When someone is taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, for depression, they may wonder if it is safe to drink alcohol. However, people who are taking SSRIs should never drink alcohol while on their medication as dangerous interactions could occur.

If someone has depression, they may be prescribed SSRIs to manage their symptoms. These drugs are the main medications that doctors prescribe for people who struggle with depression because they tend to work well.

There are many drugs in the SSRI class. They all work by changing the chemistry in the brain and increase the amount of serotonin in your brain so that a person feels less depressed. Some of the most common SSRIs are:

Alcohol use influences depression. People who struggle with alcohol use are at risk of developing depression, and vice versa. Sometimes people who have a low mood try to medicate their symptoms, and they may use alcohol to do it. Doctors also think that alcohol itself makes depression worse in some people.

Alcohol and SSRI Interactions

Alcohol and SSRIs can be a bad mix because:

  • Alcohol may worsen the side effects of SSRIs. This fact is true even if a person never had side effects with SSRIs before.
  • Using alcohol with SSRIs can slow thoughts and motor skills: These effects are also some of the effects of alcohol use. It is for this reason that the package inserts for SSRIs say not to take it with alcohol. The Food and Drug Administration requires all SSRIs to report this in their package insert because of the possible dangers of combining them with alcohol.
  • Alcohol and SSRI use can cause personality changes and memory loss: There have even been cases of sudden personality changes and memory loss when someone has combined alcohol and SSRIs. Although that is rare, it has happened often enough that doctors have studied it. Doctors are not sure why this happens to some people.
  • Alcohol addiction can develop: One study has shown that drinking alcohol while on an SSRI may increase the risk of alcohol dependence in some people. However, this is not true for everyone. Another study has shown that starting an SSRI can help reduce the amount of alcohol that is drunk by some people who struggle with alcohol use. An additional study agreed — somewhat — and found that SSRI use is linked to less alcohol use in men with depression, but not in women with depression.

Doctors aren’t sure of the exact relationship between alcohol and SSRIs. The relationship between alcohol use and SSRIs depends on many factors, including how much alcohol someone drinks and their gender. More studies are being done on the topic. For now, all doctors know for sure is that the interactions between alcohol and SSRIs are complex.

Alcohol and SSRI Side Effects

A lot of the side effects of alcohol can be similar to the side effects of SSRIs. Because so many of the side effects are similar, this means there is added danger in taking both of them together. When you combine alcohol use with an SSRI, it can make matter much worse because they amplify each other. Over time, and with continued alcohol use, depression can worsen.

The combined effects of both agents together are worse than each one on its own, and may include:

  • Decreased effectiveness of SSRI drugs
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Impaired judgment
  • Worsened feelings of depression
  • Increased risk of alcohol addiction developing
  • Blacking out

Even though there is possible danger in taking alcohol with SSRIs, a person should never stop taking their SSRI so that they can drink. If a person misses a dose of their SSRI, they may start to experience withdrawal effects. These effects can be very uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.

Stopping an SSRI without talking to a doctor first can also worsen depression. Some doctors may tell patients that it’s fine to drink moderately while on SSRIs. Moderate drinking is less than one drink a day for a woman and less than two drinks a day for a man. However, drinking alcohol while on an SSRI is always something that should be discussed first with a doctor, because every person is different.

Key Points: Alcohol and SSRIs

There are several important points to remember about alcohol and SSRIs, including:

  • Alcohol use can increase the risk of depression, which SSRIs treat
  • Alcohol and SSRIs share many side effects, and using them together can worsen the side effects of both drugs
  • Never use alcohol with an SSRI without first talking to a doctor

If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol addiction, The Recovery Village can help. The Recovery Village offers many different addiction treatment options to help you overcome alcohol use disorder. Reach out to us today for more information.

    

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  5.   Graham, Kathryn. “Alcohol consumption and the use of antidepressants.” CMAJ, February 2007. Accessed March 31 2019.