Using Cymbalta with Alcohol: What Are the Risks?
Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D.
Cymbalta is a brand-name prescription antidepressant that is used to treat common mental health conditions and some types of nerve pain. Unlike some antidepressants, which can never be used with alcohol, it may be possible to have the occasional drink while taking Cymbalta, depending on your medical history.
If you are wondering about whether using Cymbalta with alcohol is safe, here’s what you need to know about the potential risks associated with combining the two substances.
What is Cymbalta?
Cymbalta is a brand-name prescription antidepressant that belongs to a class of drugs called serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Also sold under the generic name duloxetine, Cymbalta is commonly used for the treatment of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression and is also used to treat pain associated with conditions like diabetic peripheral neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and chronic musculoskeletal pain.
Like other drugs in its class, Cymbalta works by inhibiting the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that are responsible for sending messages back and forth between brain cells.
Common side effects of Cymbalta include headache, dizziness, diarrhea, constipation, dry mouth, decreased appetite, and drowsiness. Although Cymbalta can be used to help ease the psychological effects of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it can cause strong alcohol cravings if it is used incorrectly.
What are the risks of using Cymbalta with alcohol?
Using Cymbalta with alcohol is most commonly associated with two main risks: an increase in liver damage and an increase in symptoms of depression. Cymbalta and alcohol consumption can both cause liver damage and depression on their own, but using the two substances together exacerbates these effects, resulting in potentially serious health consequences.
The body uses the liver to filter waste and toxins from the substances that we consume. Medications and alcohol are processed through the liver, and healthy liver function is key to making sure that your body can process Cymbalta and alcohol in a normal way. Your liver can easily be damaged by drinking too much alcohol over an extended period of time, which can lead to a condition called cirrhosis.
While using Cymbalta with alcohol can cause liver problems no matter how much you drink, the risk is especially high when consuming three or more drinks at a time.
Signs of liver damage that can occur when using Cymbalta with alcohol include:
- Dark urine
- Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Pain in the upper right abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unusual bleeding or bruises
In addition to potentially causing or accelerating liver damage, using Cymbalta with alcohol can also increase the symptoms of depression. While Cymbalta is used to treat depression, use of the drug can also worsen depression and anxiety symptoms.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can cause symptoms of depression to develop or become worse, and it may also worsen anxiety in the long term.
Symptoms of worsening depression and anxiety associated with using Cymbalta with alcohol include:
- Panic attacks
- Unexplained changes in mood
- Sleep problems
- Thoughts of suicide
Using Cymbalta with alcohol can also diminish the effects of the drug, which make it less effective. As a result, your symptoms of depression, anxiety, or pain may return or become worse.
Is using Cymbalta with alcohol ever safe?
Using Cymbalta with alcohol can be dangerous due to the potential for liver damage and worsening depression. However, it may be possible to enjoy an occasional drink while taking Cymbalta, as Cymbalta does not worsen impairment caused by alcohol.
Before using Cymbalta with alcohol, talk to your doctor about whether it is safe for you to have the occasional alcoholic beverage while taking your medication. The answer will depend on how much Cymbalta you take, your age, weight, and unique medical history, as well as other factors. Your doctor will decide what amount of alcohol, if any, is safe while using Cymbalta.
If you do drink alcohol while using Cymbalta, make sure you stay alert for signs of liver damage or worsening depression and stick closely to your doctor’s guidelines in order to avoid serious damage to your body.
Occasionally using Cymbalta with alcohol may be safe for some patients, but patients should speak to their doctor about what amount of alcohol, if any, they are able to consume while using the medication.
Cymbalta and alcohol can both cause liver damage and symptoms of depression independently, and these symptoms can be exacerbated when the substances are combined. Signs of liver damage include dark urine, itching, jaundice, and pain in the upper right abdomen.
Cymbalta is not recommended for use during pregnancy, if you are trying to become pregnant, or during breastfeeding, as it is unknown whether the amount of duloxetine that passes into breast milk is harmful to newborns. It is also not recommended for patients who are prone to mania or bipolar disorder.
Some patients may have an allergic reaction to Cymbalta. Immediately seek medical attention if you encounter a skin rash, trouble breathing or talking, swelling, or tightness in the throat.
Talk to your doctor to see if Cymbalta is right for you.