Mixing Alcohol and Antidepressants

At best, mixing alcohol and antidepressants leads to minor reductions in the effectiveness of the medication. At worst, it can cause serious health risks that require emergency medical attention to remedy.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants function as tools that can manipulate the chemical balance in the brain. Significant imbalances between these chemicals can cause or contribute to mood disorders like depression. The medications included in this classification primarily interact with the neurotransmitters in the brain. These small structures on the outside of braincells send chemicals back and forth as a kind of communication.

Different kinds of antidepressants address different kinds of chemical shortages or surpluses in the brain. When drinking alcohol along with taking antidepressants, both substances create an effect in the brain. Oftentimes that effect is harmful because prescription medication was not meant to be altered by other substances.

Types of Antidepressants

More people than ever before are prescribed antidepressants to manage their mental health. The growing demand has increased awareness of different kinds of depression which require different medical treatments.

SSRIs

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, are the most commonly prescribed type of antidepressant. Serotonin is one of the “feel good” chemicals the brain creates. It’s hard to know exactly what’s going wrong in the brain of someone with depression, but these medications stop the brain from absorbing serotonin at its usual rate. When the brain can’t clear out the serotonin, it builds up and the excess chemical leads to a more sustained “feel-good” response.

SNRIs

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors, or SNRIs, work similarly to SSRIs. This type of antidepressant stops the brain from cleaning up both the serotonin and norepinephrine that are released naturally. This second chemical is present in different processes throughout the body, and it serves an important function in the brain. Norepinephrine enhances awareness and focus as well as allowing the brain to more easily create and recall memories. SNRIs create a surplus of this chemical to help combat the fuzzy, distant feelings often associated with depression.

TCAs

Tricyclic/Tetracyclic Antidepressants, or TCAs, work to block reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. They also end up blocking several other chemicals from being reabsorbed, which causes several side effects when compared to the other types of antidepressants.

MAOIs

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors, or MAOIs, work by interfering with the enzymes in the brain that clear out “feel good” chemicals. Like the previous types of medication, MAOIs stop the brain from clearing out serotonin and norepinephrine, while also keeping dopamine around as well. Like TCAs, these antidepressants block the reuptake of more than just the 3 “feel good” chemicals, which can lead to some side effects in people looking for depression treatment alone. Diseases like Parkinson’s disease are also treated on occasion with MAOIs.

Atypical Antidepressants

This classification includes multiple drugs that work in different ways. They’re separated from the other groups because they don’t quite function exactly the way the others do. They all function under the same principle of manipulating the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain.

Alcohol and Depression

As a depressant, alcohol can intensify the depression that’s being treated with prescription antidepressants. Whether using alcohol recreationally or as a coping mechanism, it can interact harmfully with many antidepressants. Binge drinking is an especially dangerous pattern of drinking. The huge influx of alcohol impairs people more than usual and can lead to worsened symptoms of depression or worse, lowered inhibitions related to suicidal thoughts and suicidal tendencies.

Mixing Alcohol and Antidepressants

Different kinds of antidepressants react differently when paired with alcohol. Effects can even depend on brand because of the variety of available antidepressants available.

Common Effects

  • Impaired alertness
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired motor control
  • Intensified depressive moods/thoughts
  • Hopelessness
  • Increased risk of overdose

The alcohol interacts with the antidepressants to stop them from working as well as they should. The depressive effect of alcohol layered on top can lead to potentially deadly consequences.

Side Effects Based on Type of Antidepressant

SSRIs

  • It’s generally safe to drink when taking these
  • Will lead to more pronounced effects of drunkenness
  • Common SSRIs: Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Celexa, Luvox, Paxil

SNRIs

  • Not compatible with alcohol, especially large amounts
  • Can worsen liver damage
  • Common SNRIs: Strattera, Pristiq, Cymbalta, Fetzima, Ultram, Effexor XR

TCAs

  • Small amounts are generally safe
  • Binge drinking leads to worsening of depressive symptoms
  • Increased intoxication effects when mixed
  • Common TCAs: Elavil, Anafranil, Sinequan, Tofranil, Surmontil, Norpramin

MAOIs

  • One of the most dangerous kinds of antidepressants to mix alcohol with
  • Certain chemicals, called tyramines, in drinks like beer and wine can cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure that may require immediate medical attention
  • Common Maoi’s: Azilect, Eldepryl, Zelapar, Marplan, Nardil, Parnate

Atypical Antidepressants

  • These medications don’t fit neatly into the other major categories and as such require medical consultation before trying to drink and medicate
  • Wellbutrin falls in this category and can increase risk of seizures when mixed with alcohol
  • Common Atypical Antidepressants: Mirtazapine, Bupropion, Trazodone, Nefazodone, Agomelatine

Most antidepressants function irregularly when exposed to alcohol. While some combinations only incur minor side-effects, others can drastically impact both mental and physical health. If you want the best results out of your medication, be sure to talk to your doctor and learn what you can and can’t do while on the medication.

Getting Help

Both treating and living with depression are exhausting. It’s not unnatural to want to drink as a way to unwind, but it’s important to make sure that it’s completely safe to do so. Mixing a new prescription with alcohol before you know the possible side effects could lead to disastrous results.

If you or a loved one seems to be having trouble with alcohol, please know that you’re not alone. Acknowledging that you need help is an important step towards feeling better and leaving bad habits behind. There are knowledgeable people available to talk about this issue and issues like it, you just need to reach out.

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