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Antidepressants and Alcohol: The Fatal Cocktail

If you’ve ever been prescribed medication, you may remember your doctor telling you to avoid drinking alcohol while taking it.

Oftentimes, alcohol can worsen symptoms of the condition you’re trying to treat, or it can react badly with the medication itself. As a Christian drug rehab in Florida, we’ve heard of people drinking on antidepressants despite the possible repercussions. People either combine these substances accidentally or intensify side effects in an attempt to get high. To better understand this fatal cocktail, we’re sharing what happens if you mix antidepressants and alcohol.

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are medications used to treat symptoms of mental disorders like depression, anxiety disorders, seasonal affective disorder, and dysthymia, or mild chronic depression. The purpose of antidepressants is to correct chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, that are believed to be responsible for mood and behavioral changes. Antidepressants were first developed in the 1950s and have gradually become more common ever since.

The different types of antidepressants include:

  • Serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem), fluvoxamine (Luvox), and sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): amitriptyline (Elavil), amoxapine- clomipramine (Anafranil), desipramine (Norpramin), doxepin (Sinequan), imipramine (Tofranil), and nortriptyline (Pamelor)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): phenelzine (Nardil), tranylcypromine (Parnate), isocarboxazid (Marplan), and selegiline (EMSAM, Eldepryl)
  • Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs): mianserin (Tolvon) and mirtazapine (Remeron, Avanza, Zispin)

Antidepressants work by regulating chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters. Cells use neurotransmitters like serotonin to send signals to each other. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, emotions, and other bodily functions. Once it’s sent from one cell to another, the sending cell absorbs the leftover serotonin to use for the next signal. People with depression usually have a serotonin imbalance, meaning their overall level of serotonin might be low, and some of it may be reabsorbed too soon, which can impair communication between the brain cells. Antidepressants are designed to help increase the amount of serotonin in the synapse (the space between cells), blocking its reabsorption. As serotonin builds up, communication between cells can resume, and depression symptoms may improve.

What Happens When You Mix Alcohol and Antidepressants?

Usually, doctors advise patients to avoid drinking alcohol while taking medications, especially antidepressants. So, if you’re wondering if you can drink on antidepressants, the answer is no. But why? Mixing antidepressants with alcohol is bad because alcohol can actually make depression worse and can react poorly with the medication. Alcohol affects both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, meaning it can act as a stimulant in small doses and as a depressant in larger doses. One neurotransmitter that’s affected by alcohol is glutamate, which normally increases brain activity and energy levels. Alcohol suppresses the release of glutamate, slowing down activity in the brain.

On the other hand, alcohol can also activate or increase the levels of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which reduces energy levels. In other words, alcohol can slow down your speech, movements, and ability to think, also impairing judgment. So, when you mix alcohol and antidepressants, the side effects of antidepressants like drowsiness, dizziness, and coordination problems are amplified. Additionally, the goal of antidepressants is to regulate chemical imbalances, which can be caused by drinking alcohol.

Although there are plenty of Bible verses to calm down anger, it’s not enough to just read these verses. You have to find ways to apply them to your life. For instance, Proverbs 14:16-17 reads, “The wise are cautious and avoid danger….” This means that you need to be wise about the situations you put yourself in. If you received alcohol treatment and you’re struggling with the desire to drink, don’t go to a club or a party where you know alcohol will be abundant. While it’s not guaranteed to be easy, God can help you overcome anything.

Some other side effects of antidepressants and alcohol include:

  • Worsened symptoms of depression like extreme sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness
  • Increased blood pressure (common when alcohol is mixed with MAOIs)
  • Impaired judgment
  • Decreased alertness
  • Extreme sedation or drowsiness
  • Increased risk of alcohol abuse
  • Difficulty sleeping

On a side note, alcohol is also addictive, and people with mental illnesses like depression have higher risks of developing an alcohol use disorder. If you have depression but are also struggling with alcohol use, then you may need a medically assisted detox to safely get through alcohol withdrawal and regain sobriety before you’re able to take any medication for your condition.

If you’re concerned about your alcohol use or that of a loved one, Faith in Recovery can help. We offer alcohol treatment that focuses on a physical and mental recovery from addiction. When combined with our drug therapy programs, our addiction treatment helps patients recover from substance abuse and develop the skills they need for long-term sobriety. To learn more, call our team at 888-280-4763.