Dangers of Mixing Antidepressants with Alcohol

August 1, 2020 , Agape Treatment Center

man sitting on beachAlcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down critical bodily functions such as cognition and respiratory rate. Mixing antidepressants with alcohol has a myriad of harmful consequences. Antidepressants exacerbate the effects of alcohol, while alcohol actually worsens the potential side effects of antidepressants and reduces the efficiency of the medication. Furthermore, people who abuse alcohol are more susceptible to depression and other worsening mental health issues, which is what the antidepressants are supposed to be treating in the first place.

Taking antidepressants with alcohol is generally not recommended due to the risks associated with it. However, many people minimize the risks and don’t think twice about mixing antidepressants with alcohol.  Knowing the dangers of mixing antidepressants with alcohol helps people to decide whether or not drinking is worth that risk.

What are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are used to reduce the symptoms of depression. There are many different types of depression-reducing medications out there and each one works through a unique mechanism. The type of antidepressant a doctor recommends depends on what symptoms a person is having and how severe they are.

Selective Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are generally the go-to prescription for someone taking an antidepressant for the first time. This is because they tend to have the least side effects even at higher doses.[1] As the name suggests, SSRIs act on serotonin in the brain, a chemical that is associated with increased happiness and feelings of well being. It works by blocking serotonin reuptake pumps, allowing the neurotransmitter to remain available for use in the brain for longer periods of time. [2] Common SSRIs include:

  • Prozac
  • Zoloft
  • Lexapro

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Uptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs work through a similar mechanism of action as SSRIs, except they also have the added ability to block the reuptake of norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is the adrenaline hormone, meaning it increases activity in the central nervous system. These drugs also have fewer side effects compared to other classes of antidepressants.[3] They include:

  • Effexor
  • Cymbalta
  • Pristiq

Atypical Antidepressants

These medications don’t fit into the traditional categories of antidepressants. They have varying levels of different side effects.[1] Drugs in the category are:

  • Wellbutrin
  • Remeron
  • Trintellix

Tricyclic Antidepressants

This class of antidepressants has been known to cause more side effects than SSRIs, SNRIs, and atypical antidepressants. Because of this, doctors generally don’t prescribe these drugs unless a person has not responded to treatment with the other ones.[1] These medications include:

  • Tofranil
  • Pamelor
  • Norpramin

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

MAOIs are known to have serious side effects and are usually only prescribed if a person has failed treatment with other medications. When someone is taking an MAOI, they need to be on a restricted diet due to potential interactions with certain types of alcohol, cheeses, and pickles. They also have adverse interactions with other medications. Common MAOIs are:

  • Parnate
  • Nardil
  • Marplan

How do Antidepressants and Alcohol Interact?

Mixing antidepressants and alcohol is generally counterproductive. This is because alcohol actually works to interfere with antidepressants and causes several problems. As a depressant, it significantly worsens depression and anxiety. It also makes some unpleasant side effects of antidepressants worse.[4] These side effects include:

  • Impaired cognition
  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed motor skills
  • Increased depression and anxiety

Drinking alcohol may also cause life-threatening interactions with certain antidepressants, namely MAOIs. [4] However, with SSRIs and SNRIs, drinking is acceptable when limited to very small amounts. If a person is considering stopping an antidepressant because they want to be able to drink more, this is a common sign of alcoholism.

Depression and Alcohol Abuse

People suffering from depression are at an increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder, which makes mixing alcohol and antidepressants even more dangerous. Many people with depression also experience disrupted sleep patterns and difficulty sleeping. Alcohol acts as a sedative, which means it is commonly abused as a sleep aid. However, many people do not know that alcohol actually disrupts sleep, making it less restful.[5]

Another common reason that individuals with depression develop alcoholism is that they will drink as a form of self-medication to try to improve the symptoms of their depression. It’s true that alcohol temporarily increases pleasurable feelings and reduces anxiety. However, when someone becomes a chronic drinker, depression and anxiety are eventually exacerbated to levels that are much worse than before they started drinking. For this reason, depression is no excuse for alcohol abuse.

Seeking Help for Depression and Alcohol Alcoholism

If you or a loved one is suffering from depression and alcoholism it is important to seek help as soon as possible. Treatment for both depression and alcohol addiction includes cognitive and behavioral therapy. Therapy works to teach coping mechanisms on how to deal with symptoms of depression in a healthy manner while also addressing the underlying causes of alcohol addiction.

At Agape Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida we address both mental health and addiction. Our licensed counselors tailor a plan that fits both your mental health and addiction needs in order to provide you with the best care possible. If you’re suffering from depression and have been mixing antidepressants with alcohol, contact us today. We are here to help.

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20046273
  2. https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/serotonin#1
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20044970
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressants-and-alcohol/faq-20058231
  5. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-alcohol-affects-quality-and-quantity-sleep