In our stressful world, many people rely on anti-depressants to help them function normally rather than deal with constant depression or anxiety. For those who also consume alcohol, it’s critical not to mix the two. Drinkers may consume alcohol to help them relax but they should keep in mind that it acts as a depressant on the body. Alcohol may decrease the effects of anti-depressants on the brain, diminishing efficacy while increasing the risk of side effects. In short, drinking alcohol while taking anti-depressants can end up making your depression worse.

Those taking certain types of anti-depressants, who can limit their drinking, should speak to their doctor about whether they might enjoy an occasional social drink without much worry. However, some classes of anti-depressants can interact very badly with alcohol, causing potentially life-threatening conditions.

What Are Antidepressants?

In centuries past, it was referred to as melancholy. Today, those feelings of sadness and despondency are termed depression or, more colloquially, “the blues”. While almost everyone experiences a bout of depression from time to time, for some people these feelings do not improve on their own and can continue until they affect every aspect of their lives. Antidepressants are medications designed to relieve depression symptoms, allowing people to resume their normal lives.

Antidepressants are prescribed for treating a variety of psychological, emotional, and mental health conditions.

Such conditions run the gamut, and may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders
  • Social Phobias
  • Panic Attacks
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder

Some common antidepressants include:

  • Citalopram
  • Escitalopram
  • Fluoxetine
  • Paroxetine
  • Sertraline

Possible Side Effects of Anti-Depressants

Antidepressants may cause a variety of side effects, ranging from mild to serious. Some of the side effects may disappear after a few weeks’ use, while others may increase in severity.

The most common side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Weight Gain
  • Loss of Libido
  • Dry Mouth
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Urinary Retention

If side effects are mild, wait two weeks before discussing any changes with your doctor, as the majority of patients find side effects disappear within that time period. The types of side effects vary according to the type of antidepressant. It’s believed likely that a genetic component plays a role in the kind of side effects a patient may experience. Ask your doctor about ways to mitigate certain side effects, such as taking an antidepressant when you wake up if using it at night interferes with sleep. Sometimes, a change in dosage is needed, but do not take less of a medication without consulting your healthcare provider.

Do not stop taking antidepressants without notifying your doctor. Many patients experience withdrawal symptoms if they quit abruptly. Such symptoms may mimic the flu, or cause abdominal pain or anxiety. The doctor will adjust your dosage so you can taper off the drug.

Types of Anti-Depressants

Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

The most frequently prescribed antidepressants, SSRIs are usually safer than other antidepressant types. This class of drugs work by increasing the brain’s serotonin levels, which boosts feelings of well-being. This neurotransmitter sends messages back and forth between neurons, the brain’s nerve cells. SSRIs block the re-uptake, also known as reabsorption, of serotonin by the nerve cells. The “Selective” part of SSRI means serotonin is the primary affected neurotransmitter. Well-known SSRI brands include Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa and Zoloft, along with many generic versions. While light drinking while taking SSRIs will not harm most people, it can contribute to drowsiness.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

This older class of antidepressants are not prescribed as much as they used to be, but they are still effective for treating certain cases of depression. They produce more side effects than more recently developed antidepressant medications because they affect more brain chemicals. Possible side effects include seizures.

While these drugs work by blocking serotonin reuptake, they also do the same with another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. Some of the better-known TCA brands include Elavil, Norpramin, Tofranil, and Pamelor. In addition to depression, doctors may prescribe TCAs to treat nerve pain and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Pharmaceutical manufacturers advise against consuming alcohol while taking TCAs.

Monoamine-oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

This was the first class of antidepressants, developed in the 1950s, and they are not often prescribed today. MAOIs have a lot of side effects, and unlike other classes of anti-depressants, require dietary changes and are dangerous when mixed with a lot of common medications. The monoamine-oxidase affects serotonin and norepinephrine, along with dopamine. In addition to depression, MAOIs are sometimes prescribed for Parkinson’s disease treatment. Brand names include Nardil, Emsam, Parnate and Marplan.

Some alcoholic beverages, including wine and beer, contain tyramine. This derivative of the amino acid tyrosine can cause a patient’s blood pressure to rise very quickly if combined with MAOIs. This could result in a cardiovascular incident and may even prove fatal. Do not drink alcohol if taking MAOIs. Eating certain foods with MAOIs can also raise blood pressure significantly.

What Are the Biggest Dangers When Mixing Antidepressants and Alcohol?

Combining antidepressants and alcohol will likely worsen depression symptoms. Such a combo increases the odds of side effects such as anxiety, confusion, and drowsiness. Adding any other type of medication to the mix, such as those available for sleep, can worsen side effects even more.

Most people can drive while taking antidepressants, but it is never a good idea to drive while under the influence of alcohol or operate any type of heavy machinery. However, even those who might normally feel comfortable driving after consuming a small amount of alcohol should never do so if also taking antidepressants. Many of the side effects associated with mixing the two drugs are also major causes of motor vehicle accidents, including motor skill impairment and fatigue.

As noted, those prescribed MAOIs should never drink. Ingredients in many common alcoholic beverages can trigger extreme high blood pressure, an extremely dangerous situation.

Talk To Your Doctor

If you don’t think you can stop drinking while taking antidepressants, discuss the issue with your doctor. Your physician is there to help, and the last thing he or she wants is a patient suffering due to bad interactions between prescription drugs and alcohol. The doctor can also recommend substance abuse treatment programs for patients unable to control their drinking.

Let your doctor know about any other medications you take, including those purchased over-the-counter, because they can affect mood or may cause issues if combined with antidepressants or alcohol. The same holds true for herbal and other supplements. By keeping your doctor informed, you aid your own path to recovery.