Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Sertraline, sold as a generic medication and as Zoloft®, is an antidepressant medication that’s used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, social anxiety disorder and premature ejaculation.
It’s normal to enjoy a beer, glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage from time to time. If you’ve been prescribed sertraline to treat one of the conditions listed above, you may have wondered if it’s okay to drink alcohol while using your medication.
In general, it’s best to avoid alcohol while using drugs such as sertraline, meaning you’ll want to think twice before popping that next bottle.
Below, we’ve explained what sertraline is, as well as how it works as a treatment for depression and other mental health conditions.
We’ve also discussed why it isn’t a good idea to drink alcohol if you’re prescribed sertraline or a similar type of prescription drug for depression.
Sertraline (Zoloft) is a safe and effective medication for most people. However, drinking alcohol on sertraline, like other antidepressants, has the potential to exacerbate the following side effects of Zoloft:
Dyspepsia (indigestion and/or upset stomach)
Changes in appetite
Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)
Decreased sex drive
Although less common, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as sertraline can also cause more serious side effects such as drowsiness and dizziness.
Mixing alcohol with sertraline could increase your risk of experiencing these adverse effects, especially if you have a very large alcohol intake (for example, following a night of heavy drinking).
Learn more about the side effects of sertraline in this guide.
No, you can't drink on sertraline safely. The FDA recommends avoiding alcohol consumption while using sertraline. This is because, as we said before, alcohol may worsen some of the side effects of sertraline and increase your risk of injuring or otherwise harming yourself while using sertraline to treat depression.
In addition to the common side effects listed above, sertraline can cause excessive sleepiness and reduce your ability to think clearly, react and make decisions. These effects may become more severe when alcohol is consumed while sertraline is active in your body.
There’s also evidence published in the journal, Alcohol Use Disorder and Depressive Disorders, that says alcohol, especially when misused or consumed in excess, can make symptoms of depression worse -- an important concern if you’re using sertraline to help with major depressive disorder. We’ve discussed this in more detail further down the page.
In addition, mixing sertraline and alcohol could lead to serious health conditions.
While it isn't a direct cause, mixing Zoloft and alcohol can increase your risk of serotonin syndrome. As an SSRI, sertraline works by increasing the amount of sertraline that’s present in your brain and body.
Research published in the journal, Alcohol Health and Research World, shows that alcohol can affect the body’s serotonin receptors. In fact, animal studies have found that alcohol exposure can elevate serotonin levels in the brain.
This is concerning, as mixing drugs that combine serotonin levels can potentially lead to serious symptoms referred to as serotonin syndrome.
According to an article published in The Ochsner Journal, serotonin syndrome occurs when the serotonin receptors are overactivated due to high levels of serotonin. It often develops when antidepressants are combined with other drugs that increase serotonin levels, such as triptans, anxiety medications or other antidepressants.
In the same article, mild symptoms are listed as hypertension, racing heartbeat, dilated pupils, excessive sweating, shivers, tremors, muscle jerking and over or under responsive reflexes. Moderate cases include all of the previous symptoms, plus, fever, hyperactive bowel sounds, abnormal eye movement, irritability, and slurred speech.
When severe, serotonin syndrome can be a life-threatening health problem that requires urgent medical attention. Symptoms of severe cases include an extremely high fever, rapid changes in pulse rates and blood pressure, muscle rigidity and delirium. These symptoms could lead to complications such as seizures, renal failure, coma, respiratory failure, and even death.
Although alcohol isn’t usually associated with serotonin syndrome, its effects on serotonin may increase your risk of this interaction.
The FDA strongly cautions not to drink alcohol while using sertraline. This means that it’s best to avoid consuming any alcohol while you’re using sertraline, even if it’s just a single can of beer or glass of wine.
If you have a small alcohol intake as part of your general lifestyle (for example, a single serving of alcohol with dinner) and want to maintain this while using sertraline, it’s important to seek medical advice from your healthcare provider first.
Make sure to closely follow your healthcare provider’s instructions while using sertraline, even if this means avoiding alcohol entirely until you’ve finished your treatment.
Alcohol interacts with sertraline in several ways. Although alcohol is often thought of as a drink, it’s also a drug, meaning it can increase your risk of experiencing harmful interactions when it’s used with other drugs.
Negative effects of alcohol include:
Changes in your brain’s communication pathways and function
Disruptions to your normal moods, feelings and behavior
Impaired motor coordination and movement
Reduced ability to think, control your impulses and make decisions
When you consume excessive amounts of alcohol, you may begin to face impairment with basic life functions, such as breathing, temperature control and heart function.
Symptoms of substance abuse or alcohol abuse include vomiting, mental confusion, seizure, slow heart rate, difficulty breathing, dulled physical responses, low body temperature and even brain damage.
Using sertraline while drinking alcohol may worsen these issues and contribute to a higher risk of harm to yourself, even with moderate alcohol consumption.
Even without antidepressants like sertraline in the picture, major depression and alcohol aren’t considered a good mix.
Research published in the journal, Current Psychiatry Reports, has found that alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and clinical depression often co-occur, meaning it’s common for them to develop together. Furthermore, they tend to produce worse clinical outcomes, such as alcohol dependence, when they occur at the same time.
Although alcohol may make you feel better in the short term, it’s a depressant that affects your central nervous system by contracting brain tissues, interfering with brain receptors and their communication with nerve cells, and suppresses nerve activity, according to a scientific review published in the journal, Current Neurovascular Research. What’s more, excessive alcohol use can cause problems with memory and cognition.
Over the long term, excessive alcohol consumption is associated with an elevated risk of developing depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. According to an article published in the journal, Alcohol Research: Current Reviews alcoholism and depression are highly comorbid. The article explains that there is an association between internalizing depression symptoms and developing motives for self-medication with alcohol.
According to the same article, the scientific reason behind the link of developing depression and alcohol misuse is still limited, but alcohol induced depression is typically marked by a reduction in depressive symptoms after ceasing use of alcohol.
Put simply, drinking while you’re depressed is not recommended. Not only could it cause your depressive symptoms to become worse, but it could also result in a substance use disorder.
Learn more about the symptoms of depression here.
Skipping or stopping antidepressants isn’t recommended. This is because antidepressants can cause a range of withdrawal symptoms, which are referred to as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, when they’re stopped abruptly, according to an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
These symptoms affect about 20 percent of people and can include nausea, sensory problems, poor balance and flu-like symptoms, as well as mood changes such as irritability, agitation and feelings of anxiety.
In addition to potentially causing withdrawal symptoms, stopping treatment with sertraline may increase your risk of experiencing a relapse of your depression symptoms.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to avoid all alcoholic beverages and continue using sertraline as prescribed if you have depression or anxiety.
Using sertraline with alcohol is not recommended. Not only can it increase your risk of dealing with side effects, but it may also make your condition worse.
Sertraline is one of the most common prescription medications for depression. When it’s used as prescribed, it can help you to deal with your symptoms, improve the way you think and feel and make real progress towards recovery.
If you’re worried about your drinking or feel like you can’t control your depression while you’re depressed, it’s important to ask your healthcare provider for help.
As for treatment options, we offer sertraline online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. We also offer online mental health services such as psychiatry and individual therapy, and even anonymous support groups.
Want to find out more about sertraline? Our guide to sertraline goes into more detail about how this medication works, how you can take it for depression, potential side effects to be aware of and more.
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Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.