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Can You Get Hooked on Viagra?

All signs (and your dick) point to yes

It’s raining Viagra, hallelujah: An over-the-counter version of the popular erectile dysfunction medication is now widely available in England, and generic adaptations of the drug hit the American market late last year. These actions aim to make Viagra more accessible (generic Viagra is significantly cheaper than its name-brand counterparts), and encourage men to quit purchasing dangerous knock-off versions online.

But such easy access to Viagra (generic or otherwise) may also bring about unwanted complications, specifically as a result of recreational use among younger men. Late last year, Florida-based urologist Jamin Brahmbhatt expressed his concern about illegitimate users becoming dependent on the drug to my colleague Tierney Finster:

“Another reason I’m cautious about Viagra going over-the-counter is you’re going to see a lot of guys who don’t need to take it potentially start taking it recreationally. That’s not good because it’s one of those things where if you don’t need to take it, you shouldn’t. So if a lot of young guys start taking it just to have stronger erections, that may become a problem down the road. Not because it’s going to cause erectile dysfunction. It won’t. But it’ll be more like how we need caffeine to energize us. In that same way, Viagra may be something men don’t have to be dependent on, but become dependent on.”

The problem is, a growing number of young men are already using Viagra recreationally: A 2012 study of 1,200 postpubertal men found that 72 were using the drug recreationally, and those users reported lower erectile confidence and overall satisfaction with their erections than non-users — a mindset that may explain why English hospitals saw a 51 percent increase in the number of men admitted for persistent and painful erections (often resulting from Viagra misuse) in 2017.

Overall, the generation of men who grew up with porn in the palm of their (other) hand seem to be increasingly concerned about their ability in bed, and they’re turning to Viagra for help. Certainly, more and more young men are hopping on this Viagra bandwagon as (blue) pill-pushers increasingly market the drug to younger generations. Late last year, for example, entrepreneur Zachariah Reitano launched Roman, a startup that delivers cheap erectile dysfunction medication directly to your doorstep, a move whose technological (and cheap) element implies a targeting of younger users.

But how do people actually become dependent on the drug?

“I would be hesitant to call it an ‘addiction,’ as I don’t think it meets that criteria; however, people can definitely become psychologically dependent on Viagra,” says sex and relationships coach Celeste Hirschman. “They become fearful that they won’t be able to get an erection without [Viagra], and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy due to performance anxiety.”

In simpler terms, these men start taking Viagra because they’re afraid of experiencing erectile dysfunction, but that fear — accompanied by the idea that they need Viagra to perform — ends up becoming the actual cause of said erectile dysfunction. “I had a client who was so ashamed of not being able to get an erection even one time with his partner that he always used Viagra,” sex and relationships coach Danielle Harel adds. “He said that not being able to get an erection made him feel like he wasn’t a real man.”

Eventually, these feelings may result in daily Viagra use, which can develop into a pattern of secret use and the intensification of feelings of shame and guilt, further complicating the psychogenic erectile dysfunction that they’re suffering from. At least, that appears to be what happened to James Andrew, a 24-year-old writer who reportedly committed suicide after his girlfriend discovered that he was secretly dosing himself with Viagra.

Because Viagra isn’t physically addictive — i.e., you won’t experience withdrawals if you stop using it — fixing a dependency on the drug requires looking inward. “The first thing to do if you want to get over feeling that you need Viagra to perform is to be aware of the fact that erections change throughout your life,” Hirschman explains. “Letting go of the idea that you should be hard and ready for sex any time it is available is the first step. Giving yourself time to relax into a sexual experience and seeing what’s enjoyable about that experience beyond intercourse can also really help. This can help you become engrossed in the experience and let go of worrying too much about your performance.”

In other words: Sit back, relax and enjoy the moment, and drop the idea that your hard-on must be capable of penetrating solid kryptonite for hours at a time.

After all, you’re only human.