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Antidepressants work by increasing the levels of certain naturally-occurring chemicals — referred to as neurotransmitters — in your brain and body. These chemicals play a significant role in your thoughts, feelings and moods.
If you’re prescribed an antidepressant, it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol while you’re using your medication. Not only can alcohol increase your risk of experiencing side effects, but it may also make your depression worse. In some cases, it can even cause dangerous interactions.
Below, we’ve explained why it’s best to avoid consuming alcohol while you’re using them to treat depression, anxiety or other conditions.
If you’re prescribed any type of antidepressant, it’s generally best to avoid drinking alcohol while you’re using your medication.
Drinking alcohol while taking antidepressants can increase your risk of experiencing side effects from your medication. Common antidepressant side effects include:
Nausea and vomiting
Sexual side effects
Many of these side effects are similar to the effects of alcohol. And when drinking, any side effects from your antidepressant medication may become more severe. You may also experience additional side effects that don’t occur when you’re sober, such as impaired coordination and reaction time.
In addition to interfering with your medication, alcohol can also potentially worsen the symptoms of depression.
Common symptoms of depression include persistent sad or empty moods, a pessimistic attitude toward life, irritability, decreased energy and sleep difficulties. Depression can also affect your mental function and cause issues such as difficulty concentrating or recalling information.
Alcohol can affect the areas of your brain responsible for controlling memory, speech, judgment and balance. And when you consume alcohol, it may make your depression symptoms worse and affect your progress toward recovery.
If you have severe depression, drinking alcohol — especially in excess — may have a significant impact on your symptoms, mental health and general wellbeing.
If you like to consume alcohol in moderation and want to continue enjoying the occasional drink while using antidepressants, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider first.
Some healthcare providers allow their patients to drink a small amount of alcohol while taking antidepressants if they have a low risk of alcohol abuse. This typically means one serving of alcohol per day (for example, one glass of wine or 12-ounce serving of beer).
If you’re prescribed an antidepressant for depression or anxiety, your healthcare provider may ask that you wait several weeks before consuming alcohol.
You can read our guide to Sertraline (Zoloft®) and Alcohol for more information.
If you have an alcohol use disorder, or if you have a history of alcohol or substance abuse, it’s important to inform your healthcare provider before using antidepressants.
Alcohol use disorders and depression often develop together. Research published in the journal, Psychiatric Times, suggests that people who are alcohol dependent are approximately 3.7 times more likely to have major depression than those without alcohol dependence.
If you have an alcohol-use disorder, stopping alcohol suddenly may cause alcohol withdrawal symptoms, according to MedlinePlus. These can include worsening of anxiety, nervousness, mood swings and feelings of depression.
Your healthcare provider can help you safely stop drinking alcohol before starting treatment with antidepressant medication.
It’s especially important to avoid consuming alcohol if you’re prescribed a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI).
MAOIs are an older class of antidepressants known for their potential side effects and interaction risks, and are generally only used if newer drugs aren’t fully effective at controlling the symptoms of depression.
Alcohol contains tyramine, a substance that can trigger a severe spike in blood pressure when combined with MAOIs. This spike in blood pressure can potentially cause life-threatening medical issues such as cerebral hemorrhage.
It’s important to note that many MAOIs can remain active in your body for several weeks after stopping treatment. Allow at least two weeks to pass before consuming alcohol if you’ve recently stopped treatment with a MAOI antidepressant.
In general, it’s not a good idea to skip doses of your antidepressant for any reason, including to drink alcohol.
Most antidepressants are only effective when used consistently. While skipping a single dose of your medication may not seem like a major problem, it could temporarily make your depressive symptoms return and increase your risk of experiencing a longer-term relapse, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Some antidepressants can cause a range of withdrawal symptoms — commonly referred to as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome — when they’re stopped abruptly. These symptoms include:
These antidepressant withdrawal effects may be more severe when they’re combined with the effects of alcohol.
Antidepressants are highly effective for the treatment of depression and anxiety, but you’ll need to make some changes to your habits while using them, especially if you’re a frequent alcohol drinker.
To minimize your risk of unwanted side effects, it’s best to avoid alcohol completely while you’re using antidepressants. If you want to enjoy an alcoholic drink every now and then, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider first. They’ll let you know if it’s okay to consume alcohol.
Want to talk to a professional about depression? Our online psychiatry service allows you to talk to a licensed psychiatry provider from your home and, if appropriate, receive ongoing care and a prescription for antidepressant drugs such as SSRIs or SNRIs.
You can also learn more about dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues at your own pace with our free mental health resources.
Mary is an accomplished emergency and trauma RN with more than 10 years of healthcare experience.
As a data scientist with a Masters degree in Health Informatics and Data Analytics from Boston University, Mary uses healthcare data to inform individual and public health efforts.