Last Updated on March 30, 2021
Depression has grown into a modern-day health crisis, with 17.3 million American adults1 in 2017 reporting at least one major depressive episode. At least 23 percent have experienced depression in the past two weeks2. Thankfully, there are many effective treatments for dealing with this issue, including a class of antidepressants known as SSRIs. SSRIs can be very helpful, but if you’re also struggling with alcohol addiction, you should think twice before combining these two mood-altering drugs. The relationship between alcohol, depression, and antidepressants is complex, and it’s important to know how they all interact.
What Is an SSRI?
SSRI stands for “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor3.” Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of happiness and well-being. As serotonin travels through the nervous system, the nerve cells reabsorb some of it. It’s a process known as reuptake, and it leaves less free serotonin for the brain. This deficit can worsen depression or anxiety. SSRIs block the reuptake of serotonin, improving depression symptoms. This can help people get more benefit from other treatment methods like psychiatric therapy.
Why Antidepressants Are a Bad Mix With Booze
It’s well known that different drugs can interact with each other. These interactions often cause unwanted side effects. Not only is alcohol a drug, it’s a powerful central nervous system depressant. Combining alcohol and SSRIs doesn’t appear to cause acute poisoning or other dire effects. Still, your physician will probably steer you away from alcohol while you’re on an SSRI—and with good reason. The chemical combination of SSRIs and alcohol can:
- Increase SSRI side effects – SSRIs can cause side effects such as insomnia, headaches, rash, dry mouth, sexual side effects, digestive trouble, dizziness, and drowsiness. Since alcohol causes some of the same side effects4, you could be handing yourself a double dose of discomfort.
- Aggravate alcohol cravings – While antidepressants may help some heavy drinkers reduce their alcohol consumption, other evidence suggests that SSRIs can actually aggravate alcohol cravings5 in certain people who combine both drugs, leading those people to drink more. If you’re at risk for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), an SSRI could push you over the line from controlled drinking to alcohol abuse.
- Reduce the effectiveness of treatment – The main reason to cut down or stop drinking alcohol while taking an antidepressant is that the alcohol, which is a mood depressant, can reduce or remove the benefits you might be getting from the antidepressant.
You May Need Antidepressants, But You Don’t Need Alcohol
There’s no denying that alcohol abuse and depression are strongly linked—in fact, struggling with one can double your chances6 of developing the other. Antidepressants can play a critical role in steadying your mood and helping you live a normal life. However, alcohol is not an effective form of self-medication. SSRIs may help you break the cycle of depression and anxiety, whereas alcohol use is more likely to keep you in that cycle. You’re probably better off without alcohol as an essential part of your everyday life.
If you’re taking SSRIs, or about to begin, now is the perfect time to reign in your drinking. Ria Health can help you reduce your drinking to an amount that will give you the full benefit from your prescription medication. Our telemedicine-based approach helps you regain control over your drinking habits and establish new behavior patterns. That way, you can get on with the important business of feeling good again!
Schedule a call with a member of our team to learn more.