Can You Drink Alcohol While on Antidepressants?

Mixing alcohol and antidepressants can cause negative side effects and potentially additional health problems. Drinking alcohol while taking antidepressants can have severe consequences, from making symptoms of depression worse to increasing blood pressure.

It is recommended to avoid drinking alcohol when taking the majority of antidepressant medications to decrease the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and other associated risks. In particular, tricyclic antidepressants (also known as TCAs) or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (also known as MAOIs) are particularly risky when drinking alcohol and can cause you to feel drowsy and potentially more depressed.

Other antidepressants such as SSRI or SNRI medications are less likely to cause these effects, however drinking alcohol with antidepressants still poses potential risks, such as worsening depression symptoms.

What Are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are prescribed to treat the symptoms of depression, which commonly consists of chronic low mood, low motivation, suicidal thoughts, and poor well-being. There are a number of types of depression, including reactive depression, seasonal depression, depressive episodes and chronic depression.

The majority of depression are linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain, which is what antidepressants are used to treat.

For example, antidepressants which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase the levels of serotonin in the human brain which contributes to happiness and well-being. By prescribing antidepressant medication such as sertraline, fluoxetine and other SSRIs, doctors attempt to treat depression and improve the mental health of patients.

Although these medications can be extremely beneficial for people suffering from depression, mixing these prescribed drugs with alcohol can cause negative consequences, which is why it is not recommended to drink while on antidepressants.

How Much Alcohol Can You Drink While on Antidepressants?

If you choose to drink while on antidepressants, the important thing to remember about mixing with medications such as SSRIs is that quantity matters. While official guidance warns generally about drinking alcohol while taking antidepressants, small amounts of alcohol in line with the recommended limits may not cause negative symptoms such as low mood or dizziness.

However, excessive drinking, or behaviour that correlates to an alcohol use disorder, will typically make depression worse and create additional problems. People with depression are more likely to develop an alcohol addiction, which is why it is important to manage symptoms.

Similarly, the type of antidepressant medication a person takes, in addition to the dosage, may result in different responses when mixed with alcohol. Higher dosage antidepressant medications, such as TCAs, may result in more severe side effects when interacting with alcohol.

As alcohol is a depressant, drinking while on antidepressants may worsen symptoms of depression despite the medication used to combat symptoms.

Why is Alcohol Classed as a Depressant?

The effects of alcohol on the brain are profound. Alcohol interferes with neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that transmit signals through the body. We receive signals as emotions, which can range from pleasurable to painful. Depending on the amount of alcohol being consumed, these signals can be positive or negative.

The more a person drinks, the more likely it is that their neurotransmitters will be affected by the chemical imbalance in the brain caused by alcohol. Once the neurotransmitters in the brain are altered by high levels of alcohol, a person’s mood can be altered and cause symptoms of depression.

Alcohol abuse is therefore a vicious cycle because drinking can potentially elevate mood – and it may even do so in the short term. However, as a depressant, binge drinking, and heavy alcohol use can result in depression and worsen depression in people who already suffer from it.

Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Antidepressants

Medical advice from your GP should always be sought before drinking alcohol while taking antidepressants. In many cases, alcohol can counteract the effects of antidepressants, reducing the benefits of taking them due to alcohol being a depressant.

In serious instances, alcohol can worsen the severity of depressive symptoms, which can have very negative effects such as dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and increased suicidal ideation as a result.

A depressive person struggling with suicidal thoughts is more likely to act upon those thoughts when under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol can cause our perception to be distorted due to chemical changes in the brain. That loss of inhibition can be devastating for somebody in a vulnerable state of mental ill health and should be avoided wherever possible pending a full recovery.

Here are some potential side effects of mixing alcohol and antidepressants:

  • Diminished effect of antidepressants
  • Worsening of depressive symptoms
  • Increased likelihood of acting on suicidal thoughts
  • High blood pressure and associated risks
  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Sensory impairment resulting in confusion and loss of coordination

Alcoholism and Depression

The relationship between alcoholism and depression is complicated, and many people suffer from both disorders. One condition can be seen as both a cause and a consequence of the other. For example, a person struggling with depression may use alcohol to self-medicate, which can result in dependency. Likewise, a person suffering from an alcohol use disorder may develop depression.

Navigating depression and alcohol use requires patience, intelligence, honesty, and perseverance. More importantly, it requires expert help from qualified professionals. Ending the cycle of depression and dependency can be notoriously difficult, but guided support from experienced organisations can help greatly towards that end.

It is important to be careful if you choose to mix alcohol with antidepressants, as negative consequences may be experienced as a result.

How Ocean Recovery Can Help

If you are suffering from alcohol addiction or want advice about your substance abuse, Ocean Recovery can help. We create an open, non-judgemental space in which those who need help can access it easily and effectively.

We offer an effective, evidence-based approach that is tailored to your condition, history and goals. Our detox programmes help heal your mind and body, building the foundations for long-lasting recovery.

We have expertise in the interaction of antidepressants and alcohol and understand how to manage each condition through a dual diagnosis programme. We analyse the causes, effects, and trends of substance abuse, replacing unhealthy decisions with constructive alternatives.

If you are struggling with addiction problems, or if you require any further information about mixing alcohol with medications, please do not hesitate to contact Ocean Recovery.

Our expert staff are on hand to dispense knowledgeable and compassionate advice, guiding you to the most efficient solutions for recovery. A single phone call can kick-start your journey to sobriety and happiness, so do not delay. Call our helpline today on 0800 880 7596.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: October 5, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.