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Is Mixing Antidepressants and Alcohol a Good Idea?

Graphic showing the statistics of antidepressants and alcohol usage in the U.S.

If you’ve been diagnosed with major depression, anxiety disorder, mood disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or another mental health disorder, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant to help you manage your symptoms. Antidepressants increase the level of naturally occurring chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, in your body and brain. These chemicals significantly impact your thoughts, feelings, and moods.

If you’ve been prescribed an antidepressant, you should avoid drinking alcohol while taking it. Alcohol not only increases your risk of experiencing side effects, but it may also worsen your depression. In some cases, it can lead to potentially dangerous interactions.

Statistics of Antidepressant and Alcohol Usage

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 2015, more than 86 percent of people reported having consumed alcohol at some time in their lives. More than 6 percent of this population met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD), with over 27 percent reporting binge drinking or excessive alcohol use in the last month. The findings of the NIAAA reflect the general pattern of alcohol consumption in the United States.

Similarly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antidepressants are one of the three most regularly prescribed therapeutic drugs in the United States. From 2011 to 2014, almost one in eight people over 12 reported using antidepressants over the previous month. In the last 15 years, the rate of antidepressant use climbed significantly by 65 percent.

Drinking Alcohol on Antidepressants

Any combination of drugs can result in serious side effects, and it is strongly advised not to drink alcohol while taking antidepressants. For starters, drinking alcohol worsen depression, which is the last thing you want if you are on antidepressants.

The combination is also likely to increase the symptoms of dizziness, nausea, brain fog, trouble sleeping, and impaired coordination. This combination might result in physical accidents such as slipping or falling. Depending on the type of antidepressant you take, you may be at risk of a dangerous reaction. 

There are five main types of antidepressants that might induce a variety of negative effects. Each type of antidepressant functions differently in the body, posing slightly different effects when used with alcohol.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Alcohol

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are very effective in treating depression and usually produce fewer side effects than other antidepressants. SSRIs work by inhibiting the absorption of serotonin in the brain, which allows the smooth transmission and reception of signals throughout the brain. The intended outcome is a better and more stable mood.

Compared to other types of antidepressants, SSRIs often have fewer adverse side effects when combined with alcohol. Alcohol consumption while taking SSRIs is still not recommended since alcohol can produce excessive drowsiness in people on this type of antidepressant.

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) and Alcohol

SNRIs are another commonly prescribed type of antidepressant. SNRIs help to stabilize mood by boosting levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. SNRIs are not known to have any major negative interactions when mixed with alcohol, although drowsiness and reduced alertness are still likely to occur.

Tricyclic Antidepressants

TCAs are also an antidepressant used to treat depression, fibromyalgia, certain anxiety disorders, and chronic pain. Tricyclic antidepressants increase norepinephrine and serotonin levels in the brain while blocking acetylcholine. Scientists believe this interaction helps to restore equilibrium in the brain and ease symptoms of depression.

When combined with alcohol, TCAs become ineffective at alleviating depressive symptoms. Furthermore, drinking might intensify the sedative effects of TCAs.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

Before SSRIs and SNRIs were introduced, MAOIs were one of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, and they had fewer adverse effects. MAOIs function by blocking monoamine oxidase, which is responsible for the breakdown of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Consequently, more serotonin is available in the brain to stabilize your mood.

MAOIs are no longer the first-line antidepressants because they are known to interact negatively with certain foods and medications, especially alcohol, in ways that can produce dangerously high blood pressure.

Noradrenaline and Serotonergic Antidepressants (NaSSAS) and Alcohol

NaSSAs are prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and depression. They function by blocking the negative feedback of norepinephrine and serotonin, thus increasing these mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters in the brain.

NaSSAs are likewise unlikely to provide major health risks when combined with alcohol, but drowsiness, sedation, and an increase in depressive symptoms remain concerns.

Are There Any Alcohol-Safe Antidepressants?

All antidepressants interact with alcohol in a way that worsens the negative effects of both substances. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some physicians let antidepressant patients consume one drink per day, such as 12 ounces of beer or a five-ounce glass of wine. NAMI also recommends consuming meals with an alcoholic drink to mitigate its effects.

However, the mental health risks associated with combining alcohol and antidepressants remain. For those who are struggling with mental health disorders, such as an anxiety disorder or major depression, drinking while taking antidepressants increases the likelihood of developing a drug or alcohol addiction. 

Once the mood-improving effects of alcohol wear off, they are left with the dulled effects of the antidepressant. This is why consuming alcohol while taking antidepressants can worsen feelings of depression and anxiety, which may lead to suicidal thoughts and risky behavior.

According to a review study, mixing antidepressants with alcohol is “likely to lead to deaths related to antidepressant use.” In addition, researchers found that approximately 80 percent of antidepressant-related deaths were suicides. This is not surprising, as it is well known that the combination of alcohol and antidepressants has the potential to induce violent behavior and aggression by significantly impairing judgment and inhibitions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I drink alcohol while on an antidepressant?

Combining antidepressants and alcohol is not advised. It can worsen your symptoms, and it can be dangerous. If you combine antidepressants with alcohol, you may feel more depressed, anxious, or aggressive.

Which antidepressants are OK with alcohol?

There are no antidepressants that may be used with alcohol without risk. Certain antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), like sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac), and escitalopram (Lexapro), may be compatible with mild to moderate alcohol use, according to some providers.

How much alcohol can you take with antidepressants?

Since many patients are unwilling to entirely abstain from alcohol, it is crucial to combine alcohol and antidepressants in the safest manner possible. Some physicians let patients consume alcohol in moderation. This equates to one drink per day for women and two for men, along with a meal.

What will happen if I mix antidepressants with alcohol?

Mixing antidepressants with alcohol results in:

  • An increase in depression and anxiety
  • Impaired thinking and alertness
  • Becoming sedated or drowsy
  • Aggression and risky behaviors
  • Worsened severe side effects if you take other medicines

Get Back on the Track with The Haven Detox

If you drink alcohol while taking antidepressants because you feel depressed and anxious, you may be developing alcohol dependence. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, muscular spasms, headache, and hurting joints are signs of a growing alcohol dependence requiring immediate professional medical attention.

The Haven can assist if you or someone you know combines antidepressants and alcohol. Our team of medical professional offer detox and residential treatment services in a safe and secure setting. To meet each patient’s unique needs, we provide individualized alcohol addiction and mental health treatment programs.

Contact us at (844) 933-4145 to get additional information about our addiction treatment programs.