Antidepressants and Alcohol: The Dangers of Drinking while using Antidepressants

Antidepressants are commonly prescribed in the United States and most countries across the world, yet many people pay little attention to warnings not to drink alcohol while taking the medications – even though information about the risks are prominently displayed on the container.

What are the Dangers of Mixing Antidepressants and Alcohol?

Increased depression: It may seem that alcohol relieves symptoms of depression, but more often, the reverse is true -- alcohol can counteract the benefits of antidepressants, ultimately making your depression much worse and more difficult to treat. Unwise use of alcohol may also lead to substance use and addiction.

If it seems that your anti-depressant medications aren’t helping, it may be wise to give up drinking altogether so the anti-depressants can work properly.

Increased side effects: It’s typical to experience a variety of side-effects while taking antidepressants, although most are relatively mild and may go away in time. However, alcohol can multiply side-effects such as dry mouth, nausea and diarrhea.

Some anti-depressants have also been linked to an increased risk of aggression, violent behavior or suicide, especially in teens and young adults. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or another person, seek help as soon as possible.

Drowsiness: The combination of alcohol and anti-depressants can trigger sleepiness, as well as decreased focus and cloudy, disorganized thinking. Think twice before getting behind the wheel if you drink alcohol while using anti-depressant medications.

Increased risk of substance abuse and addiction: If you struggle with depression, you’re already at a higher risk of substance abuse and addiction. It may be tempting to use alcohol to self-treat depressed feelings, but doing so greatly increases the risk of developing alcoholism.

No Antidepressants are Completely Safe when used with Alcohol

The possible effects of using antidepressants and alcohol vary substantially depending on the type of antidepressants. However, all present a certain degree of risk.

Monoamine-Oxidase Inhibitors: According to the National Health Service (NHS), antidepressants known as monoamine-oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), including Nardil, Zelapar and Azilect, can cause serious side effects when combined with alcohol, including a sudden rise in blood pressure.

Tricyclic Antidepressants: The NHS also warns that the combination of alcohol and tricyclic antidepressants such amitriptyline, doxepin or imipramine may make you drowsy and affect your coordination, especially during the first few weeks after beginning the medication.

SSRIs: Manufacturers of Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), including Zoloft, Prozac or Lexapro, advise against use of alcohol because the combination can make you dizzy or sleepy. Blurred vision is also a possibility.

In general, the consensus among medical providers is that alcohol and antidepressants are a bad combination, although some physicians say that drinking in moderation may be acceptable.

Everyone’s situation is different and some people may be able to tolerate small amounts of alcohol. It’s impossible to predict how the combination will affect you, but if you aren’t sure, it’s best to quit drinking entirely. Never drive a car or operate equipment if you feel dizzy, sleepy or less alert.

If you don’t want to give up an occasional drink, it’s important to drink as safely as possible.

What is Moderate Drinking?

Moderate drinking means no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink is one glass or bottle of beer, one average glass of wine, or one shot of whiskey.

Drug and Alcohol Treatment or Rehab

If you’re having trouble giving up alcohol, or if drinking or depression is causing problems in your life, you may want to consider addiction treatment or rehab. Don’t wait until the situation is out of control, or until something tragic happens.

The sooner you seek drug and alcohol treatment, the sooner you can be on the path to recovery and a healthier, substance-free life.

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