Viagra ( Sildenafil )
Recreational Viagra? Why It’s Not a Good Idea
Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs are often misused. Find out why this trend is dangerous.
Men have been turning to the little blue pill to treat their erectile dysfunction (ED) for nearly 20 years. Since Viagra (sildenafil) first came on the scene, in 1998, the number of men diagnosed with ED has shot up by 250 percent.
It’s safe to say the drug has given millions of men a convenient and effective option for improving their sex lives. But taking Viagra or other meds such as Cialis (tadalafil) or Levitra (vardenafil), when you don’t have erectile dysfunction can be dangerous.
Using Any Drug Without a Prescription Is Not Wise
“It’s never a good idea to use a prescription drug that’s not prescribed by your doctor,” says Michael Eisenberg, MD, the director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford Health Care in Stanford, California. “There are risks and side effects of these medications, and there are medical conditions you can have where there could be severe consequences.”
Why Men Are Misusing Viagra and Other ED Drugs
Men who don’t have problems getting an erection may still want to up their game.
“There are certainly plenty of examples of men trying to get their hands on Viagra when they don’t necessarily have ED,” says Dr. Eisenberg. “In some cases, it might just be to enhance performance or to perform better sexually.”
Why Viagra May Be Used in a Recreational Fashion
Some use Viagra not for ED but because they’ve heard it can enhance athletic performance. For other men, it’s all about convenience and cost. They want the drug without the hassle of getting a prescription.
“Most of us live busy lives, and some men might find it hard to see their doctor,” says Eisenberg. “Also, there’s a stigma about ED. Many younger men might be embarrassed about getting help.”
How Are They Getting Viagra Without an Rx?
Purchasing Viagra online seems to be a popular way to obtain the drug.
A study published in the journal Current Drug Abuse Reviews suggested that easy access was one reason men cited for abuse of ED drugs. A search for internet drugstores found over 6 million hits at 7,000 online pharmacies.
Eisenberg says he’s also heard of men getting Viagra from their friends or relatives.
Recreational Use of Viagra Can Be Very Dangerous
Buying Viagra from an unreliable source can be risky. Drugs sold online may be fake, contaminated, or expired.
According to press statements, in 2011, Pfizer Global Security looked at 22 websites that appeared in the top search results for the phrase “buy Viagra.” They found that about 80 percent of these pills were counterfeit. These fake Viagra pills did contain the active ingredient sildenafil, but only about 30 percent to 50 percent of the amount advertised.
“With the internet, you really never know what you’re getting,” Eisenberg says.
It’s also important to know that Viagra can cause side effects, such as:
- Headache or diarrhea
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Difficulty sleeping
- Muscle or back pain
- Numbness or tingling in the hands, arms, feet, or legs
- Sensitivity to light or vision changes
Using Viagra can lead to serious risks, too, if you have an underlying medical condition. For instance, men with heart disease who take drugs known as nitrates can develop dangerously low blood pressure if they take Viagra.
“We have to make sure these men are healthy before starting them on ED medications,” stresses Eisenberg.
Another concern is that some men who use ED meds recreationally mix them with other, illicit drugs. A survey published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 4 percent of college-age men admitted to using ED drugs recreationally. Most of them combined the ED meds with other drugs and participated in risky sexual behaviors.
Some men who don’t have ED but use Viagra may also become psychologically addicted to the medicine and depend on it to get an erection.
Off-Label Use or Unapproved Medical Use of Viagra
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Viagra for treating ED, researchers are looking at how the drug might benefit other conditions.
For instance, Viagra might also help:
- Pulmonary hypertension The brand-name medicine Revatio contains the same active ingredient (sildenafil) as Viagra and is approved to help adults with pulmonary hypertension, which is characterized by high blood pressure in the lungs.
- Raynaud’s disease This condition, which causes the fingers and toes to become cold and numb, might be helped by Viagra.
- Prostate cancer Researchers are examining whether Viagra could help this common cancer.
- Other conditions Viagra is being studied as a potential treatment for several other medical issues.
Sometimes, the drug is given “off-label,” which means your doctor prescribes it for an unapproved use.
Always Get a Medical Prescription From a Doctor
It’s dangerous to take Viagra for another condition without getting a prescription. You should always see your doctor for any off-label drug use. You’ll need to discuss the benefits and risks of using Viagra off-label.
The Bottom Line on Viagra for Recreational or Off-Label Use
If you think you might have ED, your best bet is to see your doctor. Viagra is one option, but there are many others.
“I want to dissuade people from misuse,” says Eisenberg. “I always tell my patients that my goal is to make them happy, and there are a lot of ways to do that — some with medicine and some without.”
Tell your doctor about all your health conditions, the medicines you take, and your symptoms, so he or she can determine if Viagra is right for you.