Taking antidepressants can be a life-saving therapeutic tool for those suffering from depression or anxiety. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, commonly called SSRIs, are one of the main types of antidepressant prescriptions that physicians provide to those struggling with mental health concerns. Although taking SSRIs as prescribed is not usually dangerous, combining antidepressants and alcohol can lead to health complications and risky side effects.
What Are Antidepressants?
Antidepressants are a type of medication used to treat mild, moderate, or severe depression. There are several different types of antidepressants, and SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed medication used to treat depression. SSRIs are one of the more highly regarded antidepressant medications, as they are associated with fewer side effects than many other medications.
SSRIs combat depression by raising the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, meaning it works as a chemical messenger between brain cells. When someone takes an SSRI, the medication blocks the absorption of serotonin, making more of it available in the brain.
Some common generic and brand names for antidepressants include:
- citalopram (Celexa)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- vilazodone (Viibryd)
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Can You Mix Antidepressants And Alcohol?
When drinking moderately, many people forget to consider how alcohol might affect their current medications. Too often, individuals engaging in moderate drinking disregard the fact that their prescription could be negatively affected by alcohol.
When it comes to mixing alcohol with antidepressants, several risky side effects can occur. Some are more serious than others, and individuals may be affected differently by the type of antidepressant they are taking.
Some of the risks of taking antidepressants with alcohol include:
- clouded thinking
- poor judgment
- increased risk of serotonin syndrome
It’s also worth noting that alcohol is considered a depressant, and should be used with extreme caution—especially by those with mood disorders like depression. Using alcohol by itself can exacerbate the naturally occurring symptoms of depression and lead to unintended harm.
Alcohol Can Actually Make Things Worse
People may use alcohol because it initially makes them feel good, however, it is actually tricking you into thinking that it will continuously bolster your mood. When you first start drinking alcohol it gives many people feelings of euphoria, making it tempting and appealing to keep coming back for more.
However, alcohol is, in actuality a depressant. After drinking consistently over a long period of time, it no longer has the same effect. The “good feelings” instead become replaced with negative ones, and alcohol increasingly begins to reveal its true nature, as it works nearly solely as a depressant.
Alcohol is tricky that way—because of its nature, it sucks you in by releasing dopamine into your brain, making you think it’s making you happy—a state of mind that is fleeting. In addition, it changes your chemistry in other ways, altering the levels of critical neurotransmitters in your brain. It suppresses the excitatory neurotransmitters that are responsible for keeping your brain active and energetic, and instead increases the amounts of inhibitory neurotransmitters that create a sedative effect.
When someone who is already struggling with depression turns to alcohol, they are putting themselves at an even greater risk, and further deepening the impact of this debilitating mental disorder.
Side Effects Of Antidepressants
While most antidepressants (specifically SSRIs) work in a comparable way and generate similar side effects, individuals taking these medications can experience a wide range of effects. Some people may experience no side effects at all, where others struggle to find the medication that best fits their needs.
It’s important to let your doctor know if you experience any side effects, so they can adjust your dosage or prescribe a different medication more agreeable with your system.
Some of the side effects associated with antidepressants include:
- dry mouth
- nervousness, restlessness
- sexual problems (either erectile dysfunction or inability to become aroused)
- blurred vision
Long-Term Effects Of Mixing Alcohol And Antidepressants
Alcohol is a powerful drug, and any time it’s combined with another substance, the depressant effects are amplified. Combining alcohol with antidepressants can not only lead to short-term complications, such as an increase in the side effects of the antidepressant, but can also contribute to long-term consequences.
Some of the long-term effects of mixing antidepressants with alcohol include:
- antidepressant becoming less effective
- increased side effects of antidepressant
- higher chance of developing a physical dependence on alcohol
- increased risk of developing addiction
- increased risk of overdose
If you are on a prescription antidepressant and have questions about alcohol use, make sure to discuss these with your physician. Many people who drink while taking antidepressants may be unaware of the possible side effects and the increased risk of developing an alcohol dependency.
Alcohol And Antidepressants Do Not Mix
If someone already has an alcohol addiction, it is not generally recommended to begin taking antidepressants, as this combination can magnify your symptoms and can even place you in danger.
If you suffer from either alcohol abuse or addiction, it is imperative that you inform your medical practitioner of the quantity and frequency of your drinking. An individual who suffers from alcohol addiction should first seek treatment for substance abuse before starting on antidepressants. A good rehab program should address both of these concerns—treating co-occurring disorders is essential towards ensuring that a person is balanced in a way that is foundational to their sobriety.
Mixing any type of drug with alcohol can be dangerous, mixing antidepressants with alcohol is no different—this combination is more severe than numerous others, and can have a number of risks— it has even proven to be fatal in certain circumstances. When mixed with alcohol, antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can create a dangerous reaction, causing a person’s blood pressure to rise to hazardous levels.
Medically Supervised Detox Programs For Alcohol Abuse
When individuals regularly mix alcohol with antidepressants, it can not only have an adverse effect on the treatment of their depression, but can be a sign of alcohol abuse and addiction.
More than 20 million Americans struggle with substance abuse, and 7.9 million people have both substance abuse issues and mental health diagnoses. There is help available, in the form of detox services, medication-assisted treatment, and dual diagnosis care.
When an individual drinks heavily, their body will likely develop a physical dependency on alcohol over time. This means that if they stop alcohol use suddenly, their body may enter alcohol withdrawal, with symptoms that can be life-threatening.
Some of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- shaky hands
- not thinking clearly
- rapid heartbeat
- mood swings
- enlarged pupils
- loss of appetite
- pale skin
- trouble sleeping
Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal and should always be monitored in a medical setting. This ensures that the patient is kept stable as they pass through the withdrawal stage. Medical detox services can provide a safe and secure environment in which to detox from alcohol before the patient begins their recovery treatment.
Treatment For Alcohol Abuse And Addiction
Once the patient has successfully detoxed, they and their family are able to select the type of addiction treatment program in which to enroll.
Some of the treatments found in alcohol rehab centers include:
- Inpatient programs: In these residential programs, patients live temporarily on-site and engage in a structured schedule of recovery-related activities. Around-the-clock supervision is provided, and therapies include group and family counseling, 12-Step meetings, and experiential therapy like equine, art, and yoga sessions.
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs): Considered a “step down” level of treatment from inpatient care, PHPs offer programming five days per week, for six hours per day, and include medication-assisted treatment, support groups, and recovery-based outings.
- Outpatient treatment: Often heralded as a flexible option for those with family or professional commitments, outpatient care is offered three days per week, in morning or evening sessions. Outpatient programs will have many of the same therapies as PHPs, but are more flexibly scheduled.
Each of these treatment types should offer thoughtful and effective dual diagnosis care and medication-assisted treatment, in order to provide those suffering from co-occurring disorders with the quality treatment they deserve.
If you have questions about antidepressants and alcohol, or seeking treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction, contact one of our specialists today.