Article at a Glance:

  • Drinking alcohol while taking lithium usually isn’t advised because it can make the side effects of the medicine and the symptoms of bipolar disorder more pronounced.
  • Drinking alcohol while on lithium can cause lithium toxicity due to dehydration from alcohol intake.
  • In general, combining lithium and alcohol may not be advised, and you should always speak to your doctor about potential risks and side effects.

Lithium is a common drug prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, mental health problems like bipolar disorder are also closely linked to drinking and alcohol abuse. If you have been prescribed lithium and are interested in drinking, there are several factors to take into account before you have alcohol.

Mixing Alcohol and Lithium

Because lithium and alcohol both affect the central nervous system, understanding the potential effects of drinking alcohol and taking lithium is important. Mixing these two substances has its own side effects, impacts your mental health and dehydrates the body. It is important to take all of these factors into account before drinking.

What Is Lithium?

Lithium is a drug that is FDA-approved to treat bipolar disorder, a mental health problem characterized by severe mood swings. Some characteristics of lithium include:

Brand name Lithobid
Conditions it can treat Bipolar disorder
Drug type Antimanic agent
Controlled substance status Lithium is not a controlled substance.
Side Effects Underactive thyroid, heart conduction problems, rash, swelling, confusion, fatigue
How long it takes to have its peak effect Within 6 hours
Duration of effect 8 to 12 hours

Lithium and Alcohol Side Effects

Because alcohol and lithium both affect the central nervous system, taking them together can increase side effects. Some of the side effects that can be amplified by combining alcohol and lithium include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Cognitive problems
  • Trouble with judgment
  • Coordination problems

What Are the Risks of Drinking on Lithium?

The risks of drinking on lithium involve your health and your mental status. Besides the potential for worsened side effects when you combine lithium and alcohol, drinking may also exacerbate your bipolar disorder and can lead to dehydration. Dehydration, in turn, can cause your lithium levels to increase dangerously.

Alcohol, Lithium and Dehydration

An important consideration to keep in mind about alcohol and lithium is that drinking alcohol can be dehydrating. This can cause the amount of lithium in your blood to rise, which can become toxic.

Even when you’re not planning to combine alcohol and lithium, you should stay hydrated throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Further, people on lithium are advised to maintain a balanced diet, which can be interrupted by heavy drinking.

Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder

When you suffer from bipolar depression, alcohol can make your symptoms worse, regardless of whether or not you’re on lithium. Alcohol is a depressant, so it may not be advisable for someone with bipolar disorder to drink, particularly not excessively.

Taking Lithium After Alcohol

You should always take your lithium exactly as prescribed and when the dose is scheduled to be taken. Because lithium can last for hours in your body and is intended to be dosed around the clock to stabilize your mood, it is unclear what the safest time to take lithium after drinking is.

Drinking After Taking Lithium

Because lithium is dosed multiple times a day to keep a stable level of the drug in your body and control your mood, it is unclear if there is a safe window for drinking after you have taken a dose of lithium.

Can You Overdose on Alcohol & Lithium?

Becoming dehydrated from vomiting or urinating after drinking can cause the lithium levels in your blood to increase to toxic levels. Your doctor likely keeps a close eye on your lithium levels for this reason. It is important to remain well-hydrated while on lithium and to replace any fluids you lose from vomiting or excessive urination after drinking. Symptoms of lithium toxicity include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremor
  • Gait problems
  • Drowsiness
  • Muscle weakness

If you take lithium regularly and you’re struggling with your alcohol use, you may want help for alcohol addiction. Addiction experts at The Recovery Village can help you stop using alcohol while simultaneously treating co-occurring mental health issues like bipolar disorder. Contact us today to discuss individualized treatment options that can work well for your situation.

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