Depression affects millions of people each year. While most people will seek treatment for the condition and be prescribed medication like trazodone, others might succumb to their symptoms and self-medicate. Self-medication with alcohol is all too common, and each year more people lose their lives due to alcohol than fentanyl. But have you ever wondered what happens if you combine trazodone and alcohol? Is it safe to mix the two? We’ll answer the questions below and also discuss better options for overcoming the conditions that cause you to drink.
What Is Trazodone?
Trazodone, also known as Oleptro and Desyrel, is an FDA-approved tetracyclic antidepressant that helps people manage depression symptoms. However, with various modern options on the market, trazodone is seldom used alone to treat the condition despite having multiple therapeutic uses for conditions that accompany major depression. It’s also prescribed off-label to manage insomnia.
When people mix trazodone with alcohol, it can lead to increased levels of intoxication that result in extreme drowsiness and risk of overdose or death, especially when excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed. Long-term use of trazodone and alcohol can also lead to physical dependence, withdrawal, or addiction.
Unlike modern antidepressants, which are mostly made up of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), trazodone is a serotonin receptor antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI), and the medical community believes the drug increases serotonergic activity in the central nervous system (CNS). It achieves this by inhibiting neuronal reuptake of serotonin by acting as an antagonist on a specific subset of serotonin receptors. Antidepressants like trazodone reduce the symptoms of major depressive disorder.
Doctors often prescribe this medication off-label to manage a broad range of conditions, such as anxiety, insomnia, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, substance abuse, fibromyalgia, and bulimia nervosa. Although this medication has many uses, that doesn’t mean it’s free of side effects or adverse reactions.
Trazodone Side Effects
Trazodone effectively manages depression. However, it produces side effects, some of which can be severe, especially when it’s used with alcohol. The most common trazodone side effects include the following:
- Dry mouth
- Uncoordinated movements
- Blurred vision
While most side effects will dissipate a few weeks after you start taking the medication, some could warrant concern. Rare and more severe trazodone side effects include the following:
- Serotonin syndrome, a severe and potentially fatal reaction that causes irregular heartbeat, hallucinations, and coma
- The risk of suicidal thoughts or actions
- Irregular heart rhythms and risk of sudden death
- Increased bleeding risk, especially when used with Ibuprofen or other anticoagulants
- Low sodium levels in the blood, known as hyponatremia
- Cognitive impairment
- Painful or long-lasting erection in men, known as priapism
- Severe motor impairment
If you experience severe side effects as a result of trazodone, you must contact your doctor immediately.
Alcohol and Your Body
While most of the United States has focused on squashing the scourge called fentanyl, we continue to overlook a substance that causes mass death – alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a staggering 95,000 people died last year due to alcohol-related causes, not accounting for other conditions that result from drinking. Alcohol is considered the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, behind tobacco, poor diet, and physical inactivity. In 2019, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities caused 10,142 deaths, 28.0 percent of overall driving fatalities.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and acts on various neural targets and neurotransmitter systems. It’s believed to achieve its intoxicating effects by decreasing the effect of excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain and increasing inhibitory neurotransmitters. Excitatory neurotransmitters are responsible for stimulating the brain, whereas inhibitory neurotransmitters produce sedative effects.
Despite its legality and ease of access for any 21 or older, it’s easily one of the most dangerous drugs in existence. Of the 85,688 liver disease deaths in 2019, 43.1 percent of them involved alcohol. Of all the cirrhosis deaths in 2015, 49.5 percent were due to alcohol. Alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of drowning, falls, injuries from violence, and motor vehicle crashes. Alcohol by itself is deadly, but when it’s combined with a drug like trazodone, the effects can be disastrous. The most common side effects include:
- Diminished reaction times
- Poor coordination
- Blurred vision
- Lowered inhibitions
- Poor decision making
- Decreased alertness
As you can see, both drugs have the potential to be dangerous, but can you abuse trazodone?
Can You Abuse Trazodone?
When used as prescribed, trazodone is an effective means of treating depression. These types of drugs are not associated with a rewarding or euphoric high that other prescription drugs like opioids, benzos, or stimulants produce. For that reason, trazodone is not considered a drug of abuse, and clinical studies have proven there is no evidence of drug-seeking behavior in those taking it or extensive abuse. Most people who take antidepressants like trazodone will not abuse them. Trazodone overdoses are also not common — however, they can occur. In the rare case of antidepressant abuse, the individual has a history of substance abuse or significant mood disorders.
The Dangers of Mixing Trazodone and Alcohol
Drinking while taking trazodone can worsen the conditions the antidepressant is prescribed to treat and amplify the effects of alcohol. Since both are central nervous system depressants, using them together is risky due to the side effects their drug interactions cause. These include the following:
- Increased intoxication
- Inability to concentrate
- Impairment in thinking and judgment
- Dramatic mood swings
- Increased depression or anxiety
If you’re prescribed trazodone off-label to manage insomnia, it’s possible that alcohol can worsen your symptoms. Despite being a depressant, alcohol is linked to poor sleep quality and short sleep duration. Drinking can make it harder for you to fall asleep at night, even if it makes you sleepy, but it also causes severe sleep disruptions and interferes with the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep.
If you’re currently taking trazodone for depression, mixing it with alcohol can actually worsen your mood. Since alcohol is linked to depression, it will counteract the effects you’re taking the drug for and make you feel worse. Some people self-medicate with alcohol to manage their depression, but its impact on your brain increases the risk of depression. Self-harm and suicide are prevalent in those who struggle with drinking, and it’s vital that you’re careful about drinking, especially if you have a history of low mood.
Although trazodone is not a drug of abuse, both substances can result in physical dependence and withdrawal. However, alcohol withdrawal is incredibly dangerous and requires professional medical treatment to overcome it.
Can Alcohol and Trazodone Be Fatal?
Unfortunately, such data does not exist to prove a correlation between alcohol, trazodone, and death. However, both drugs can be deadly in their own right when taken in excessive amounts. While antidepressant overdoses are rare, they can occur. Alcohol poisoning and overdose are more common.
When users consume extremely high doses of trazodone, it can lead to central nervous system depression, heart rhythm issues, or serotonin syndrome, which we touched on above. In that same breath, alcohol poisoning can also lead to excessive central nervous system depression that causes breathing problems or death. For this reason, the possibility of dying from a trazodone or alcohol overdose is possible, given the history of each substance.
Trazodone is sometimes prescribed to manage the symptoms of insomnia a person encounters during alcohol withdrawal. In this case, taking the medication under medical supervision for alcohol withdrawal can be helpful. However, one study found that taking trazodone during alcohol withdrawal was linked to lower rates of alcohol abstinence.
Treating Polysubstance Abuse
If you’re struggling with polysubstance abuse caused by alcohol and trazodone, you might be feeling overwhelmed and hopeless right now, especially if you’re taking the medication to manage your mood or fall asleep. For that reason, it might be challenging to balance your mental health and substance abuse. Fortunately, help is available to you to overcome these challenges. You must consider the dangers of these two drugs, especially if you’re abusing them. It’s not worth your life. With the right help, anything is possible – do not delay it any longer.