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Can you become dependent on Viagra?

Aysha

Medically reviewed on March 30, 2020

by Dr. Aysha Butt, Medical director

Dr. Aysha Butt is the Medical Director of FROM MARS, and is a GP Partner at Woodcote NHS Medical Practice.... read more

Viagra is a wonder drug for many men. It works so well it’s become one of the fastest selling prescription drugs ever. But if you take it too much, can you become dependent on Viagra?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good is that if you use prescription erectile dysfunction meds like Viagra in the way they’re supposed to be used, there’s no evidence you can become dependent on them. The bad is that if you don’t use them properly, particularly if you use them recreationally, there is a chance you can form a dependency.

Let’s start with some key questions.

What does Viagra do to a man?

Viagra, and other ED drugs like tadalafil (also sold under the brand name Cialis), relax muscle tissue and vessels in the penis, making it easier to fill with blood and increasing the chances you’ll get an erection. Viagra doesn’t make you automatically hard. You need to be aroused, then it helps turn this arousal into a lasting erection. Viagra doesn’t boost your sex drive either, or give you bigger erections, or otherwise improve your performance in bed if you don’t have ED, except for possibly reducing the time it takes you to get erect again after orgasm.

Does Viagra make you last longer?

Usually not. There are lots of myths about Viagra, including how it can make you last for hours, but no matter what you’ve heard in the pub or the locker room, Viagra, and other ED meds don’t usually do this. A rare side effect of these medications is a condition called priapism, which is a long-lasting erection that won’t subside. Whilst that might sound great, it’s actually a serious medical problem that can cause permanent damage to your penis.

Can you take Viagra every day?

You can, but only if a doctor is happy for you to do so. You should only take Viagra if you plan to have sex, usually 60 to 30 mins beforehand. If you want to have sex every day, then you should talk to your doctor to see if they think Viagra is suitable for you. It might well be, but they could also decide that tadalafil is a better option as the effects can last from 24 to 36 hours, so can be taken less frequently than Viagra.

Can Viagra cause erectile dysfunction?

If used properly, no. But if you take Viagra or other ED drugs recreationally, without the supervision of a doctor, for reasons other than ED, there is a risk that you could become psychologically dependent on them. You might come to believe you can’t perform without the help of the medication, and this belief may become a self-fulling prophecy, resulting in problems like not being able to get an erection because you’re too anxious. Whilst this won’t happen to all recreational users, you should only use ED meds to treat ED, and as directed by a prescribing doctor or by a pharmacist.

Now let’s look at the question of dependency.

Can you become physically dependent on Viagra?

Physical dependency happens when you take something for so long that your body adapts to it and starts to rely on it. This usually occurs because the substance replaces something your body does naturally, so it needs the substance to function properly. If you’re physically dependent on something and you stop taking it, you can get unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Happily, none of the ingredients of Viagra (sildenafil), or other erectile dysfunction drugs like Levitra (vardenafil), or Cialis (tadalafil) are thought to cause physical dependencies.

They work by increasing the flow of blood to the penis. What they don’t do is affect the pleasure centres in your brain, or replace processes in your body, the way that substances which cause physical dependencies do.

Can you become psychologically dependent on Viagra?

Dependency is a complex demon. The physical side is just part of it, as there’s a mental side of dependency too. Psychological dependence happens when you become mentally and emotionally dependent on something, rather than physically. Think of it as your mind being dependent on the drug, not your body. Rather than your body relying on it, you believe you need it.

There’s no evidence that men can become psychologically dependent on drugs like Viagra as long as they use them to treat ED. If you genuinely have problems getting and staying hard, and use ED meds to help with this, you’re using the drugs as intended. All good.

But there is concern that men could become psychologically dependent on drugs like Viagra if they don’t have ED, but take the drugs anyway, often without a prescription. This is called recreational Viagra use.

So why would a man who doesn’t have ED, use ED meds?

Usually because they believe drugs like Viagra improve their performance in bed by boosting their sex drive, giving them firmer and bigger erections, or making them last longer. Or perhaps they have occasional performance anxiety and want to pop a pill just to take the stress out of the situation.

The kicker is that drugs like Viagra don’t actually do this. They don’t improve your sexual performance if you don’t have ED, other than there being some evidence they can reduce the time it takes to get an erection again after orgasm. But they could have a placebo effect. The man taking it might believe the drug does these things as he feels more relaxed and confident and therefore performs better in bed.

And this is where the real problem lies. If you start to believe that ED meds make you better in bed, you may start to think that you can’t do without them. In this way, you could become psychologically dependent.

How to avoid becoming dependent on Viagra?

The simple answer is, you can avoid becoming psychologically dependent on ED medications like Viagra, by making sure you use them properly. Only use them if you have ED, and only use them as directed by the doctor who prescribes them to you.

If you take ED medications but don’t have ED, you need to think carefully about why. If you think you have emotional worries about sex, like performance anxiety, then there are better ways to address them, rather than using ED drugs as a crutch. Get to the heart of your problem, don’t mask it with medications.