When you go to the doctor’s office, the forms you fill out usually ask you about your use of alcohol. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is that alcohol can complicate treatment with medications. Many people drink while taking a prescription drug without thinking. Sometimes it causes some unpleasant consequences. Even more dangerous, people may combine drugs with alcohol on purpose for unique or enhanced effects.
Trazodone is an antidepressant medication that usually isn’t used for recreational use. It was once used to treat depression, but other medications have all but taken its place for that purpose. It may be used off-label for other purposes like the treatment of insomnia. Like other medications, it may have some negative side effects when it’s mixed with alcohol.
What happens with trazodone is combined with alcohol, and how could it affect your memory? Learn more about memory loss and trazodone’s other dangerous side effects when it’s mixed with alcohol.
What Is Trazodone?
Trazodone is an antidepressant medication that has been in use since the 1980s. One of its most common side effects is drowsiness, which is why it may also be used as a sleep aid in the treatment of insomnia. Trazodone is a member of a class of drugs called serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitors (SARIs). Serotonin is an important chemical in the brain that’s closely tied to mood. When it comes to issues like depression, serotonin levels may be a contributing factor to your low mood.
Trazodone has several effects on the brain. As an antagonist, it blocks certain serotonin receptors. As a reuptake inhibitor, it blocks serotonin from being removed from your system. It also has an active metabolite called mCPP, which is a chemical made when trazodone is broken down that also has effects. This chemical also influences serotonin in the brain.
There is a range of depression medications today, and trazodone may not be at the top of the list anymore. However, when depression may occur alongside insomnia, trazodone may be useful, even though it doesn’t have FDA approval as a sleep aid. It’s used for other off-label treatments for Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and fibromyalgia. The drug comes with uncomfortable side effects, including sedation, cardiac arrhythmias, dry mouth, confusion, headache, nausea, constipation, and blurred vision.
Does Trazodone Have a High Abuse Liability?
Trazodone is a SARI, which is a class of drug that’s not normally associated with abuse and substance use problems. Drugs with significant abuse liabilities often cause euphoric effects. Recreational drugs also tend to interact with dopamine in the brain to create a feeling of reward and pleasure. Trazadone is a sedative, and other sedatives may be used as recreational substances. Barbiturates and benzodiazepines have a significant risk for abuse and dependence.
Opioids have some sedating effects, and they also are extremely addictive. However, while these drugs can have significant abuse liability, they also increase dopamine levels in the brain, causing a rewarding feeling when taking them in high enough doses. But trazodone doesn’t increase dopamine levels. Instead, it reduces the levels of neurotransmitters with arousal effects, including dopamine.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, trazodone hasn’t been studied for its potential for abuse systematically. Still, they also note that there was no indication of drug-seeking behavior in other clinical studies that investigated the use of trazodone in humans. Still, taking the drug alongside recreational substances may be dangerous.
Why Would People Mix Trazodone and Alcohol Use?
There are several reasons someone might take prescription drugs alongside recreational substances like alcohol. Some people, especially adolescents, may take the drug to experiment with its effects. Other drugs with sedative effects are intentionally mixed with alcohol to create a unique high. Some may try to make a drug cocktail with trazodone, not knowing that it does really contribute its own euphoric effects.
It may be more common for people to use the two drugs accidentally, leading to a trazodone and alcohol overdose. Alcohol use is a common part of life for many people. People that drink regularly may not realize that a new medication is not safe to take with alcohol. For that reason, it’s important to check the label or speak to your doctor or pharmacist before you decide to drink.
Alcohol use disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders. If you’re seeking treatment for anxiety, but your doctor isn’t aware that you have an alcohol use problem, you may use both substances at the same time. Plus, it’s important to address alcohol use problems and anxiety at the same time. If one is left untreated, any attempt to treat the other may be less effective.
Does Trazodone Cause Memory Loss When Mixed?
Drinking alcohol is actually a chemical called ethanol that’s in the alcohol family. It works in the brain as a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows down nervous system activity. That’s what gives it its calming and relaxing effects. In fact, its depressing effects also contribute to its disinhibiting effects. It suppresses anxiety and decision-making skills. An alcohol binge can cause memory impairment, which is usually referred to as a blackout.
Alcohol can interfere with the process of short-term memories making it into long-term memory storage. That’s why you could have no problem remembering where you are or what you’re doing while you’re binge drinking and then have trouble remembering it the next day.
Trazodone isn’t a central nervous system depressant in the same way that alcohol is, but it can cause depressing effects like sedation. It has also been shown to cause significant impairments of short-term memory in some people. Because trazodone can amplify some of the effects of alcohol, you may experience memory impairment after drinking much smaller amounts than you would normally need to induce a blackout without trazodone.
This kind of memory loss is usually only associated with the lost memories during the blackout and probably won’t affect your memory in the long term. However, experiencing a blackout or memory loss can be frightening. Waking up in a strange place, or even in a familiar one with no memory of how you got there or what has happened to you is scary.
How Else Do Trazodone and Alcohol Interact?
Trazodone and alcohol cause depressing effects in the nervous system. Alcohol is widely known to create potentially dangerous side effects when it’s mixed with other depressants like benzodiazepines and opioids like heroin. However, can it be dangerous to mix with a SARI? Central nervous system depressants work by interacting with a chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which causes relaxing and sedating effects.
Though it works differently than other depressants, trazodone has been shown to have some influence over GABA, especially in higher doses. High doses of trazodone can enhance GABA release. Alcohol affects GABA in a different way; it binds to GABA receptors and increases the efficacy of GABA. If trazodone releases more GABA and alcohol makes GABA more powerful, the combination could create more potent depressing effects.
When the drug is combined with alcohol, you may feel fatigue, sedation, and even loss of consciousness. Extreme drowsiness can also cause accidents and injury. The combination might lead to other more pronounced effects that are often seen with heavy drinking, like slurred speech, loss of motor control, impaired judgment, and other cognitive issues. If you’re an experienced drinker, you may notice that trazodone causes you to feel very drunk with smaller amounts of alcohol.
Trazodone isn’t usually associated with recreational use, but some may seek it out for its ability to enhance alcohol’s effects. However, mixing them can be potentially life-threatening. Because trazodone enhances alcohol’s effects, it could lead to an overdose more quickly and with less alcohol. This may mean losing consciousness, slow and shallow breathing, and a slow heart rate. An overdose can be fatal if your breathing slows to the point of oxygen deprivation, stroke, or heart failure.
Can You Overdose on Trazodone?
By itself, trazodone isn’t known to cause fatal overdoses, but high doses can cause serious problems. It’s possible for trazodone to cause a condition called serotonin syndrome, which is a group of symptoms commonly associated with a serotonin imbalance that is caused by certain medications. Very high serotonin levels may cause symptoms that affect your mental state, muscle tension, and autonomic nervous system.
Serotonin syndrome can cause agitation, racing thoughts, paranoia, confusion, and anxiety. Muscle tension could cause tremors, overactive reflexes, and stiff muscles. Autonomic nervous system effects could affect your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and body temperature. You may feel sensitive to light, sweating, a racing heartbeat, and fast breathing.
Trazodone isn’t commonly associated with serotonin syndrome, though any drug that increases serotonin levels may cause it, especially if they take other medications at the same time. Serotonin syndrome isn’t usually life-threatening, but it may require medical intervention.
Fatal overdose events involving trazodone often include alcohol or other medications. Trazodone may also be dangerous when it’s mixed with other depressants like benzodiazepines and barbiturates. It may also lead to serotonin syndrome when it’s mixed with certain muscle relaxers or other antidepressants like SSRIs.
How is Trazodone and Alcohol Overdose Treated?
If you’re experiencing an overdose on alcohol and trazodone, you will require immediate medical attention. An overdose can be treated, but it may need help and monitoring from medical professionals. Not every overdose is fatal, but your symptoms may need to be monitored for potentially life-threatening complications. If you call an ambulance, emergency medical professionals will pay attention to your vitals, especially your heart rate. Your heart rate will continue to be monitored by doctors. Trazodone can affect the heart in high doses, leading to complications like arrhythmia. Your breathing will also be monitored. Both alcohol and trazodone can slow or stop your breathing, which can lead to oxygen deprivation, coma, or death.
You may be given activated charcoal, especially if emergency responders aren’t sure what you took that caused your overdose. Activated charcoal is used to absorb certain types of chemicals to slow their entrance into your bloodstream. You may also be put on an IV and given oxygen if your breathing slows. If you or someone you’re with is experiencing an overdose, you can help medical professionals by letting them know what you took and how much you took.