Using Lexapro with Alcohol: What Are the Risks?

 

Lexapro is one of the most popular FDA-approved antidepressant medications in the United States. Approved for use in both adults and adolescents, Lexapro has a shorter list of side effects than many prescription antidepressants, which contributes to its popularity.  

If you’re one of the millions of adults using Lexapro to treat your mental health, you may be wondering whether or not using Lexapro with alcohol is safe. 

What is Lexapro?

Lexapro is a popular brand name prescription antidepressant that belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Other SSRIs include citalopram (Celexa) and fluoxetine (Prozac). 

Commonly sold under the generic name escitalopram or escitalopram oxalate, Lexapro is commonly used for the treatment of mental health conditions like major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). 

It can also be used alongside other antidepressant drugs to treat bipolar disorder. SSRIs like Lexapro increase the levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin in the brain by inhibiting their reabsorption. Serotonin is a chemical messenger in the brain that sends messages back and forth between the brain cells, and people with depression and anxiety may have low levels of this neurotransmitter. 

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What are the risks of using Lexapro with alcohol?

Lexapro works to treat depression and anxiety by increasing the level and activity of serotonin in the brain. Although many people know that it’s dangerous to mix alcohol with opioids, narcotic pain medications, or benzodiazepines like Xanax, the effects of alcohol when combined with antidepressants are not as widely understood. 

However, there are many risks associated with using Lexapro with alcohol because alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that is designed to slow the effects of the neurological system, including activity in the brain.

CNS depressants like alcohol provide a relaxing, calming effect by lowering the activity levels of neurotransmitters, which prevents the brain cells from communicating at the same speed. The reduced communication speed is why your cognitive and motor abilities decline the more you drink. The effects of Lexapro and the effects of alcohol counteract each other, which means that unwanted and unexpected side effects can occur when the two substances are combined.

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What side effects can occur when using Lexapro with alcohol?

Using Lexapro while drinking alcohol can cause the side effects of both substances to be noticeably worse than when either of the drugs are used alone. The chemical reaction between Lexapro and alcohol can make it difficult to function normally, and even moderate drinking can be dangerous. 

Side effects that can occur when using Lexapro with alcohol include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Alcoholism
  • Worsening depression
  • Liver problems
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Drymouth

Some side effects noted above, including nausea, insomnia, drowsiness, dry mouth, and diarrhea, can occur from using Lexapro regardless of whether you drink alcohol or not. However, these side effects are more likely to occur and are likely to be worse when the medication is taken alongside alcohol consumption. 

Although Lexapro is used for the treatment of anxiety and depression, using Lexapro with alcohol can make your symptoms worse. 

Is using Lexapro with alcohol ever safe?

Lexapro is intended for long term use, and many adults take it for years. While it’s never a good idea to drink to excess while using Lexapro, depending on your dose, age, and medical history, your doctor may advise you that it is safe to occasionally enjoy an alcoholic beverage while taking the medication. 

If you’d like to drink alcohol while taking Lexapro, talk to your doctor about what amount, if any, is safe. Some people may not be able to drink alcohol at all while using Lexapro.  Remember that drinking alcohol while taking antidepressants can cause unwanted side effects and prevent Lexapro from working effectively. 

Summary

Using Lexapro with alcohol increases your risks of experiencing unwanted side effects of both substances and reduces the effectiveness of your medication. Side effects commonly experienced when using Lexapro with alcohol include increased anxiety, drowsiness, alcoholism and alcohol abuse, worsening depression, suicidal thoughts, liver problems, and the exacerbation of common side effects of Lexapro. 

Patients should seek medical advice before drinking any amount of alcohol while taking Lexapro. If you or a loved one suffers from an alcohol use disorder, alcohol dependence, or substance abuse, addiction treatment programs are available. 

Consult your healthcare provider to learn more about your options and whether Lexapro is right for you.

Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressants-and-alcohol/faq-20058231 

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm 

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2592697 

https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-63990/lexapro-oral/details

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