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January 3, 2022
4 min. read

Here's Why Certain Antidepressants and Alcohol Don't Mix

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Depression affects millions of Americans throughout the United States, making it one of the most common mental health conditions in the country. Many people are prescribed antidepressant medications to help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. In most cases, a type of antidepressant known as selective serotonin receptor inhibitors, or SSRIs, are used as first-choice treatments. These include medications such as Zoloft or Lexapro, which you may have already heard of.

alcohol depression

But if you're taking SSRIs, you'll also need to think carefully about different interactions with other substances—in fact, you might want to reconsider mixing antidepressants with any amount of alcohol, as doing so can lead to both severe side effects and long-term issues. Below, find out what you need to know about drinking on antidepressants.

I have depression. How will drinking alcohol affect me?

Alcohol directly affects brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters—chemical messengers that transmit signals throughout the body. One of the neurotransmitters that is affected by alcohol is known as serotonin, a key hormone that is known for stabilizing mood.

Drinking alcohol temporarily boost serotonin levels in the brain, but over time, drinking excess alcohol can actually lower your serotonin levels—and therefore can either cause or exacerbate an underlying depression.

srri and alcohol

How do SRRIs interact with Alcohol?

SRRIs, or selective serotonin receptor inhibitors, are a class of medications that are among the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. Among this class are Zoloft (Sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), Celexa (citalopram), and Lexapro (escitalopram).

alcohol and antidepressants

If you check out the prescribing information that comes along with your medications, it will tell you not to drink while taking an SSRI. Many of the drugs in this class can lead to side effects of drowsiness and dizziness , which drinking can both bring on more quickly and worsen.

Breaking down the most commonly prescribed antidepressants

Curious about what drinking means for your specific medication Here we take a look at some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, and what happens when they mix with alcohol.

Zoloft

Also known as sertraline, this drug increases the levels of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is one of the body's naturally occurring substances that helps to stabilize your mood. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is advisable not to consume alcohol while taking Zoloft. Consuming both Zoloft and alcohol can severely impair judgment and thinking, exacerbate symptoms of dizziness, depression, and headaches, and it can intensify anxiety and make you nauseous.

Prozac

Known as fluoxetine, this drug capsule also increases the serotonin in your brain to help with disorders like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Combining alcohol and Prozac commonly leads to sedation. Other side effects may include impaired judgment and motor skills, trouble seeing and hearing, or dizziness. It can also cause suicidal thoughts.

Lexapro

This drug, also known as escitalopram, comes in an oral tablet or oral liquid solution. It is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that treats depression and anxiety disorder. Taking Lexapro with alcohol can disable the drug from working as it should. Other risks include liver problems, nausea, insomnia, and fatigue.

Paxil

Also known as paroxetine, this oral tablet is taken for various disorders, including depression, anxiety, panic and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It also helps increase serotonin in the brain. Unfortunately, when combined with alcohol, paxil can cause irregular heart rhythms, changes in blood pressure, mood swings, vomiting, paranoia, and increased suicidal thoughts.

alcohol abuse

When should I seek medical attention?

If you experience any of the following while taking any type of antidepressant and drinking alcohol, contact your provider right away:

  • Extremely slowed heart rate
  • Feeling like you’re going to pass out
  • Shallow breathing
  • Confusion or hallucinations
  • Manic episodes
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Thoughts of suicide

Keep in mind that everyone's reaction to the combination of mixing antidepressant drugs with alcohol will vary. Regardless, there is a consensus among medical experts, the FDA, and drug manufacturers that mixing leads to an increased risk of health and illness. If you struggle with depression or anxiety and are taking antidepressants, talk to your provider.

If you feel you might be struggling with alcohol addiction, you can talk to them about seeking help as well. Taking the necessary steps to protect and promote your health and well-being are essential aspects of staying happy, safe, and healthy.

References

  1. Hall-Flavin, D. K. (2017) Antidepressants, and alcohol: What's the concern? Mayo Clinic,
  2. Lovinger D. M. (1997). Serotonin's role in alcohol's effects on the brain. Alcohol health and research world, 21(2), 114–120.
  3. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). (2019b, September 17). Mayo Clinic.
  4. Major Depression. (2021, October). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
  5. Alcohol & Depression: The Connection & Dual Treatment Near Me. (2021, October 27). American Addiction Centers.
  6. Harmful Interactions | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (n.d.). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
  7. Antidepressants: Selecting one that’s right for you. (2019, December 31). Mayo Clinic.
  8. NHS website. (2021, December 17). Cautions - Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Nhs.Uk.
  9. Weathermon, R., & Crabb, D. W. (1999). Alcohol and medication interactions. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 23(1), 40–54.
  10. Staab JP, Ruckenstein MJ, Solomon D, Shepard NT. Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors for Dizziness With Psychiatric Symptoms. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2002;128(5):554–560. doi:10.1001/archotol.128.5.554

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