Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Trazodone Bad For You?

Also Known As: Desyrel, Oleptro



Short answer

Trazodone can be beneficial for treating depression, insomnia, and anxiety with a low risk of dependency. However, it may cause various side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, or more severe conditions like priapism and serotonin syndrome. Proper use under medical supervision is crucial, especially to minimize withdrawal symptoms and to avoid interactions with other medications. Long-term use requires ongoing evaluation of risks and benefits due to potential effects on cognitive and cardiovascular health.



Long answer

Mechanism of Action and Primary Uses of Trazodone

Trazodone is a medication primarily used in the treatment of major depressive disorder. However, due to its sedative effects, it's also commonly prescribed off-label to treat insomnia. Understanding the mechanism of action of trazodone is essential when evaluating its therapeutic benefits and potential side effects.

Mechanism of Action: Trazodone is classified as a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI). Its primary function is to modulate neurotransmitters in the brain, the chemicals that nerves use to communicate with each other. More specifically, trazodone has three main actions:

  • Serotonin Reuptake Inhibition: Trazodone blocks the reabsorption (reuptake) of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, thereby increasing levels of serotonin and prolonging its activity.
  • Antagonist Action: The drug also acts as an antagonist at certain serotonin receptors (5-HT2A, 5-HT2C, and 5-HT2B), which can lead to reduction in serotonin-associated anxiety and insomnia.
  • Heteroreceptor Blocking: Trazodone also partially blocks the histamine and alpha-1 adrenergic receptors, which contributes to its sedative effects and is a possible reason it's effective at promoting sleep.

This multifaceted pharmacological profile makes trazodone unique among antidepressants, as it simultaneously targets different pathways in the brain to alleviate depressive symptoms while also aiding sleep.

Primary Uses:

  1. Depression: Trazodone is approved by the FDA for the treatment of major depressive disorder. It helps alleviate symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, and lack of interest in daily activities.
  2. Insomnia: Although not FDA-approved for this use, trazodone is often prescribed to treat sleeplessness. Its sedative effects can be particularly beneficial for patients with depression who also suffer from insomnia.
  3. Anxiety: Some studies suggest trazodone can help reduce anxiety symptoms, potentially due to its effects on serotonin and histamine receptors.

Despite these primary uses, it is important to note that trazodone's efficacy for treating insomnia without depression has not been well established in long-term, controlled studies. Reviewing the literature, a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found trazodone to be beneficial for insomnia in the short term, but there was insufficient evidence of its effectiveness or safety for long-term use as a sleep aid.

Coupled with these uses, trazodone's side effect profile, which includes drowsiness, dizziness, and sometimes priapism (prolonged erection), are considerations for its prescription. The sedative side effects may actually be advantageous in patients with insomnia, although they can be problematic for others.

Trazodone is an example of how a medication's therapeutic value is directly linked to its pharmacological action. Its use, whether according to FDA approval or off-label, is a decision that clinicians make based on individual patient profiles and clinical judgement, always aiming to balance potential benefits against associated risks.

Common Side Effects of Trazodone Usage

Trazodone is a medication primarily prescribed to treat major depressive disorder and can also be used for anxiety and insomnia. Like all pharmaceuticals, it carries the risk of side effects, some of which are relatively common. Understanding these side effects is crucial for those using the medication and for healthcare providers to monitor and manage these effects appropriately.

Mild Side Effects

Mild side effects are those that are typically temporary, often going away as your body adjusts to the medication. These include:

  • Drowsiness or sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Muscle aches
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nasal congestion

These side effects are generally not cause for alarm, but if they persist or worsen, it's essential to consult with a healthcare provider.

More Serious Side Effects

While less common, there are more serious side effects associated with trazodone that require immediate medical attention. These include:

  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe rash or hives
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Priapism (a prolonged, painful erection)
  • Seizures

Occurrences like priapism are considered a medical emergency and should be treated as such to prevent lasting damage.

Psychological Side Effects

While trazodone is used to treat mental health conditions, it may paradoxically cause or exacerbate certain psychological symptoms, particularly when beginning treatment or adjusting the dose. Symptoms to be mindful of include:

  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Restlessness

If these symptoms are severe or do not improve, they should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

Impact on Mood and Behavior

It's vital to highlight that antidepressants like trazodone have been linked to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, especially in children, adolescents, and young adults. Monitoring for changes in mood and behaviors is an essential aspect of care when starting or changing the dose of such medications.

Evidence-Based Consensus

The side effects listed here are supported by clinical research and patient reports. According to research such as the study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, trazodone is generally well-tolerated, with sedation and drowsiness being the most commonly reported side effects. However, individual responses can vary, and careful monitoring is advised. Always consult with a healthcare provider before making any changes to medication regimens.

Note on Long-Term Use

While this sub-section focuses on common side effects, it's also worth noting that long-term use of trazodone may carry different risks. Longitudinal studies, such as those looking at the chronic use of trazodone, are essential in understanding the full safety profile of this medication over time.

Potential Risk of Dependency and Withdrawal Symptoms

When discussing the safety profile of any medication, it is crucial to address the potential for dependency and withdrawal symptoms. Trazodone, an antidepressant commonly used for the treatment of major depressive disorder and often off-label for insomnia, draws particular concern in this area. Unlike substances with a high potential for abuse, trazodone is not classified as a controlled substance. However, this does not completely eliminate the possibility of dependency and withdrawal issues associated with its use.

Dependency on trazodone can develop in some individuals, especially when it's used for a long period or at high doses. Dependency is characterized by a perceived need to continue taking the medication to function normally. This condition contrasts physical dependence, which refers to the physiological adaptation to a drug, leading to withdrawal symptoms upon cessation or dose reduction.

Withdrawal symptoms from trazodone, while generally not as severe as those associated with benzodiazepines or other high-potency sedatives, can occur and warrant consideration. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

These symptoms often emerge within a few days of stopping the medication and can last for several weeks, with their intensity diminishing over time. If trazodone is used for the treatment of insomnia, rebound insomnia can also occur. This is where an individual experiences a temporary worsening of insomnia symptoms after discontinuing the drug.

Studies on the discontinuation of trazodone are sparse, but clinical experience suggests that a gradual tapering of the dose can mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Gradual dose reduction helps the body acclimate to decreasing levels of the medication, thereby lessening the likelihood and severity of withdrawal effects.

Experts advise against abrupt cessation of trazodone, especially after long-term use. The following tapering strategy is generally recommended:

  1. Consult with a healthcare provider to determine an appropriate tapering schedule tailored to the patient's individual needs and medical history.
  2. Slowly decrease the trazodone dose over several weeks or months, depending on the duration of use and the current dosage.
  3. Monitor for any withdrawal symptoms and, if they occur, potentially adjust the tapering speed accordingly.

It is important to underscore that while trazodone is associated with a lower risk of dependency and withdrawal compared to other sedative medications, it should always be used under the supervision of a healthcare provider. Careful monitoring and a responsible approach to medication management can mitigate risks and promote safety in the use of trazodone.

Long-Term Effects of Using Trazodone

Trazodone is a medication commonly prescribed to treat depression and sometimes for insomnia due to its sedative effects. Like any medication, its long-term use raises questions about its safety and side effects. Understanding the long-term effects of trazodone is critical for patients and healthcare providers to make informed decisions regarding its use.

Dependence and Withdrawal

One of the concerns with any long-term medication is the potential for developing dependence. Trazodone is not considered habit-forming, and the risk of physical dependence is generally low. However, some patients may experience withdrawal symptoms if trazodone is stopped abruptly after extended use. Possible withdrawal symptoms can include agitation, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. To minimize withdrawal risk, it is often recommended to taper off the medication gradually under medical supervision.

Cognitive and Psychomotor Effects

Given that trazodone can cause drowsiness, there are potential concerns about its effects on cognitive and psychomotor performance, especially with long-term use. Studies on the long-term cognitive effects of trazodone are limited, but some research suggests it may have less impact on cognitive function compared to other sedatives. Nevertheless, patients taking trazodone should be cautious when engaging in activities that require mental alertness, such as driving or operating heavy machinery.

Cardiac Health

Trazodone has been associated with alterations in cardiac conduction, such as prolongation of the QT interval, which could be problematic, particularly in patients with underlying cardiac conditions. Long-term use warrants regular monitoring of heart function, and patients should be aware of signs of cardiac issues, such as palpitations or fainting spells.

Serotonergic Regulation

As a serotonin modulator, trazodone can affect the way the body regulates this critical neurotransmitter. Long-term use might lead to changes in serotonin receptors and their responsiveness. Further studies are needed to understand the implications of these changes fully, including the potential for increased or decreased efficacy of the drug over time.

Sexual Dysfunction

Sexual side effects have been reported with the use of trazodone, including decreased libido, anorgasmia, and erectile dysfunction. These side effects may persist with long-term use or may potentially become more pronounced. Discussing sexual health with a healthcare provider is important for managing and potentially mitigating these effects.

Research on Long-Term Safety

The body of research on the long-term safety of trazodone use is growing but still limited. Clinical trials have primarily focused on short-term use, whereas long-term data often come from observational studies, case reports, and post-marketing surveillance. Rigorous long-term studies are needed to establish a more comprehensive safety profile of trazodone.

Risk of Serotonin Syndrome

Additionally, long-term trazodone use, particularly in combination with other serotonergic medications, may increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. This potentially life-threatening condition occurs when there is an accumulation of too much serotonin in the body and is characterized by symptoms such as confusion, agitation, rapid heart rate, and muscle twitching. Patients and healthcare providers must be vigilant about the symptoms of serotonin syndrome and the risk associated with polypharmacy.

Ultimately, the decision to use trazodone over an extended period should involve a personalized risk-benefit analysis. Patients should regularly consult with their healthcare provider to monitor and assess their response to the medication and consider any potential long-term effects.

The Concerns About Trazodone and Serotonin Syndrome

Serotonin syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur when medications cause too much serotonin to accumulate in the body. Trazodone, an antidepressant used for the treatment of depression and insomnia, functions as a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI), which means it can increase serotonin levels in the brain. This section will explore the intricacies of the relationship between Trazodone and serotonin syndrome, and under what circumstances this risk may be heightened.

Risk Factors for Serotonin Syndrome with Trazodone:

  • Drug Interactions: Concomitant use of Trazodone with other serotonergic drugs, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), certain pain medications, and herbal supplements like St. John’s Wort, can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome.
  • Dosage: High doses of Trazodone are more likely to contribute to excessive serotonin levels. It is significant for patients to strictly adhere to prescribed doses and to consult healthcare professionals before any dose adjustments.
  • Individual Susceptibility: Some individuals may have a heightened sensitivity to serotonergic drugs due to genetic factors or pre-existing health conditions, making them more susceptible to serotonin syndrome.

Recognizing Serotonin Syndrome:

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can range from mild to severe and may appear within hours of starting or increasing a dose of a serotonergic medication. It's imperative to be vigilant about the following symptoms:

  • Confusion, agitation, or restlessness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fluctuations in blood pressure
  • Muscle rigidity or twitching
  • Heavy sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Shivering or goosebumps
  • Severe cases can lead to high fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat, unconsciousness, or death

Trazodone and Serotonin Syndrome Incidence:

While the risk of serotonin syndrome with Trazodone alone is low, it becomes more significant when combined with other serotonin-enhancing drugs. A review in the Journal of Psychopharmacology (Isbister et al., 2017) notes that serotonin toxicity is more often associated with the use of a combination of serotonergic agents rather than with any single agent like Trazodone.

Precautionary Measures and Treatment:

  • Patient Education: Patients should be educated about the possibility of serotonin syndrome, particularly if they are taking multiple serotonergic drugs.
  • Medical Consultation: It's vital for individuals to consult with healthcare providers before initiating or discontinuing Trazodone, especially if they are currently using or plan to use additional serotonergic medications.
  • Monitoring: Close monitoring for symptoms of serotonin syndrome is recommended during the initial treatment phase or when increasing the dose.
  • Treatment of Serotonin Syndrome: Immediate medical attention is crucial. Treatment often involves discontinuing Trazodone and any other serotonergic agents. Supportive care to stabilize vital signs, medications to block serotonin production, or sedatives may be administered to relieve symptoms.

In conclusion, while Trazodone can potentially lead to serotonin syndrome, the risk is generally low when used responsibly and under close medical supervision. It is essential for patients and caregivers to be aware of the symptoms and closely monitor for them, especially when there are changes in medication regimes involving serotonergic agents. Minor adverse effects should prompt a consultation with a healthcare provider, but if any signs of serotonin syndrome appear, immediate medical attention should be sought.

Interactions With Other Medications and Substances

When discussing the safety of taking trazodone, it is essential to consider its interactions with other medications and substances. Trazodone is primarily used as an antidepressant and for treating sleep disorders, but it can interact with various medications and substances, leading to increased risks of side effects or diminished effectiveness of treatments.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants: Trazodone can enhance the sedative effects of other CNS depressants like benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or other sleep medications. Combining these can increase drowsiness, dizziness, and the risk of respiratory depression.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): Concurrent use of these with trazodone can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. Symptoms include confusion, rapid heart rate, and heightened blood pressure.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): It's generally recommended to avoid concurrent use of MAOIs and trazodone due to the risk of serotonin syndrome. A minimum of 14 days should elapse between discontinuing an MAOI and initiating trazodone therapy.

Anticoagulants: Trazodone can increase the risk of bleeding, especially if taken with blood thinners such as warfarin or heparin, due to its effect on platelet aggregation.

Alcohol and Recreational Drugs: Mixing trazodone with alcohol or recreational drugs is not advisable, as it can amplify the drug’s sedative effects, impair motor skills, and cognitive functions, and potentially lead to respiratory depression.

Other Interactions: Some factors can influence how trazodone interacts with other substances, ranging from individual metabolic rates to the presence of certain medical conditions. For example, patients with liver or kidney impairment may experience altered trazodone metabolism, affecting drug levels in the body.

In practice, medical professionals rely on specialized databases to check for potential drug interactions for each individual. For the layperson, it’s crucial to disclose all medications, supplements, and over-the-counter products to their healthcare provider to prevent adverse interactions.

While these points outline primary interactions, they do not represent a comprehensive list. Every patient is different, and it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before adjusting your medication or combining new substances with trazodone. Notably, studies relating to drug interactions can evolve, so ongoing research is necessary to stay informed about potential risks. Institutions like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offer updated advice on drug interactions, while peer-reviewed journals publish new findings that can influence the understanding and recommendations around combining trazodone with other medications and substances.

Balancing Risks and Benefits: A Clinical Perspective

When examining the profile of any medication, it's essential to weigh its therapeutic benefits against any potential risks. Trazodone, a medication primarily used to treat depression, is no exception. In the context of clinical use, trazodone offers a number of potential benefits that make it a useful tool for many patients. However, there are also risks associated with its use, which must be carefully considered by healthcare professionals and patients.

Benefits of Trazodone:

  • Antidepressant Effect: Trazodone is effective in alleviating symptoms of depression, including sadness, loss of interest, and anxiety.
  • Sleep Improvement: Due to its sedative properties, trazodone is often prescribed off-label to address sleep disturbances, even in patients without depression.
  • Anxiety Reduction: Some clinical evidence suggests that trazodone can also help reduce the symptoms of anxiety.
  • Tolerance Profile: Compared to other antidepressants, trazodone is less likely to cause certain side effects like weight gain and sexual dysfunction.

Risks of Trazodone:

  • Sedation: Excessive sedation is a common side effect of trazodone, which can impact daily activities.
  • Orthostatic Hypotension: Trazodone can cause a drop in blood pressure upon standing, increasing fall risk, especially in the elderly.
  • Priapism: A rare but serious side effect in males where a painful, prolonged erection can occur, requiring emergency medical attention.
  • Serotonin Syndrome: When combined with other serotonin-modulating drugs, there is a risk of this potentially life-threatening condition.
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Discontinuation of trazodone can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and sleep disturbances.

Research and clinical data must inform the decision to use trazodone. One study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found that trazodone effectively improved sleep quality without the withdrawal potential associated with benzodiazepines (Nierenberg et al., 1994). It's important to tailor drug therapy to the individual, taking into account the person's medical history, current condition, and whether they may be taking other medications that could interact with trazodone.

Clear communication between the patient and healthcare provider is essential to navigate potential risks effectively. Timing of dosage can be adjusted to minimize daytime sleepiness, and gradual tapering can help prevent withdrawal symptoms. Physicians may also conduct regular monitoring, particularly in older populations vulnerable to orthostatic hypotension and falls.

Overall, the decision to prescribe trazodone should follow a comprehensive review of the patient's situation and a balanced consideration of the risks and benefits. Close collaboration between healthcare providers and patients is necessary to maximize therapeutic outcomes and minimize adverse effects.

Frequently asked questions

It is not advisable to combine trazodone with alcohol. Doing so can amplify the medication's sedative effects, increase drowsiness and dizziness, and potentially lead to respiratory depression or impaired cognitive and motor skills.

Trazodone is unique among antidepressants as it is classified as a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI). It targets multiple brain pathways to alleviate depression and its sedative action aids in sleep, distinguishing it from other classes of antidepressants which may have different receptor activity profiles and side effects.

Trazodone is often prescribed off-label for sleep disturbances, including in elderly patients, due to its sedative effects. However, caution is advised due to risks such as orthostatic hypotension, which can increase fall risk in the elderly. Clinicians should assess individual risk factors and monitor closely if trazodone is prescribed for sleep in this population.

When discontinuing trazodone, especially after long-term use, it is recommended to gradually taper off the medication under medical supervision to minimize withdrawal symptoms such as agitation, dizziness, and sleep disturbances. The tapering schedule should be individualized by the healthcare provider.

Ask a question about Trazodone and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • drowsiness
  • sedation
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • dry mouth
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • muscle aches
  • blurred vision
  • loss of appetite
  • nasal congestion
  • chest pain
  • irregular heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • severe rash
  • hives
  • swelling
  • priapism
  • seizures
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • panic attacks
  • insomnia
  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • impulsive behavior
  • restlessness

Possible long-term side effects

  • dependence
  • withdrawal symptoms
  • cognitive impairment
  • psychomotor performance issues
  • cardiac conduction changes
  • qt interval prolongation
  • sexual dysfunction
  • serotonin receptor changes

Possible withdrawal symptoms

  • agitation
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • rebound insomnia

Ingredients to be aware of

  • serotonin


  • antidepressant effects
  • improved sleep
  • anxiety reduction
  • lesser risk of weight gain and sexual dysfunction

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 01-30-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Dr. Becky Maes
Published on: 01-30-2024

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