Using Sertraline With Alcohol: What Are the Risks?
Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D.
Millions of adults in the United States suffer from common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety each year, and many choose to treat their condition with the use of a prescription antidepressant.
Sertraline is the most commonly prescribed antidepressant in the United States, with 17 percent of participants in a 2017 study reporting that they had taken the medication. Sertraline is able to treat a wide variety of common mental health conditions, and the drug is also considered to be very effective at treating symptoms while also minimizing some of the more troublesome side effects that are common to antidepressants.
With so many adults using sertraline to treat their depression and anxiety, many are wondering if using sertraline with alcohol is safe.
What is sertraline?
Sertraline is the generic version of the popular brand name prescription antidepressant Zoloft.
The medication belongs to a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Although SSRIs are the current frontline treatment for depression, MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) were the first antidepressants developed. However, they're used less frequently than selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants because of necessary dietary precautions and risks of adverse reactions when mixed with certain drugs.
Sertraline first came on to the market in 1986 with the introduction of Prozac for the treatment of depression. Since that time, many more antidepressants, including sertraline, have been approved for the treatment of common mental health conditions; sertraline is commonly used for the treatment of mental health conditions like major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Sertraline works to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety by elevating the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps the brain cells communicate and send messages back and forth. People with depression and anxiety are thought to have low levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin.
What are the risks of using sertraline with alcohol?
Sertraline, like other SSRIs, treats the symptoms of depression and anxiety by increasing the amount and activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.
While many people are not as familiar with the dangers of mixing alcohol with antidepressants like sertraline, the combination of the two substances can be dangerous. As noted above, sertraline works to increase the activity between neurotransmitters in the brain, while alcohol, as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant can slow down the activity of the neurological system, including activity in the brain.
As a result, the two substances may have opposing actions. As alcohol works to slow the activity between neurotransmitters, preventing the brain cells from communicating with each other, sertraline is working to increase the amount of communication through serotonin.
Even in people who are not taking antidepressant medications like sertraline, drinking alcohol causes the messages between brain cells to slow down to the point that it can become difficult to do normal tasks, such as speaking, thinking clearly, and walking in a straight line. Using sertraline with alcohol can cause unintended side effects to occur.
What side effects can occur when using sertraline with alcohol?
Using sertraline with alcohol causes the alcohol to amplify certain side effects of sertraline, which can make it difficult to perform simple functions.
Side effects that can occur when using sertraline with alcohol include:
- Suicidal thoughts
If you are experiencing any serious side effects, please seek medical advice immediately.
Sertraline is known to cause all of the above side effects occasionally even when taken on its own, but the effects are much more likely to occur when using sertraline with alcohol.
Sertraline is intended to reduce symptoms like depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. However, using sertraline with alcohol can prevent the medication from working effectively and can cause these feelings to become worse.
Is using sertraline with alcohol ever safe?
Using sertraline with alcohol is never safe, as the combination can cause unintended and unexpected side effects in some patients. People suffering from depression especially should not use sertraline with alcohol, as combining the substances can make depression worse and reduce impairment.
Regardless of whether a patient is taking a prescription drug such as sertraline or not, people with depression should avoid alcohol in general.
While using sertraline with alcohol isn’t likely to cause an overdose that will land you in the hospital, the combination may cause unwanted side effects and prevent your medication from working effectively.
If you are considering using sertraline with alcohol, you should know that combining the two substances is not safe. Mixing sertraline with alcohol can cause unexpected and potentially dangerous side effects, impairing motor skills and causing drowsiness, dizziness, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, headache, diarrhea, and nausea to occur more frequently.
Your medication also may not work as well due to the effects of alcohol, which can cause an increase in symptoms of your mental health condition. Additionally, alcohol use can exacerbate other mental health disorders.
Therefore, if you are struggling with alcohol dependence or any other kinds of substance abuse you may want to consider addiction treatment. In any event, contact your health care provider to see about the treatment options and support groups in your area if you are struggling with alcohol consumption and/or substance use.