Substance Use

Antidepressants and Alcohol: Dangers and Side Effects

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Alcohol is a hypnotic sedative that depresses crucial bodily functions when drunk in excess. Mixing alcohol and antidepressants is generally not recommended for several reasons. The medications can worsen the effects of alcohol, while alcohol can worsen antidepressant side effects. In some cases, alcohol use can trigger or worsen symptoms of depression in at-risk individuals. 

But is it always dangerous to mix alcohol and antidepressants? And is completely abstaining from alcohol the only option for people on antidepressants?

The following article will explore how alcohol and antidepressants affect people when the two are mixed.

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How Do Antidepressants Work?

Antidepressants work by influencing chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, that play a role in mood and emotions. (1) These medications target specific neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, to regulate their levels. (2)

By doing so, antidepressants aim to enhance communication between nerve cells and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. It’s important to note that the exact mechanisms can vary among different types of antidepressants, including SSRIs, SNRIs, and others. (3)

Consulting with a healthcare professional provides personalized insights into how a specific antidepressant works for an individual’s unique needs.

Alcohol’s Effects on the Body

Alcohol’s impact on the body is extensive, affecting both physical and mental well-being. When consumed, alcohol enters the bloodstream and travels to the brain, leading to changes in cognition, coordination, and worsening mood. (4)

Physiologically, alcohol can harm organs such as the liver and heart over time. Moreover, excessive and prolonged alcohol use may contribute to addiction, mental health issues, and an increased risk of accidents. (5)

Different Types of Antidepressants

There are several different types of antidepressant medications on the market. Each one affects crucial neurotransmitters and neural processes differently in the treatment of depression. Millions of Americans take antidepressants. Antidepressant use is highest at over 24% among women over 60. (6)

Generally, drinking alcohol while taking antidepressants is not advised. Alcohol can make depression worse and also increase the severity of antidepressant side effects. It’s generally recommended that people on antidepressants abstain from alcohol, especially if they will be driving or operating heavy machinery.

How does alcohol use interact with different types of antidepressant medications?

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, don’t usually cause problems if someone drinks while taking them. But, these medications can make patients drowsy, and alcohol can intensify this effect. (7)

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs, or Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, represent a class of antidepressants designed to regulate neurotransmitters in the brain. These medications primarily target serotonin and norepinephrine, crucial chemicals influencing mood and emotion. (8)

By inhibiting their reuptake, SNRIs increase the levels of these neurotransmitters, promoting better communication between nerve cells.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

TCAs can make people feel tired or uncoordinated. These side effects are most pronounced during the first few weeks after someone starts taking the medications. It’s not a good idea to drink soon after starting on TCA medications for depression. (9) (10)

Several weeks after side effects have subsided, though, it’s generally considered safe to drink small amounts of alcohol.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

Tyramine, a substance found in some beers, wines, and sherry, can cause serious side effects if someone drinks while on an MAOI. (11) Side effects include a sudden, dangerous increase in blood pressure. It is generally advised that people avoid alcohol if they are on an MAOI. Tyramine is also found in certain foods. 

People who take an MAOI need to be particularly careful with their diet.

Other antidepressant drugs do not cause any severe problems with alcohol. But, they can make a person very drowsy or sleepy if they mix the two.

Atypical Antidepressants

If someone takes an antidepressant and another prescription medication for a different health problem at the same time, alcohol can significantly increase the side effects of both medications.

The Dangers of Drinking Alcohol With Antidepressants

The most significant side effects of mixing antidepressants and alcohol include the following:

1. Depression and Anxiety

Drinking can prevent antidepressant medications from working correctly. Drinking can make depression symptoms more severe and harder to treat. (12) Although alcohol can improve mood in the short term, the risk of creating long-term problems is a risk that people on antidepressants should avoid taking.

2. Dangerous Reactions

For people on MAOIs, alcohol can cause dangerous, potentially deadly increases in blood pressure. People on MAOIs should avoid all alcoholic drinks that are likely to cause this reaction. (13)

It’s important to discuss with your doctor what foods and drinks are safe to consume while taking MAOIs.

3. Drowsiness, Confusion, Loss of Coordination

Alcohol and antidepressants can impair a person’s coordination and cause confusion and severe drowsiness. People can fall and injure themselves, and it’s best to avoid driving or operating machinery if someone drinks while on any type of antidepressant.

Even if a person’s BAC is far under the legal limit, alcohol mixed with an antidepressant will intensify feelings of drowsiness and loss of coordination. (14)

Who Is Most at Risk?

People with an untreated substance abuse disorder or depression that is not responding to medication are at high risk of abusing alcohol and their prescription medications.

Also, mixing alcohol with antidepressants can make someone incredibly sleepy. People with an untreated sleeping disorder may mix their antidepressants with alcohol to find relief. This risky behavior can lead to more serious problems in the future, like suicidal thoughts or mental illness.

Guidelines for Alcohol Consumption on Antidepressants

When taking antidepressants, it’s crucial to be mindful of alcohol consumption. Follow your doctor’s guidelines regarding alcohol intake, as interactions between antidepressants and alcohol can amplify side effects and compromise treatment efficacy.

Generally, it’s advised to limit alcohol or abstain entirely, especially if you’re unsure about specific interactions with your medication. Monitor how your body reacts to this combination and communicate openly with your healthcare provider about any concerns or changes in your alcohol use or behavioral health.

Safety measures include staying hydrated, recognizing personal alcohol tolerance, and seeking immediate medical attention if unusual symptoms occur.

Depression, Alcohol Abuse, and Antidepressant Use

Depression and alcohol abuse often intertwine, creating a complex relationship that can exacerbate mental health challenges. Some individuals turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism for depressive symptoms, unknowingly hindering their recovery. (15)

Antidepressants play a crucial role in addressing the underlying issues of depression, but their effectiveness can be compromised by excessive alcohol consumption. It’s essential to recognize this interplay, as untreated depression and alcohol misuse can form a detrimental cycle.

Seeking professional help is key, as healthcare providers can tailor treatment plans, combining antidepressants with counseling or therapy to address both depression and alcohol-related concerns comprehensively.

How to Recognize and Address Alcohol Addiction

Recognizing and addressing alcohol addiction is a crucial journey that involves careful observation and proactive steps. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help navigate this process:

  1. Self-Reflection: Begin by honestly assessing your alcohol consumption or observing the behavior of a loved one. Look for signs of dependency, increased tolerance, or negative impacts on physical and mental health.
  2. Educate Yourself: Learn about the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction. Understand the physical, behavioral, and psychological indicators that may signal a problematic relationship with alcohol.
  3. Seek Professional Guidance: Consult with a healthcare professional or addiction specialist to discuss concerns and obtain expert advice. They can provide assessments, and guidance on treatment programs, and connect you with appropriate resources.
  4. Talk Openly: If you suspect a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, approach the conversation with empathy and openness. Express your concerns without judgment and encourage them to share their feelings and experiences.
  5. Observe Behavioral Changes: Be attentive to behavioral shifts, including social withdrawal, neglect of responsibilities, or a decline in overall well-being. These changes may indicate a deeper issue with alcohol.
  6. Connect with Support Systems: Engage with support groups, friends, or family members who understand the challenges of alcohol addiction. A strong support network can provide encouragement, understanding, and accountability.
  7. Explore Treatment Options: Investigate various treatment options, including therapy, counseling, or rehabilitation programs. Tailor the approach to individual needs and preferences, considering factors such as the severity of addiction and any co-occurring mental health issues.
  8. Develop Coping Strategies: Work on developing healthy coping mechanisms to replace reliance on alcohol. This may involve stress management techniques, hobbies, or activities that bring joy and fulfillment.
  9. Encourage Long-Term Recovery: Recognize that addressing alcohol addiction is a long-term process. Encourage ongoing participation in support groups, therapy, or aftercare programs to sustain recovery efforts.
  10. Celebrate Milestones: Acknowledge and celebrate milestones in the recovery journey. Positive reinforcement can boost motivation and commitment to maintaining a healthier relationship with alcohol.

Support and Treatment Options for Substance Abuse

If someone is mixing alcohol with antidepressants to get “high,” or experiencing other adverse consequences from combining the two substances, they will need help from a qualified alcohol abuse counselor. When someone engages in risky behavior despite the consequences, it is a sign of an addiction problem.

An inpatient rehab center will be able to address alcohol abuse while still assisting the patients with their depressive symptoms. Medical detox centers and inpatient rehabilitation facilities are staffed with trained medical doctors who can monitor a patient’s antidepressant use and assist them in managing their depression.

For people with depression who struggle with alcohol use disorder, they must receive integrated care both during and after treatment. Inpatient rehab centers give people access to trained, qualified therapists and a support network.

Get Help for Alcohol Use Disorder Today

If you or someone you know is struggling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), it’s important to seek help today. Recognizing the need for assistance is a crucial step toward recovery. Reach out to healthcare professionals, local mental health services and support groups, or helplines such as the National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) to access the support and resources necessary for effective treatment.

Taking this step can lead to a healthier and more fulfilling life free from the challenges of alcohol misuse.

To learn more about alcohol addiction and recovery, reach out to these hotlines for alcohol abuse or call Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439.


Can I drink alcohol while on antidepressants?

It is generally advised to avoid alcohol while on antidepressants, as it can interact with the medication and potentially amplify side effects. Alcohol can also counteract the effectiveness of antidepressants and worsen symptoms.

How do antidepressants affect the liver?

Certain antidepressants may impact liver function, especially if taken in high doses or over an extended period. Regular monitoring of liver enzymes is often recommended during antidepressant treatment to assess any potential liver-related concerns.

What antidepressants do not interact with alcohol?

While individual responses vary, certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may have lower interaction risks with alcohol. However, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before combining any antidepressant with alcohol.

Which antidepressants should not be taken with alcohol?

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and some tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) should not be taken with alcohol, as the combination can lead to severe interactions, including dangerously high blood pressure.

Is mixing alcohol with antidepressants a sign of alcoholism?

Mixing alcohol with antidepressants may not necessarily indicate alcoholism. However, it could suggest a lack of awareness of the potential risks or a coping mechanism that may impact mental health. It is advisable to discuss any concerns with a healthcare provider.

Is there always a danger when mixing alcohol and antidepressants?

There is a potential danger when mixing alcohol and antidepressants, as it can enhance side effects, reduce medication efficacy, and pose health risks. The degree of danger varies depending on the specific antidepressant and individual factors. It is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to assess the potential risks and make informed decisions about alcohol consumption during antidepressant treatment.


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