Trazodone—formerly branded Desyrel and Oleptro—is an antidepressant used for major depressive disorder. It is classified as an atypical antidepressant; it does not belong to the usual classes of antidepressants (SSRIs, MAOIs, or tricyclic antidepressants). It’s categorized as a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor, or SARI.
While its mechanism of action if not fully understood, trazodone is said to increase the activity of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is produced naturally in the body, and it helps to bring about a feeling of calm and wellness. By boosting serotogenic activity, trazodone can help to treat major depressive disorder as well as insomnia and may be useful as an adjunctive treatment for conditions like schizophrenia, anxiety, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.
How Common Is Trazodone Abuse?
In the US, there’s been an increase in all prescription drug abuse, including abuse of antidepressants. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 20% of all Americans over age 12 had used a prescription drug for nonmedical purposes at some point in their lives. While most people don’t misuse trazodone, it does happen.
According to an article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, trazodone is thought to have a lower abuse liability than benzodiazepine drugs like triazolam or other hypnotics prescribed for insomnia, which may be why its off-label use for the treatment of insomnia has surpassed its use for the management of major depression. However, the side effects of trazodone may be a concern and include symptoms such as orthostatic hypotention, priapism (painful, lasting erections), and cardiac arrhythmias. These side effects may be enough of a concern that some users want to discontinue the medication. Abruptly stopping, however, may trigger some withdrawal symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of Trazodone Withdrawal?
Individuals may experience a general unwell feeling when abruptly stopping trazodone. The symptoms tend to be worse for those who take more than the recommended dose. It’s not meant to be taken via any other route than orally, so those who snort or inject the drug often experience more discomfort during withdrawal than those who use it as intended. Duration of use plays a role in how uncomfortable the withdrawal symptoms are as well, with those who use the drug for longer generally experiencing more intense symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms that may arise from suddenly stopping trazodone may include:
- Blurred vision
- Rapid mood swings
- Ringing in the ears
Because the drug is used to treat depression and insomnia, depressive symptoms or problems sleeping will likely return after stopping the drug.
What Are the Long-Term Dangers of Trazodone Use?
Those who abuse trazodone over prolonged periods of time place themselves at risk for long-term effects. Abuse of trazodone over a long period of time may be especially perilous for young people, who are at an increased risk of suicidal thoughts while using the drug and when increasing the dose.
While trazodone is generally safe and effective when used as directed for its intended purpose, when someone abuses trazodone for extended periods of time, they may experience more or more intense side effects of the drug.