factors for addiction include the following:
- Method of trazodone abuse (for example, altering it and taking it recreationally increase the odds for addiction)
- Mixing trazodone with other drugs or alcohol
- Family or personal history of addiction
- Underlying mental health condition
- Living in a stressful environment or high amounts of stress in your life
- Childhood trauma
- Easy access to trazodone and being around family or friends who abuse drugs
What Are the Symptoms of Trazodone Withdrawal?
Trazodone is not a drug you should stop taking suddenly, as this can cause withdrawal symptoms to set in. Withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Low mood
- Paresthesia (electric shock sensations)
Can You Overdose on Trazodone?
Trazodone overdose is possible, and it can be a medical emergency.
When trazodone is mixed with alcohol or other drugs, especially other sedatives or central nervous system depressants such as opioids or benzodiazepines, the risk for a potentially life-threatening overdose goes up.
If you suspect an overdose, seek immediate professional assistance.
Symptoms of an Overdose
Symptoms of a trazodone overdose can include the following:
- Breathing issues
- Irregular heart rate
- Drowsiness or loss of consciousness
- Priapism (painful erection that will not go away)
Treatment Options for Addiction to Trazodone
Trazodone addiction treatment will depend on each person, as there are different levels and stages of care. Treatment programs will often include the following components:
- Behavioral therapies
- Group and individual therapy
- Life skills training sessions
- Simultaneous management of any co-occurring mental health or medical condition
- Family therapy
- Support groups
- Aftercare planning and support
Levels of treatment for trazodone addiction include the following:
- Detox: This first stage of treatment will commonly include the use of medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. For trazodone, it can also include a slow tapering of the medication to safely achieve physical stability.
- Outpatient treatment programs: This can range from highly structured programs that meet several times a week for several hours at a time to weekly sessions. Outpatient treatment can often be scheduled according to a person’s needs and obligations.
- Inpatient rehab: This includes around-the-clock monitoring, support, and structured care to provide a high level of comprehensive medical and mental health management. This is usually reserved for severe or more complex cases of addiction, particularly those involving co-occurring disorders.
- Aftercare programs: Peer support groups, transitional living situations, and recovery support are often part of aftercare programs, helping to sustain recovery for the long term.
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Trazodone: A Multifunctional Antidepressant. Evaluation of Its Properties and Real-World Use. (June 2021). Journal of Gerontology and Geriatrics.