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The Dangers Of Mixing Alcohol And Zoloft

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

January 23, 2019

When abusive amounts of alcohol and Zoloft (sertraline) are combined, it can result in potentially dangerous reactions. Drinking alcohol while taking antidepressants, such as Zoloft, is typically not recommended because both substances can make an individual feel drowsy, less alert, and uncoordinated.

Studies on the mixture of alcohol and Zoloft in healthy subjects (people without depression) have indicated that it takes quite a bit of alcohol to experience adverse side effects from the combination. However, this does not mean mixing the two is safe and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to warn against it.

Possible dangers of mixing alcohol and Zoloft include:

  • increased or worsening depression symptoms
  • impaired judgment, coordination, motor skills, and reaction times
  • increased likelihood of becoming sedated or feeling drowsy

Zoloft is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant commonly used to treat depression, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorders, and premenstrual syndrome. Alcohol is a frequently abused central nervous system (CNS) depressant.

The effects of mixing alcohol and Zoloft will vary depending on several different factors. These factors include how long someone has been on the antidepressant, how much alcohol he or she consumes, their overall tolerance to alcohol, any additional medications they may be taking, and their body’s natural ability to metabolize, or break down, both substances.

Some studies also suggest that the reaction someone has to this combination may be influenced by the type of alcohol that is consumed, whether it is beer, wine, or liquor.

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Potential Side Effects Of Mixing Alcohol And Zoloft

Typically, consuming multiple substances at once, or polydrug abuse, can increase the risk of adverse interactions. It is possible that excessive alcohol consumption will increase the likelihood of the negative side effects brought on by Zoloft.

Negative side effects of consuming alcohol and Zoloft can include:

  • dizziness
  • depression
  • suicidal thoughts
  • anxiety
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • drowsiness

Another possible side effect of large doses of Zoloft is a condition called serotonin syndrome. When someone takes so much Zoloft that his or her body is not able to process it all this can increase the levels of serotonin in the body to dangerous levels. When this happens, the individual may appear drunk or under the influence of alcohol, despite not having had anything to drink. They may exhibit slurred speech, droopy eyes, and extreme drowsiness.

If someone consumes alcohol in addition to the high doses of Zoloft, it can make these symptoms worse and negatively influence his or her ability to breathe. If this condition is left untreated, it is possible some individuals may experience a fatal overdose.

The Connection Between Mental Illness and Alcohol Abuse

Individuals with depression are at an increased risk for alcohol abuse, which is why healthcare professionals typically recommend they avoid alcohol. Consuming alcohol may make depressed individuals feel better in the short-term, but after its effects have worn off it is more likely to increase depression due to the “crash,” or sudden decrease of serotonin. Drinking alcohol is also thought to counteract the benefits of antidepressants, like Zoloft, making depression symptoms more difficult to treat.

It is possible for individuals who abuse alcohol to be more susceptible to depression. However, alcohol-induced depression is clinically different from an independent depression disorder. About 30 to 50 percent of people who drink too much also suffer from mental health issues like depression. Depressed individuals who engage in alcohol abuse are also more likely to commit suicide.

Zoloft And Alcohol — An Increasingly Popular Combination

More Americans are taking antidepressants than ever before, with an increase from 6.9 percent of the population in 1999 to 13 percent in 2012, according to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The use of antidepressants also increases with age. The study found that more than one in six individuals over the age of 60 were taking a drug for depression.

There is a lack of scientific research on whether it is safe to combine alcohol with antidepressants like Zoloft. Because of this, different doctors may give different guidelines. Most will say it is best to avoid alcohol, but some may say that one or two drinks a week is fine, as they are under the impression that reactions vary from person to person.

Some medical professionals also theorize that the side effects of combining these two substances may take a few days to a week to develop. There are still many things researchers don’t understand about depression, as it has been known to affect individuals in different ways.

How Zoloft Differs From Other Antidepressant And Alcohol Combinations

When compared to other antidepressants, SSRIs are less likely to have deadly consequences when combined with alcohol. However, Zoloft (sertraline) is chemically unrelated to other SSRIs, and other classes of antidepressants, which can produce different effects when mixed with alcohol.

Tricyclic antidepressants, such as Wellbutrin, may increase the likelihood of seizure and stroke when taken with large amounts of alcohol. MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) are particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol, as this combination can cause blood pressure to skyrocket, potentially sending an individual into a cardiac episode, such as heart attack or stroke.

Treatment Options For Antidepressant Or Alcohol Abuse

As it is almost impossible to tell which effects the mixture of alcohol and Zoloft will have, it is best to avoid this combination. Treatment options are available for both antidepressant and alcohol abuse.

As alcohol abuse may be the underlying issue and requires a more in-depth treatment, it is best to address this issue as soon as possible. Antidepressant abuse cannot be left untreated, though, and most inpatient addiction treatment programs recognize this and provide co-occurring disorder treatment or treatment for more than one substance use disorder.

Talk with a healthcare provider about any negative symptoms from either substance. If abuse or addiction to alcohol or Zoloft are a concern, contacting an addiction specialist is the best way to determine how to proceed.

The Mayo Clinic - Why is it bad to mix antidepressants and alcohol?

U.S. Food And Drug Administration - ZOLOFT® (sertraline hydrochloride) Tablets and Oral Concentrate

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