Does drinking alcohol interfere with the effects of antidepressant medications?

Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed classes of drugs in the U.S., and perhaps because of how commonly they’re used, people tend to forget that they can have very real and sometimes dangerous side effects and interactions with other substances. One of the most widely used types of antidepressants, in particular, are called SSRIs.

People wonder what the possible interactions are with alcohol and SSRIs, and they have questions like “can I drink alcohol while on SSRIs or antidepressants?”

The following provides general information about antidepressants and also addresses facts about the relationship between alcohol and SSRIs.

Can You Drink Alcohol While on SSRIs or Antidepressants?

Many people drink casually, and they may also take SSRIs without thinking about the possible adverse interactions that could exist between alcohol and SSRIs.

First and foremost, before looking at the interaction between alcohol and SSRI, people who are taking antidepressants should be careful with their alcohol use in general. Depression is a very serious illness, and the symptoms can be debilitating. Alcohol acts as a depressant, so it can make the symptoms of underlying depression even worse. When someone has an underlying mood disorder like depression, it can also make them more susceptible to alcohol abuse, as a means of self-medicating. These risks aren’t necessarily specific to alcohol and SSRIs, but they are something to consider.

As far as alcohol and SSRIs, there are risks as well. First, alcohol tends to worsen the existing side effects that are possible with SSRIs on their own. You may have ever never experienced side effects with SSRIs in the past, but when you add alcohol into the mix, you do.

Other side effects of mixing alcohol and SSRIs can include extreme drowsiness and sedation, impaired alertness and thinking, and impaired ability to do certain tasks that require focus and attention.

Something else to consider with alcohol and SSRIs is the fact that you should never stop taking your medicine so that you can drink. If you miss a dose of SSRIs, you may experience withdrawal or serious side effects, and stopping and starting antidepressants can make your underlying condition worse.

Finally, when you drink it temporarily spikes your serotonin levels, which is why it can initially make you feel good. That can mean that you experience too much serotonin when alcohol is mixed with SSRIs, which can lead to serotonin syndrome. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can include high blood pressure, agitation, muscle twitching and diarrhea.

Some doctors may tell patients that it’s okay to drink moderately while on SSRIs, but this is always something that should be discussed with your physician.

What Are SSRIs?

SSRIs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and they include some of the most well-known antidepressants, such as Prozac. Prozac was the first SSRI available, around 30 years ago.

When a person takes SSRIs, it impacts the neurotransmitters in their brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that nerve cells use for communication, and more specifically these antidepressants block the reabsorption of serotonin so more stays available in the brain.

Along with helping treat moderate to severe depression, SSRIs can be used to treat anxiety or panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and social anxiety disorder or social phobia.

Along with Prozac, other SSRIs include Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, and Zoloft.

While doctors prescribe SSRIs with the knowledge that the benefits should outweigh the side effects, there are still possible adverse symptoms of using them. A rare but very serious risk of the use of SSRIs and antidepressants is the chance they can cause suicidal thoughts or behaviors in children, teens, and young adults.

Other possibly more common side effects can include nausea, restlessness, nervousness, reduced sexual desire or performance, and insomnia or drowsiness.

While SSRIs aren’t considered addictive, it is possible to develop a physical dependence. This means that if you suddenly stop taking an antidepressant or you miss a dose, you may have withdrawal symptoms. Some of the withdrawal symptoms of SSRIs may include headache, confusion, irritability, lethargy or flu-like symptoms.

As was touched on above, SSRIs work by increasing available serotonin in the brain.

While there are potential side effects, SSRIs are generally safe for most people, as long as instructions are followed and dosages are adhered to.

It is important to speak with your doctor about any other medicines you take, or vitamins or supplements, particularly because of the risk of serotonin syndrome which can occur when too much serotonin accumulates in your body.

Summing Up—What To Know About Alcohol and SSRIs

Can you drink alcohol while on SSRIs or antidepressants? The general recommendation with alcohol and SSRIs is that you shouldn’t combine them. Alcohol and SSRIs together can lead to side effects ranging from drowsiness to impaired thinking.

Also, alcohol abuse can make the underlying symptoms of depression or anxiety worse, so it could seem like your medicine isn’t working when in reality alcohol is making it more difficult to treat your depression or anxiety.

Always speak to your doctor about alcohol and SSRIs, and be open with them about what other substances you regularly use before taking antidepressants or other medicines.

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Camille Renzoni
Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
Jessica Pyhtila
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.