Is Recreational Prazosin Use Dangerous? How to Stay Safe

Medically Reviewed

Doctors prescribe prazosin to treat high blood pressure. However, it has been prescribed “off-label” for various conditions not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) including an enlarged prostate, congestive heart failure, Raynaud’s disease, and most notably, the sleep-related problems associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

In fact, prazosin has even been prescribed to treat scorpion stings

As with any drug, whether prescription or illicit, prazosin can produce psychotropic effects when abused. Its use can cause uncomfortable side effects, from lightheadedness and vomiting to fainting and depression.

Unlike benzodiazepines or alcohol, prazosin overdose is not life-threatening.

Still, the recreational use of prazosin can be dangerous. Read on to learn more about this medication and the steps you can take to break dependence and addiction.  

What is Prazosin?

The alarming prevalence of high blood pressure in the U.S. makes medication a necessity for many, as 1 in 3 U.S. adults (about 75 million) have the condition. That’s why alpha-blocker medications such as prazosin have such value.  

Prazosin works by relaxing the blood vessels, which allows the blood to flow more easily through the body. It can be administered by itself to treat high blood pressure or in combination with diuretic or beta-blocker medications. Prazosin, which comes as a tablet or capsule, is sold under the brand name of Minipress and is available in generic form.

A popular, “off-label” use for prazosin is to treat the sleep disorders that come with PTSD, a condition that causes people to relive traumatic incidents and suffer nightmares from events they have experienced or witnessed.

“Off-label” means the drug has not gained FDA approval to treat PTSD, but doctors can legally prescribe it or any treatment so long as it meets a patient’s needs. What’s more, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) have stated that prazosin is effective in treating the nightmares experienced by military combat personnel. 

A small study suggested, however, that prazosin may make nightmares and insomnia associated with PTSD worse. It also found that the drug may not reduce suicidal thoughts in patients who have PTSD.

What’s more, prazosin can produce effects that make recreational use dangerous. 

Why is Recreational Prazosin Use Dangerous?

Prazosin use isn’t life-threatening in the way that more potent substances like opioids and stimulants are. However, it is capable of producing concerning effects. For one, upon first use, prazosin can cause someone to experience dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting if they get up too quickly from a lying down position after taking the medication.

Also, prazosin can make users drowsy to the point where driving a car or operating machinery becomes a dangerous endeavor.

Plus, the use of this medication can cause troubling side effects, both common and not-so-common. Common side effects associated with prazosin include: 

  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Low blood pressure

The serious, not-so-common side effects can include:

  • Rash
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Painful, prolonged erection in men

Prazosin does not pose the addiction potential of sedative medications such as zolpidem (Ambien), temazepam (Restoril), and zaleplon (Sonata). Still, if enough of this medication is taken, it can produce a psychotropic effect. That result is enough to cause users to exceed their dosage to chase the effect that a previous dose yielded.

What’s more, any substance can produce dependence in a user, which the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines as a state in which the body only functions normally when a substance is present. Tolerance and dependence can quickly decline into addiction when someone exhibits compulsive behaviors in seeking the drug. Prazosin is no different.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), there are 11 criteria for drug addiction that help clinicians diagnose addiction disorders. If someone shows at least two of these symptoms over 12 months, they may have a substance use disorder:

  • Taking more of the drug than intended, for a longer period than intended
  • A persistent desire to stop taking drugs or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit taking drugs
  • A lot of time spent trying to get drugs, abuse them, and/or recover from their effects
  • Intense cravings or urges for specific drugs
  • Failing to go to work or school, or to meet obligations to friends and family because of drug abuse
  • Ongoing drug abuse despite the physical, mental, emotional, or social problems associated with the abuse
  • Giving up hobbies or activities to abuse drugs
  • Ongoing abuse of drugs in inappropriate situations, like using them in the morning before work, driving while intoxicated, or abusing drugs around children
  • Experiencing physical or psychological problems due to substance abuse but continuing to abuse drugs anyway
  • Physical tolerance, meaning the body needs more of the drug to experience the original level of intoxication
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when trying to quit the drug

If you have been prescribed Minipress or generic prazosin and have exhibited any of the aforementioned addiction symptoms, then it is imperative that you seek professional addiction treatment. This is especially true if you have abused prazosin with alcohol and other drugs.

What is Involved in Prazosin Addiction Treatment?

A substance like prazosin is not addictive when compared to opioids and benzodiazepines. Thus, addiction may not require the more intensive levels of care that are the cornerstones of professional treatment.

However, if you are abusing prazosin with alcohol or other drugs, the consequences can be more pronounced, if not life-threatening. In those cases, the most effective treatment plan will require medical detoxification and residential treatment. In detox, the substances will be removed from your system while any withdrawal symptoms, effects, or medical issues are addressed and alleviated.
Off-White pills on an off-white table

Residential treatment will offer you ongoing care at a treatment facility, where you will live for a specific period. At this level, you will receive therapy and counseling that help you get to the root of your addiction. In cases of polysubstance abuse, a 90-day stay in residential treatment is recommended.

Because prazosin is a psychotropic addiction, it is still capable of producing psychological addiction. That’s why outpatient treatment via an intensive outpatient (IOP) or partial hospitalization (PHP) program is an effective solution.

Any of these tracts will allow you access to evidence-based therapies while giving you the freedom and flexibility to attend to your life obligations. Ultimately, professional treatment is your safest means of avoiding the consequences that come with recreational prazosin use.

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