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How Does Alcohol Affect Antidepressants

How Does Alcohol Affect Antidepressants

If you’ve recently been prescribed antidepressants, congratulations! You’re taking action to improve your mental health, and you’ve decided that medication is the right path for you. If you’re one of the 500,000 Delawarians that consume alcohol, however, this could mean a lifestyle change for you. 

At SUN Behavioral Health Delaware, we know it can be difficult to stop drinking alcohol when you’re taking antidepressants. If you’re wondering how much you can drink while taking your medications, this article is for you. Let’s talk about how alcohol affects antidepressants, and how much is actually safe to consume.

Why Isn’t It a Good Idea to Mix Alcohol and Antidepressants?

Alcohol and antidepressants don’t go together. If you’ve ever looked at the side of your antidepressant bottle, it likely says something along the lines of “do not take with alcohol” – and for good reason. While some physicians allow their patients to drink in moderation with their medication (1 glass for women, 2 for men), most of them will ask you to steer clear. But why? What’s the big deal?

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol While Taking Antidepressants?

There are a variety of reasons why alcohol and antidepressants shouldn’t be taken together. Let’s talk about some of the most likely scenarios: 

  1. Alcohol can counteract the effects of your antidepressants. SSRIs (Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac, etc.) work by increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that works by sending messages from the brain to the nervous system. Because serotonin is associated with heightened mood, higher levels of this little neurotransmitter can help ease some of the symptoms of your depression. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant. One of the side effects of alcoholism, is the reduction of serotonin. Over time and with continued use, alcohol can negatively impact serotonin levels. So while your medications are working to give you more access to serotonin, alcohol is working to do the opposite. This means your medications can’t do their job properly.

    Another important thing to note is that alcohol is a depressant. This means  it isn’t good for your mental health – with or without antidepressants. It can make depressive episodes more severe, cause regular panic attacks, disrupt your sleep, and increase feelings of agitation or aggression.

  2. Your antidepressants come with side effects, and alcohol can make them worse. It’s rare to find a medication that doesn’t come with side effects. For some, the side effects experienced alongside antidepressant use are mild – headaches, occasional constipation, nightmares, etc. For others, side effects can include insomnia, worsening anxiety, weight gain, diarrhea, or even suicidality. Alcohol is almost guaranteed to magnify the side effects you experience, whether they’re mild or severe. This can become dangerous in some cases. If you experience increased episodes of insomnia while drinking and taking antidepressants, the lack of sleep could cause worsening depression or increased frequency of depressive episodes. Gastrointestinal issues may also be magnified to the point of you needing to seek medical attention. These are just a couple of examples.

  3. Mixing alcohol and antidepressants can cause you to behave in ways you normally wouldn’t. Alcohol impairs decision-making and inhibitions on its own, but when mixed with antidepressants, it can become worse. It’s also common for people to get drunker faster when they’re taking antidepressants, especially if they’re new to drinking or if they don’t know how to monitor their intake. This can become dangerous. A complete lack of inhibitions can lead to poor decision-making (like drinking and driving), injury to yourself, or even injuries to the people around you. 

How Much Alcohol Does it Take to Affect Antidepressants?

It doesn’t take much alcohol to impact the way your antidepressants work. Depending on the type of antidepressant you’re on, as little as 1 drink per night can impact your mental and physical health. That’s why it’s important that you communicate with your doctor. If you don’t want to give up your glass of wine each night, it may play a role in what your doctor decides to prescribe you. If you’re living with an alcohol use disorder, your doctor may ask that you seek treatment for that before you start an antidepressant routine. 

Is Mixing Alcohol with Antidepressants a Sign of Alcoholism?

If you’re unable to stop drinking while taking antidepressants, it could be a sign that you’re developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. If your doctor is asking that you abstain from alcohol, or that you moderate your drinking, and you find that you can’t – it might be time to seek treatment. 

Almost 25% of people managing a mood disorder (like depression) use alcohol to self-medicate. Unfortunately, while drinking can make you feel better in the moment, it destroys mental health over time. One of the reasons antidepressants are prescribed is to eliminate the need for self-medication. If you’ve found the right medication, your desire to “drink away the pain” should decrease. Your medication can’t do its job if you’re unable to stop drinking

That being said, enjoying alcohol does not make you an alcoholic. Not everyone who drinks while taking antidepressants has an alcohol use disorder. Everyone’s situation is unique.

Who Is At Risk of Mixing Alcohol and Antidepressants?

If you’ve been using alcohol as a form of self-medication, it’s going to be a massive change to switch to antidepressants. You may still be tempted to self-medicate with alcohol, especially on the hard days. This history of using alcohol as a way to de-stress or unwind could put you at risk of mixing alcohol and antidepressants in the future. If you’re worried about this happening, tell your doctor. Remember: antidepressants won’t make you feel better instantly.

Many of them take up to 6-8 weeks to start working. If you’re tempted to self-medicate with alcohol during this time, speak with your clinician. There are ways your treatment plan can be modified to suit your needs. Therapy may also be useful during this time. 

Getting Treatment for Alcoholism at SUN Behavioral Health Delaware

If you or someone you love is having a hard time controlling how much alcohol you drink (or how often you drink), it might be time to seek treatment. At SUN Behavioral Delaware, we know that every patient’s healing journey is unique. That’s why we offer a large variety of treatment programs for alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox happens in the first 72 hours after your last drink. It’s the process your body goes through to flush the alcohol out of its system. During this time, your body is working hard to rid itself of any toxins left behind. This is when withdrawal symptoms usually start, peak, and subside.

SUN Behavioral Health’s Alcohol Detox happens during this time. You’ll come in and meet with one of our clinicians to be assessed for your needs and to create some goals for yourself. People who choose detox stay in our facility so we can monitor their condition, treat their withdrawal symptoms, and help them heal safely and efficiently.

Inpatient Treatment 

Inpatient treatment provides patients with a stable and supportive environment. Here, they can focus on their recovery while being surrounded by trained and licensed professionals and others who are going through the same thing. 

During inpatient treatment, patients stay on sight at the rehab facility 24/7. They get to experience a wide variety of activities and programs during their day from individual therapy sessions and group sessions to activities such as yoga or hobbies that help rebuild new habits and focus the mind on healing.

Outpatient and PHP (Partial Hospitalization Program) 

If inpatient treatment doesn’t work for your schedule or your lifestyle, outpatient, and PHP can help. Outpatient programs can also act as a stepping stone between inpatient and the end of treatment. This type of care usually does not require patients to stay at the facility while being treated. When visiting the facility, patients spend time in customized sessions throughout the day. This can be beneficial for full-time employees seeking treatment because it allows patients to continue to maintain a life outside of treatment.

If you or someone you know is living with an alcohol use disorder, SUN Behavioral Health Delaware can help. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about our available treatment options, call us today at 302-604-5600 so we can help you get your life back.


Frequently Asked Questions

Which antidepressants should not be taken with alcohol?

While some antidepressants (like SSRIs) shouldn’t cause too much harm when mixed with the occasional drink, others (like MAOIs) should never be combined with alcohol. Make sure you speak with your doctor before consuming alcohol while taking antidepressants. 

What should you do if you accidentally mix alcohol with antidepressants?

Take your next dose on time. Don’t skip a dose. Speak with your doctor if you’re concerned or if you’ve consumed a large amount of alcohol. 

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