Can You Drink Alcohol With Antidepressants?

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 11/15/2021

Antidepressants are medications that treat depression, some severe anxiety disorders, and even chronic pain conditions. For these reasons, antidepressants are a common drug prescribed to millions of people each year. 

Drinking alcohol with antidepressants is never a good idea. While some antidepressants and alcohol combinations are safe, alcohol is a powerful substance that can make symptoms of depression worse. In fact, many medical professionals agree that combining alcohol and Antidepressants is a bad idea.

What are Antidepressants? 

Antidepressants are medications designed to treat depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and chronic pain (in some cases). Antidepressants can also help some people manage addiction and addiction withdrawal.

Antidepressants come in many different types –each type designed to treat unique conditions. The common types of antidepressants are:

  • Selective serotonin inhibitors

  • Serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors 

  • Noradrenaline and serotonergic antidepressants 

  • Tricyclic antidepressants 

  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors 

Every antidepressant medication is unique but they all function in similar ways. The goal of depression medication is to interact with serotonin receptors in the brain to produce feelings of happiness.

While antidepressants manage these conditions well, they also come with side effects. These side effects depend on the brand and type of depression medication but the most common include:

  • Low libido

  • Weight gain

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED)

  • Emotional blunting

  • Headaches

  • Dry mouth

  • Lowered senses and awareness 

  • Depression 

  • Suicidal thoughts

When it comes to the side effects of antidepressants it's always important to consult with your doctor.

What Do Antidepressants Do? 

Antidepressants interact with chemicals in the brain to reduce depression symptoms and increase happiness or satisfaction. Antidepressant medications interact with neurotransmitters and increase the production of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These are chemicals in the brain responsible for mood, happiness, and feelings of accomplishment.

The drugs interact with these neurotransmitters because an imbalance in these parts of the brain can cause mood swings, depression, anxiety, and many other mental health disorders. Therefore, antidepressants seek to restore balance within the brain. The type of antidepressant prescribed depends on the symptoms, causes, and length of depression.

Still, antidepressants aren't perfect and don't always work. In fact, the first prescription is only effective in 70% of patients. While numbers improve when patients try a second antidepressant, there is some wiggle room with depression medications and their effectiveness.

The good news is that antidepressants are successful and can help people suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more.

Do Antidepressants Make You Happy?

Antidepressants help manage imbalances in brain chemistry that lead to feelings of depression. Depression is a complicated emotion that varies from person to person; this is also true of happiness. Therefore, depression medications aren't designed to make you happy.

Instead, depression medications reduce symptoms of depression by balancing neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. When antidepressants are used effectively the result is a more realistic reaction to emotions, events, and everyday life.

While antidepressants won't make you happy, they can help manage moods and improve symptoms of depression.

What is the Chemical Structure of Antidepressants? 

There are dozens of antidepressants on the market. Each medication has a unique chemical structure but many of them share similarities. Antidepressants focus on the same neurotransmitters, so it makes sense that the chemical structures share many similarities.

One of the most common antidepressants, Prozac (Fluoxetine), has a molecular formula of C17H18F3NO. The molecular formula allows the medication to interact with serotonin receptors in the brain. Once attached to the receptor, the medication prevents the brain from recycling serotonin. In doing so, more serotonin remains in the brain. This results in increased mood, reduced depression, and better overall satisfaction.

What are the Types of Antidepressants? 

There are many types of antidepressants. The type that's used depends on a person's symptoms, the length of depression, and whether it's a chronic condition. It's also important to note that depression medications are also used to treat other mental health conditions caused by chemical imbalances within the brain.

The types of Antidepressants are:

  • Selective serotonin inhibitors (SSRI): The most common type of antidepressant on the market because of low overdose risk and minimal side effects –a common brand is Prozac.

  • Serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRI): Similar to SSRI medications but the effectiveness depends on the person. Common medications include Cymbalta and Efexor.

  • Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSA): These medications are suitable for people that don't respond well to SSRI medications. They have similar side effects but can cause drowsiness –common medication is Zispin

  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCA): These are outdated and rarely prescribed antidepressants because of a high overdose and abuse rate. These medications are only used in severe cases when patients don't respond to other medications. Side effects are also more severe.

  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI): Another outdated medication, MAOIs used to cause severe side effects so they're only used for patients that don't respond well to other treatments.

These are the common types of antidepressants but each type has many brands and subtypes. Therefore, we always recommend consulting with your doctor before experimenting with depression medication.

What to Avoid While on Antidepressants? 

Antidepressants alter brain chemistry, so you have to be careful when mixing them with other substances. Substances like alcohol and other drugs can make side effects worse and lead to overdose and even death in some cases.

While on antidepressants you should avoid:

  • Alcohol 

  • Caffeine

  • Tobacco 

  • Drink plenty of fluids 

  • Foods that contain chemicals that interest with antidepressants (this varies from each medication type, so always consult with your doctor)

  • Opioids

  • Marijuana 

  • Amphetamines 

  • Cocaine 

  • Ecstasy

  • Hallucinogens

If you avoid these substances while taking antidepressants, the medication will be more effective and produce less severe side effects.

Why Individuals Mix Antidepressants With Alcohol 

Many individuals mix antidepressants with alcohol because both substances slow down the body's central nervous system. Both substances are depressants, so many people believe that they will mix well. While you can safely consume alcohol if you're on Antidepressants, people have died from combining the mixture and it can lead to increased depression and intense side effects.

That said, people combine alcohol with antidepressants because it can enhance the effects of both substances. It can make people feel drunk faster and temporarily boost someone's mood. Still, these are temporary benefits that often lead to bad hangovers, increased depression, and other negative side effects.

While many people combine the substances, combining alcohol and antidepressants is not a great idea.

What Side Effects Occur When You Combine Alcohol With Antidepressants? 

Combining alcohol with antidepressants can lead to severe side effects and potentially death. For this reason, many medical health professionals advise against mixing alcohol and antidepressants.

When the substances are combined, common side effects include:

  • Irregular heartbeat 

  • Changes in blood pressure

  • Increased depression

  • Changes in mood

  • Dehydration 

  • Flushed skin

  • Mood swings

  • Drowsiness 

  • Dizziness 

  • Erectile dysfunction 

  • Low libido 

These side effects vary based on the medication. For example, SSRI medications impact people differently than TCA medications.

Keeping this in mind, always consult with your doctor before mixing alcohol and the antidepressant medication you're using.

What are the Most Important Dangers When Mixing Alcohol and Antidepressants? 

Many side effects can occur when mixing alcohol and antidepressants but some are more severe than others. We're going to take you through a few of the dangers of mixing alcohol and Antidepressants.

Depression 

People take antidepressants to not be depressed anymore. While the medications work well, alcohol can inhibit a medication's effectiveness. Alcohol, like antidepressants, changes brain chemistry. Therefore, mixing the two substances can create a chemical imbalance that leads to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. These issues get worse if alcohol is abused over long periods.

Drowsiness 

Alcohol and Antidepressants are depressants; they both slow down your nervous system. While this state can be pleasurable it also leads to drowsiness. The effects are minimal when taken without the other, but when combined, it can cause someone to pass out.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors

If you're taking an MAOI antidepressant you should never mix it with alcohol –the result can be fatal. Alcohol and some foods have tyramines that increase blood pressure when combined with MAOIs. In these cases, patients may need medical services immediately. Some common MAOI medications include Zelapar, Nardil, and Marplan.

Everyone's body and brain are unique, so antidepressants won't always have the same effect. Therefore, it's better to be safe and avoid the potential dangers of combining alcohol and antidepressants.

Does Alcohol Affect How Well Antidepressants Will Work? 

No, alcohol doesn't impact how well antidepressants work in most cases. That said, taking antidepressants with alcohol can lead to issues and a long road to recovery from depression. For this reason, it's best to avoid mixing the substances.

Alcohol impacts the way some antidepressants work because it makes alterations to brain chemistry. Depression occurs when there is a chemical imbalance and antidepressants boost receptors that produce dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin to restore balance. 

When alcohol is introduced into the mixture it can alter that balance. Unfortunately, this can lead to worsening symptoms of depression. In fact, alcohol can cause someone to have even lower levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. This makes it harder for the medication to have the same effect.

It's also important to note that combining some antidepressants with alcohol can be fatal. For example, mixing monoamine oxidase inhibitors with alcohol can lead to changes in blood pressure that are fatal.

How Long After Taking Antidepressants Can You Drink Alcohol? 

Depending on the type of antidepressant you're taking you can drink alcohol if you're on antidepressants. Antidepressants are taken over long periods, so there is no mandatory waiting time you need to follow before consuming alcohol. Still, it's a good idea to wait for at least a week or two if you're no longer taking antidepressants to avoid becoming dependent on alcohol.

If you're taking SNRIS, NASSA, or SSRIS antidepressants you can consume alcohol without negative effects (aside from side effects). In other words, it doesn't impact the effectiveness of the medication for treating depression.

If you're taking TCA or MAOI medications you shouldn't consume alcohol with antidepressants. TCA medications will become less useful while under the influence and alcohol can make side effects worse. MAOI medications can cause changes in blood pressure that can be fatal.

That said, most medical professionals recommend avoiding the mixture between alcohol and antidepressants because it can lead to drowsiness, loss of coordination, and other symptoms.

How Much Alcohol Can You Drink After the Intake of Antidepressants? 

The amount of alcohol you can drink on antidepressants depends on the antidepressant you're taking. Alcohol has unique interactions with some substances, so knowing the type of medication you're taking is necessary to help you determine how much you can drink.

If you're taking SNRIS, NASSA, or SSRIS medications you can drink alcohol without adverse side effects. This depends on the person, of course, but doctors generally agree that it's safe. That said, doctors also recommend avoiding drinking while on depression medications and limiting alcohol consumption to one drink for women and two drinks for men.

If you're taking TCA medications or MAOI medications you have to be more careful. Alcohol can enhance the side effects of TCA medications and cause the medication to become less useful. Doctors recommend avoiding alcohol with this medication. On the other hand, you should never consume alcohol with MAOI. It can interact with the antidepressant and cause fatal changes in blood pressure.

It's possible to drink alcohol while taking antidepressants but the consensus is that it should be avoided. If you have to drink, limit your drinking to one drink for women and two drinks for men.

Do Antidepressants Get You Drunk Faster? 

Yes, antidepressants can cause you to become drunk faster. Antidepressants and alcohol are both depressants that slow down the nervous system and cause similar side effects. Therefore, you'll need less alcohol to feel drunk if you're on antidepressants. While this is a desirable effect for some, combining the substances leads to many potential health risks.

One of the health risks is the condition that antidepressants treat. Combining both substances can create a chemical imbalance in the brain that leads to severe depression, poor decision-making, and other consequences.

So, while drinking alcohol with antidepressants will make you drunk faster, it's a bad idea to mix the two.

Can Antidepressants be Skipped for Alcohol?

No, antidepressants can't be skipped for alcohol. Antidepressants need to be taken over long periods to balance brain chemistry and neurotransmitters. When someone stops taking antidepressants it can cause the brain to become unbalanced again, which leads to depression and other symptoms.

If you choose to skip antidepressants and consume alcohol instead, you can also develop alcoholism –or alcohol abuse disorder– and abuse the substance. Abusing alcohol will make depression worse, damage the liver, and cause dozens of other negative health effects.

What Other Drugs Are Dangerous to Use With Alcohol? 

Most drugs are dangerous to use with alcohol. While prescription medications have instructions for how to use them with alcohol, illegal substances do not. So, you should never combine other drugs with antidepressants unless you check with your doctor first.

Here are the common dangerous medications people mix with alcohol:

  • Amphetamines 

  • Antibiotics 

  • Cocaine 

  • Antihistamines 

  • Ecstasy

  • Opioids

  • Marijuana 

  • LSD

Taking these drugs alongside alcohol can lead to negative reactions inside your body. Everyone's body is unique, so it's impossible to determine what the outcome will be. You don't want to learn what the outcome is when it's already too late.

What Should Be Done to Reduce Alcohol Addiction?

Alcoholism, or alcohol abuse disorder (AUD), occurs when someone has a strong urge to consume alcohol. AUD also tends to leave its victims with symptoms of withdrawal when alcohol isn't consumed. Alcoholism can also lead to binge drinking and an increased likelihood of mixing alcohol with other substances. Alcoholism is a very complicated condition but it's manageable. 

Treating alcoholism can be done in many ways but some of the most common include:

  • Inpatient Treatment: Residential clinics where patients are housed, fed, and kept on the premises. These can be luxurious and expensive options depending on where you go.

  • Outpatient Treatment: This consists of patients going to clinics in a set frequency each week or month. Treatment methods consist of therapy, detoxification with medications like Diazepam, and partial hospitalization.

  • Sober Living: Sober living programs give patients more freedom but also more responsibility. These programs teach values, life skills, and responsibility alongside alcohol treatment.

  • Detox: Detox is for severe cases of alcoholism that require medications to ease potentially life-threatening symptoms.

While these are all viable treatment options, many people choose to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings to remain sober after treatment concludes.

Author
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Thomas Roth
Lead Editor

Thomas has been working in the substance abuse industry for over 3 years and he's made it his mission to help those in need. Tom started out by writing content to help people find addiction treatment centers near their location. Once he understood the value in the words he wrote Tom shifted to outreach, editing, and content creation. If nothing else, Tom wants to see those who struggle with Alcohol abuse disorder recover.