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The Dangers of Abusing Alcohol with Antidepressants

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 20, 2019

Mixing any drugs without doctor approval is dangerous and can result in severe health risks, especially when alcohol and antidepressants are taken together. Individual’s abusing drugs in this way should seek treatment immediately in order to avoid long-term health effects.

Commonly seen as a way to relax or a reward after a long day, alcohol is widely accepted in the United States. Although it is classified as a drug, alcohol is often seen as a commonplace adult beverage that can be found in a variety of homes, social situations, celebrations, and public gathering places.

This widespread use and ease of access could be one of the reasons alcohol is more socially acceptable than other drugs, even those for which consumption is legal. While adults across the US consume alcohol with little to no negative effects, the social distancing of alcohol from other drugs could be potentially dangerous.

It is not uncommon for individuals to consume alcohol in combination with other drugs because they fail to see the danger in doing so. Mixing alcohol with other drugs is considered alcohol abuse due to the risks associated with doing so

Abusing alcohol with any drug could have potentially dangerous side effects, however, this danger is prominent when mixing alcohol with antidepressants. This form of alcohol abuse can be a dangerous road to journey down, and one that is difficult to come back from.

What Is Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse is the act of taking great risks or making sacrifices in order to drink. A common example used for alcohol abuse is that of drinking and driving. Although most people know the potential consequences of driving while drunk, those who abuse alcohol choose to ignore these consequences and take the risk anyway.

Alcohol abuse is different from alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disease in which an individual cannot control the amount or frequency of alcohol they consume. Alcoholism is extremely detrimental to an individual’s life, and can quickly lead to loss of job, divorce, hospitalization, and even death.

Alcohol abuse is a less severe form of alcoholism but is still a serious condition that can be potentially deadly. It can cause an individual to live a life they had not intended by impacting relationships, jobs, and family life.

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Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can present itself in different ways depending on the individual and their lifestyle. While it can be easy to hide, there are some tell-tale signs of alcohol abuse that can indicate if someone has an unhealthy association with alcohol.

It is also possible that you may be abusing alcohol without realizing it. Often times environment can play a role in concealing alcohol abuse. College towns, for example, often find their bars packed every weekend with individuals over consuming and taking unnecessary risks while under the influence of alcohol.

When you find yourself in an environment such as a college bar, it can be easy to excuse your own consumption habits simply because ‘everyone else is doing it.’ This can be a dangerous excuse to make for yourself, as well as your friends and loved ones.

Some common signs of alcohol abuse can include:

  • Associating drinking with emotions, such as anger or anxiety
  • Taking risks while drinking alcohol, such as drunk driving
  • Changes in mood or mental health
  • Depression
  • Missing deadlines or priorities due to drinking or hangovers
  • Continuing to drink heavily many nights in a row
  • Planning the majority of recreational activities around alcohol

What are Antidepressants?

Antidepressants are among the world’s most prescribed medications. They are so widespread that antidepressant prescriptions in the US double in popularity from 6.9% in 1999 to 13% in 2012 according to a study done by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

When taken as directed, they can be a safe and effective method of treating a variety of psychiatric conditions including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders just to name a few.

There are different types of antidepressants which are categorized based on the way your body processes them. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can increase levels of serotonin in your brain. They do this by preventing the re-absorption (or reuptake) of serotonin by neurons. This leaves your brain with more serotonin which can help to alleviate some of the blues associated with depression.

Tricyclic antidepressants affect the brain in a similar way as SSRIs by slowing or delaying neurons from reabsorbing the serotonin that is naturally released by the brain.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are a type of antidepressant that affects the body in a different way than SSRIs or tricyclic antidepressants. MAOIs actually increase the number of neurotransmitters in the brain allowing more messengers to reach the neuron. This can increase the amount of serotonin in the brain causing the same calming effect as other antidepressants.

Combining Antidepressants with Alcohol

When taken as prescribed and on a regular basis, antidepressants can be a safe and effective treatment for depression. The danger arises when antidepressants are taken outside of prescribed guidelines, abruptly stopped, or taken in combination with other drugs.

Like other depressants, alcohol slows down vital functions such as breathing and heart rate. It can also delay fine motor skills such as walking and speech. In some cases, alcohol alone can be enough to slow vital functions to a level of fatality.

Combining the depressant effects of alcohol with those of antidepressants can significantly amplify these effects. MAOIs specifically can cause a rapid increase in blood pressure when combined with alcohol.

Antidepressants can also exaggerate the drowsiness and fine motor impairment effects that come from drinking. This can cause an individual to perform tasks, such as driving, without realizing how severe their impairment may be.

Finally, alcohol can actually counteract the calming effects that antidepressants are meant to have on individuals. While it can temporarily improve your mood, alcohol in the long term has been linked to feelings of depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts due to the effects it has on your brain as a depressant.

Let Us Help You

For many, abusing alcohol with antidepressants is an attempt to self-medicate and escape from the suffocating symptoms of depression. There is a better way to cope with these symptoms, and relieve yourself from the dangers of mixing antidepressants with alcohol or other drugs.

If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol abuse with antidepressants, let us help you find a better way. Our addiction specialists are trained to help you find a treatment program that fits you. Contact us today.

Mayo Clinic - Why is it Bad to Mix Antidepressants and Alcohol?

New York Times - Drinking on Antidepressants

Harvard Health Publications - What are the Real Risks of Antidepressants?

The JAMA Network - Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States From 1999-2012

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