Using Zoloft with Alcohol: What Are the Risks?
Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D.
Zoloft is one of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants in the United States, with 17 percent of participants in a 2017 study reporting that they had taken the medication. Zoloft is commonly prescribed due to its wide variety of uses in treating common mental health conditions, as well as its effectiveness and relatively low rate of side effects.
With millions of adults using Zoloft to treat their mental health conditions, many are wondering if using Zoloft with alcohol is safe.
What is Zoloft?
Zoloft is a popular brand name prescription antidepressant that belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Also sold under the generic name sertraline, Zoloft is commonly use for the treatment of mental health conditions like major depressive disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Like other SSRIs, Zoloft works by elevating the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps the brain cells send messages to each other, which can be low in people experiencing mental health issues.
What are the risks of using Zoloft with alcohol?
As noted above, Zoloft is designed to increase the level and activity of serotonin in the brain in order to improve symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
While the dangers of mixing alcohol with some types of medications, such as opioids or benzodiazepines, are more well known by the average person, using Zoloft with alcohol is also dangerous. This is because alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that can slow activity in the brain.
When you drink alcohol, the substance begins to slow the activity between neurotransmitters, preventing the brain cells from communicating with each other. The more alcohol you drink, the worse the communication gets, which is why it can be difficult to do normal tasks, such as thinking clearly, speaking, and walking in a straight line, after you’ve been drinking.
The effects of Zoloft and the effects of alcohol counteract each other, which means that unwanted and unexpected side effects can occur when the two substances are combined.
What side effects can occur when using Zoloft with alcohol?
Although many people don’t think of it this way, Zoloft and alcohol are both drugs. When combining two or more drugs, there is always a risk of drug interactions that can occur. Using Zoloft with alcohol may cause worsened side effects of Zoloft, which can make it difficult to function normally.
Side effects that can occur when using Zoloft with alcohol include:
- Suicidal thoughts
Drowsiness and sedation are common side effects of Zoloft that can occur in some patients regardless of whether they use alcohol or not, but the side effects are more likely to occur when using Zoloft with alcohol.
As noted in the side effects above, some of the very symptoms Zoloft is intended to treat, such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, may be possible side effects of using Zoloft with alcohol. This is because alcohol may block Zoloft from working effectively.
Therefore, people who drink alcohol regularly while taking Zoloft may not receive the full effects of their medication.
Is using Zoloft with alcohol ever safe?
Alcohol use with Zoloft is never safe, especially for people who are suffering from symptoms of depression.
In general, healthcare providers tell patients with depression to avoid drinking alcohol, as the substance can make depression worse. While using Zoloft with alcohol doesn’t cause the dangerous overdose-type effects that mixing other prescription drugs like opioids or benzodiazepines with alcohol can cause, combining the two substances can cause unwanted side effects and prevent Zoloft from working effectively.
Patients should also not skip doses of Zoloft in order to drink alcohol, as doing so can make their mental health condition worse.
If you or a loved one suffers from substance abuse or alcohol abuse, there are addiction treatment programs available. Treatment options include inpatient and outpatient programs which can aid in alcohol or prescription medication detox. Trying to quit "cold turkey" without professional medical advice can lead to withdrawal symptoms and serious side effects.
Using Zoloft with alcohol is never a good idea because of the way that SSRIs like Zoloft and central nervous system depressants like alcohol affect the chemistry of the brain.
Mixing Zoloft with alcohol can cause unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects, such as dizziness and drowsiness, to occur more frequently, and it can also worsen the symptoms of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety over time.