Trazodone is a drug that has effects similar to antidepressant medications but also boasts hypnotic traits which means it can induce sleep.
It is often prescribed to treat insomnia, anxiety, and unipolar depression, though, it is primarily used to treat depression. Depression can affect people from all walks of life and does not discriminate against their socioeconomic background. There is a stigma that surrounds depression and mental health which means not everyone will get the help they need.
It is common that people who see someone depressed will view them as weak or tell them to simply “get over it,” but depression does not work that way.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) defined a major depressive episode as at least two weeks of a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities. Other symptoms that can be experienced during a depressive episode include sleep issues, changes in appetite and weight, decreased energy or daily fatigue, inability to concentrate or make decisions, slow physical movements, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. These symptoms can cause distress or impairment in someone’s social, occupational, or educational functioning. Depression is not all in someone’s head contrary to popular belief and is a very serious disorder affecting millions of people.
Worldwide, 300 million people are currently struggling with depression, and 16.2 million of those are adults in the United States. It affects 6.7 percent of our population who have all said they experienced a major depressive episode in the past 12 months.
Another 10.3 million adults in the United States have described an episode that resulted in severe impairment in the past year, and 50 percent of all people diagnosed with depression are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Lastly, 15 percent of the adult population will all develop depression at some time or another in their lives.
Unless you have personally dealt with depression, it is hard to understand how crippling the disorder can be. Those who deal with it often isolate themselves because they don’t have the strength to go into the outside world.
Scientists for several decades have worked diligently to create medications that can assist people and overcome the challenges they face in daily life, and one of those drugs is called Trazodone. While it has helped many of those in their battle with depression, it can become habit-forming and lead to physical dependence.
What is Trazodone
Trazodone is classified as an antidepressant and even more specifically, an atypical antidepressant because of its classification as a serotonin modulator.
What this means is that the drug is not chemically related to other antidepressant medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO inhibitors). It is more chemically related to nefazodone and acts in a similar fashion.
A serotonin modulator is a specific type of drug that works on the serotonin neurotransmitter in several ways.
These drugs were created to address the fact there are many serotonin subtype receptors, and that not all receptors are involved in the effects of SSRI’s which are reuptake inhibitors.
Trazodone, as an unintended side effect, can help treat insomnia because it doesn’t affect brain functionality or thinking like benzodiazepines.
Unfortunately, there is believed to be a risk of abuse with the drug. Similar to other hypnotic Z-drugs like Ambien, in high doses, trazodone can cause hallucinations, and there are severe risks associated with taking too much of it.
What are the Side Effects of Trazodone?
Trazodone comes with its fair share of warnings and mentions on the box that taking the drug can increase the risk of becoming suicidal. The risk of suicide is most significant when starting treatment, increasing the dose, or decreasing the dose of trazodone. Depression can become worse before it gets better when someone begins using the medication, and if this is the case, you must alert friends or family members about worsening symptoms. If you have thought of suicide, you must immediately contact your primary care physician.
Side effects of using Trazodone include:
- Priapism (An erection lasting more than six hours)
- Low blood pressure or feeling faint when standing
- Blurred vision
- Bruising or bleeding more than normal
- Heart rate abnormalities
- Low sodium levels in the blood
One major risk that can occur as a result of using the drug is a phenomenon known as serotonin syndrome. The serious disorder causes hallucinations, mental confusion, coordination problems, difficulty walking, rapid heart rate, agitations, tight muscles, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Long-term side effects associated with trazodone use include:
- Short-term memory dysfunctions
- Verbal learning issues
- Equilibrium disruption
- Next-day memory performance problems
- Difficulties with arm muscle endurance
Long-term prescription use of trazodone carries a severe set of risks that can sometimes be outweighed by the benefits, however, if you are abusing the drug you place yourself at a higher risk of overdose which could be deadly.
What are the Signs of Trazodone Abuse?
When a medication is taken on a consistent basis, our bodies grow accustomed to the dose and start to require higher doses to achieve the same effects – this is defined as tolerance, and there is evidence that trazodone, like other drugs, can cause this. When the dose increases, so do the odds of developing a physical dependence on the medication. Physical dependence is when the brain can no longer regulate the levels of chemical messengers in the body without the disruption of the drug.
If Trazodone is not present at its usual dose, it can cause withdrawal symptoms, and since it increases serotonin levels in the brain, the brain can struggle to keep the levels balanced and within a normal range without interaction of the medicine. The levels of serotonin may drop when the drug wears off, and the withdrawal symptoms associated with it can be nasty. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include:
- An inability to experience pleasure
- Mood swings
- Ringing in the ears
- Shock sensations known as “brain zaps.”
An irregular heart rate or blood pressure as well rebound depression are among other side effects that can be experienced. Due to the low levels of serotonin in the brain, thoughts of suicide or acts of suicide can occur. If you decide to stop using trazodone, you must consult with your doctor to begin the process of weaning off appropriately. The doctor will develop a gradual taper of the medication that allows withdrawal symptoms to be minimized. With that said, you will still experience symptoms, but this process will lessen them instead of going cold-turkey. It will also reduce the stress on your body.
You may also be prescribed other medications to alleviate some of the symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms you could experience during a taper include:
- Mood swings
- Sleep issues
If you feel that you need additional help getting off of trazodone, a medical detox program can be necessary to give you the extra boost you need.