Depression is a serious mental illness that can be debilitating for so many, so it comes as no surprise that someone will seek relief wherever possible. While antidepressants work to minimise the symptoms of depression and can assist in helping you live a normal life, they can also create a false sense of security. Antidepressants can be so effective that you may even forget you’re taking medication at all. Although this is their desired effect, it can also lead to careless drinking.
Antidepressants and other clinical medications can take several months to kick in, while substances like alcohol can offer immediate relief. However, the consequences of combining antidepressants with alcohol can be devastating.
Of course, alcohol can lift your mood for a short while, but it’s also a sedative, which means it depresses some of your body’s major functions when over-consumed. Therefore, mixing alcohol and antidepressants isn’t recommended. However, it’s also not advised because certain medications can make the effects of alcohol worse, while alcohol can enhance the negative side effects of medications such as antidepressants.
Alcohol and different types of antidepressants
Having the occasional drink while taking antidepressants isn’t considered an issue, however, certain types are known to cause adverse reactions when mixed with alcohol. These include:
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, aren’t usually cause for concern when taken with alcohol. These medications can, however, cause you to feel drowsy and taking them with alcohol only intensifies this effect.
Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)
Tricyclic Antidepressants or TCAs can affect your coordination and leave you feeling tired and drowsy. These side effects are reported to be most pronounced in the first few weeks of starting them, and drinking is not advised during this period. This is because the brain is still adjusting to the change in chemicals, and alcohol consumption could interfere with this process. It might be safe to consume a small amount of alcohol once any side effects have subsided. This is usually decided on a case-by-case basis by a medical professional.
Monoamine-oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
Tyramine is a substance found in certain wines, beers and even some foods, and has been known to cause serious side effects when taken with MAOIs. These side effects include a dangerous spike in blood pressure. For this reason, it’s advised that you avoid drinking and keep a close eye on your diet while taking MAOIs.
Why do people mix alcohol with antidepressants?
There are several reasons someone might mix alcohol and drugs, and it’s often a way to cope with negative emotions or a traumatic event. However, doing so not only increases your chances of developing an addiction, but it also fails to address the cause of those emotions, and prevents you from properly processing them. Professional treatment can help you manage depression through the introduction of healthy coping strategies.
What are the risks of mixing alcohol and antidepressants?
Drinking alcohol whilst taking prescription medications such as anti-depressants can make your symptoms worse, however, certain antidepressant medications come with higher risks than others, which is why it is recommended that you seek medical advice before deciding to drink. These risks include:
- Exacerbating depression and anxiety
The aim of taking antidepressants is to treat the symptoms of depression. However, while alcohol can provide you with short-term relief, and increase your mood momentarily, it can also leave you experiencing severe depression, completely negating the desired effects of the medication.
- Increased risk of adverse reactions if you take other medications
If you’re also taking other prescription medications, such as painkillers or anti-anxiety medications you are at a much higher risk of experiencing unpleasant reactions if you mix them with alcohol. Using more than one substance also increases the possibility of experiencing negative side effects of prescription medication.
- High blood pressure
Certain antidepressants such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) have been found to cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure when mixed with alcohol.
- Impaired judgement
Everybody is familiar with the effects of alcohol and the impact it has on coordination, motor skills and reaction time. However, taking antidepressants with alcohol can have a negative impact on these vital functions. While at first you may not notice the effects, the combination of medication and alcohol may gradually make you sleepy. This can impair your ability to drive or do other tasks that require you to be alert and focussed. Increasing the risk of harm to yourself and others.
- Addiction and co-occurring disorders
People suffering from depression are also more vulnerable to developing alcoholism or addiction to other substances. Mental illnesses, like depression, can often co-occur with alcohol use disorders, and the combination of the two can be extremely problematic. It may become more difficult to control symptoms of depression, reduce the frequency of episodes, and moderate drinking. Dual-diagnosis treatment can be more complex, and can require frequent and long-term treatment if you have both an alcohol use disorder and depression.
- Forgetting to take antidepressants
You should not be tempted to stop taking antidepressants or other medication just so that you can drink. Most antidepressants require taking a consistent, daily dose in order for them to work as intended. Stopping and starting your medications can aggravate the symptoms of depression and even lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
- Disturbed sleep
People suffering with depression, or other conditions for which they are prescribed antidepressants, often turn to alcohol for help with sleeping. However, while it’s true that using alcohol will help you fall asleep quickly, it’s also responsible for disturbed sleep patterns meaning less time spent in deep (REM) sleep. Insomnia is a common issue among those with depression, with many eventually falling into a vicious cycle of drinking as a result.
What should I do if I have taken alcohol with antidepressants?
If you’re taking antidepressants, it’s still best to consult with your doctor about whether you can drink, even if you believe you’re at low risk of developing an addiction. While mixing alcohol with antidepressants is not recommended, having one drink every so often may not cause any problematic side effects, however, this will depend on which type of antidepressants you’ve been prescribed.
You should also speak with your doctor about any other health conditions you have and any other drugs you take, including over-the-counter medications or supplements. This is important because various liquid medicines can contain alcohol, so adding a new medication to your routine may alter the level of any other medications you’re already taking.
Getting help for alcohol abuse
If you’re concerned about how your drinking may be impacting your mental health, or you find yourself abusing alcohol while taking antidepressants, CATCH Recovery is here to help.
Our clinic in South West London offers:
If you’re struggling but are unable to attend our rehab in the South East of England, you may find some of our outpatient services, such as Telehealth, more ideal. Telehealth allows our patients to receive help and support for alcoholism remotely on platforms such as Zoom, Skype or Teams.
For further information on what type of treatment we offer, or for advice on taking the next steps towards recovery, you can contact our admissions team on 0203 468 6602.