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Dangers of mixing antidepressants and alcohol

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Can you drink alcohol while taking antidepressants?

Answer From Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.

It’s recommended to avoid combining antidepressants and alcohol. Drinking while taking antidepressants may worsen your symptoms, and in some cases can be dangerous. Combining the two may cause the following:

  • An increase in depression and anxiety.

    Drinking alcohol can counteract the benefits of your antidepressant medication, making your symptoms more difficult to treat. Alcohol may seem to improve your mood in the short term, but its overall effect increases symptoms of depression and anxiety.

  • Worsened side effects if you take other medications.

    Many medications can cause problems when taken with alcohol — including anti-anxiety medications, sleep medications and prescription pain medications. Side effects may worsen if you drink alcohol and take one of these drugs along with an antidepressant.

  • A higher risk of having a dangerous reaction if you take a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).

    When combined with certain types of alcoholic beverages and foods, antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure. If you take an MAOI, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to determine what’s safe to eat and drink, and which alcoholic beverages are likely to cause a reaction.

  • Impaired thinking and alertness.

    The combination of antidepressants and alcohol will affect your judgment, coordination, motor skills and reaction time more than alcohol alone. Some combinations may make you sleepy. This can impair your ability to drive or do other tasks that require focus and attention.

  • Becoming sedated or drowsy.

    A few antidepressants cause sedation and drowsiness, as does alcohol. When taken together, the combined effect can be intensified. Some people who are depressed have trouble sleeping. While drinking alcohol may help you fall asleep more quickly, people tend to wake up more in the middle of the night and get a less quality sleep.

In some cases it may be OK to have an occasional drink.

The safety of having an occasional drink is dependent on your particular situation. Discuss occasion consumption with your doctor. Also, tell your doctor about any other health conditions you might have and any other medications you take, including over-the-counter medications or supplements. Keeping your doctor informed is important because:

  • Some liquid medications, such as cough syrups, can contain alcohol
  • As you age, your body processes medication differently and levels of medication in your body may need to be adjusted
  • Adding a new medication may change the level of another medication in your body and how it reacts to alcohol

 

Don’t start and stop taking an antidepressant so that you can drink alcohol.

Most antidepressants require taking a consistent, daily dose to maintain a constant level in your system and work as intended. Stopping and starting your medications can make your depression worse.

People with depression are at increased risk of substance abuse and addiction. If you’re finding it hard to stop drinking and are concerned about your alcohol use, there are many forms of help out there. In addition to substance abuse counseling and treatment programs, there are many support groups including Alcoholics Anonymous and newer, online communities. Talk to your doctor for guidance.

 

Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin 

Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin, M.D., Ph.D., is a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist and addiction expert.

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