Mixing alcohol and medications can have negative side effects, creating a range of additional health problems. In particular, drinking alcohol while taking antidepressants can have severe consequences, from making depression worse to increasing blood pressure. Avoiding alcohol is therefore recommended for people with depression, decreasing the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and other associated risks.
What are antidepressants?
While science isn’t exactly clear how antidepressants work, they are generally prescribed to treat the symptoms of depression, namely chronic low mood and low motivation. Some theories suggest that depression is linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain, and different types of antidepressants help to correct that ratio.
For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase the levels of serotonin in the human brain. Serotonin is known colloquially as the ‘happy chemical’ because it contributes to happiness and wellbeing. By prescribing antidepressant medication such as sertraline, fluoxetine and other SSRIs, doctors attempt to treat depression and improve the mental health of patients.
Why is alcohol classed as a depressant?
Those who drink while taking antidepressants often face criticism simply because it appears illogical. With one hand, a person might be taking sertraline, for example, hoping to quell chemical imbalances in the brain that result in unhappiness. On the other hand, they may be drinking alcohol, which actively encourages those same imbalances. It doesn’t seem to make sense.
The effects of alcohol on the brain are profound. Alcohol interferes with neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that transmit signals through the body. We receive those signals as emotions, either pleasurable or painful. Depending on the amount of alcohol being consumed, those signals can be positive or negative.
The more a person drinks, the more likely it is that their neurotransmitters will convey pessimistic thoughts. Initially, alcohol may make a person feel great, uninhibited from other anxieties. But once those neurotransmitters are altered by additional amounts of alcohol, the message becomes depressive, manifesting itself in a low mood.
Alcohol abuse is therefore a vicious cycle, because drinking promises to elevate our mood – and it may even do so in the short-term – when, in fact, the consequences of such an action worsen the initial pain that triggered a negative response.
You can find more information about why alcohol is classed as a depressant in our post Is Alcohol a Depressant?
Drinking alcohol while on antidepressants
Accordingly, the important thing to remember about mixing alcohol and 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 do too much additional harm. However, excessive drinking, or behaviour that correlates to alcohol use disorder, will typically make depression worse and create a myriad of additional problems.
Similarly, the type of antidepressant medication a person takes, in addition to the dosage, will manifest a different response when mixed with alcohol. More powerful antidepressant medications, such as TCAs, may result in more severe side effects when interacting with alcohol.
Side effects of mixing alcohol and antidepressants
Medical advice should always be sought before drinking alcohol while taking antidepressants. In many cases, alcohol simply counteracts the effects of antidepressants, cancelling out any perceived benefits from taking them. In serious instances, however, alcohol can worsen the severity of depressive symptoms, posing a danger to life in the form of decreased inhibition and increased suicidal ideation as a result.
Moreover, a depressive person struggling with suicidal thoughts is more likely to act upon those thoughts when under the influence of alcohol. When under the influence of alcohol, we typically feel invincible, as our perception is distorted by 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 is a non-exhaustive overview of potential side effect from mixing alcohol and antidepressants:
- Diminished effect of antidepressants
- Worsening of depressive symptoms
- Increased likelihood to act on suicidal thoughts due to increased inhibition
- 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 very difficult to decode. One condition can be seen as both a cause and a consequence of the other. For example, a person struggling with depression may seek solace in alcohol, falling into a trap of dependency. Likewise, a person suffering with alcohol use disorder may become despondent about the world, encountering depression, while the anxiety-inducing properties of alcohol also pose challenges.
Many people drink alcohol to cover feelings of insecurity. Especially in a modern world obsessed with image, conveyed through social media, anxiety often leads people to conform to social ideals against their better judgement. Peer pressure is particularly harmful in this regard, making people feel like they have to drink alcohol to fit in and enjoy a good time.
Navigating such a complex minefield of causes and effects 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.
How Rehab Clinics Group can help
We have recovery centres located throughout the UK and Spain, building a reliable network of support for anybody struggling with substance addiction of any kind. We create an open, non-judgemental space in which those who need help can access it easily and effectively.
While the market is awash with rehab options, 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. Foundation for long-lasting recovery.
We have considerable expertise in the interaction of antidepressants and alcohol, understanding the confusing landscape that can confound people’s problems. Rather than scaremonger and demonise lifestyle choices, 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 Rehab Clinics Group.
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.