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Lexapro and Alcohol — The Effects of Alcohol While Taking Lexapro

Like any prescribed medication, there can be dangerous interactions between Lexapro and alcohol. It’s important to know when you begin a medication what the interactions are so that you can monitor your intake of other substances.

What is Lexapro and Why Do People Take It?

Lexapro (Escitalopram), a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI Class), is one of those prescribed medications that can have severe effects when combined with alcohol.

Lexapro is a common brand of antidepressants used to treat depression and anxiety. It helps restore deficiencies in serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is partially responsible for regulating emotions.

For most people, escitalopram is safe to take for a long time. But like many other medicines, Lexapro can cause side effects in some people.

Taking this medication on its own can give people a few side effects. Here are the common side effects of Lexapro:

  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Sexual side effects affecting ejaculation and sexual desire

Is it Safe to Mix Lexapro and Alcohol?

According to the FDA, clinical trials have not found that Lexapro worsens the motor and cognitive effects of alcohol. But they also report that alcohol use while on Lexapro is not recommended.

Patients who take antidepressants are already at high risk of anxiety, depression, irritability, etc. When alcohol is involved, this can worsen the symptoms of the mental illness. However, not all patients are willing to give up the occasional drink.

It’s important to note that while it is highly advised that you should not drink while on antidepressants, some have a higher risk for drug-to-drug interactions than others. If you’re a non-alcoholic who wants to enjoy a glass here and there, it is most likely safe to do so.

In general, doctors consider drinking in moderation to be no more than:

  • one alcoholic drink per day for women
  • two alcoholic drinks per day for men

In the United States, one drink is considered to be:

  • 12 ounces (oz) of 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) beer
  • 5 oz of a 12 percent ABV wine
  • 1.5 oz of a 40 percent ABV whiskey

Note that it’s important to talk to your doctor or prescriber before drinking alcohol when you are taking any medication.

Still, a patient may run the risk of suffering from a dip in serotonin and may feel worse from the alcohol. And, of course, large quantities of alcohol not only make you feel worse, but it can also be incredibly dangerous.

The Dangers of Drinking While Taking Lexapro

Drinking alcohol as an attempt to cope with depression, regardless of if you take antidepressants or antianxiety medication, can increase the likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder. Drinking can potentially damage your liver, the organ responsible for breaking down substances, medications, and toxins, further impacting how your body handles these

Let’s take a look at some of the side effects that can come with drinking while taking Lexapro:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Worsening depression
  • Decreased effectiveness of medication
  • Nausea
  • Lack of energy
  • Liver problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Suicidal thoughts

According to the FDA, Lexapro may cause drowsiness or affect the ability to make decisions, think clearly, or react quickly. Because alcohol also causes these same symptoms, combining the two drugs may magnify alcohol’s effects.

Additionally, for someone who struggles with a substance use disorder or alcoholism, taking Lexapro while drinking can further increase risks for relapse and overdose.

Lexapro and Alcohol — Dangers to Physical Health

Of the side effects of combining Lexapro with alcohol, below are some of the dangers this combination can have to the body:

  • Liver damage—Studies show that drinking while on antidepressants such as Lexapro may contribute to liver problems and antidepressant-related hepatic injury.
  • Heart failure—alcohol and Lexapro can also increase your heart rate, leading to acute severe conditions such as heart failure. This is true especially in patients with high blood pressure. It’s unknown if mixing Lexapro and Alcohol causes long-term heart damage.
  • Risk of Serotonin Syndrome—Although rare, serotonin syndrome is one complication that can arise when Lexapro is mixed with alcohol. Serotonin syndrome occurs when there is too much serotonin in the brain. Lexapro works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, and alcohol can cause an additional, temporary increase in serotonin levels. When these two things are combined, it may lead to this dangerous condition. This can manifest in the form of tremors, sweating, high blood pressure, seizures, fast heartbeat, over-responses reflexes, and confusion

Lexapro and Alcohol Dangers to Mental Health

Drinking while on Lexapro can dramatically impact your mental health. The following include some of the potential side effects:

  • Worsened depression—While you may think having a drink in the moment will help life your mood, alcohol can throw off balance the chemicals in your body, leading to worsening depression later. This includes suicidal thoughts and ideations. Excessive alcohol consumption also reduces inhibitions, including inhibitions against suicidal behavior.
  • Suicide—more than half of people who die by suicide are found to have been drinking. This may present an additional risk to patients with substance use disorder or other existing mental health disorders. 
  • Pathological intoxication –This can happen when SSRIs such as Lexapro are consumed with alcohol.9 This essentially means temporary insanity and often results in violent behavior. Pathological intoxication is most commonly diagnosed in those with existing mental illnesses. People with such conditions should speak with their doctor before consuming alcohol with Lexapro.

There are both mental health and physical health risks to drinking while taking Lexapro. These dangers can vary in severity depending on existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure and severe levels of depression. Be sure to review your medical history with your doctor before drinking while on Lexapro so you can take a smart, preventative approach.

What Does it Feel Like to Drink and Take Lexapro?

Someone with a substance use disorder may want to achieve a greater “high” or feeling drunk while taking a drug. While some medications may increase the effects of alcohol, studies show that Lexapro does not impact the alcohol’s side effects. If someone with addiction is looking to amplify the effects with alcohol, they won’t notice a difference here. If you don’t normally drink, and have a glass of wine, the Lexapro won’t make you feel more drunk—you will likely feel just as you’d normally feel after a glass of wine.

Still, experts caution against drinking anything at all—especially if you have a substance use disorder—while on Lexapro. Drinking can have other effects on depression, and may even negate the antidepressant’s effects and causing a person to have a lower mood.

Conclusion

No matter the reason you’re taking Lexapro—for depression, anxiety, or a substance use disorder—it’s advised that you avoid any alcohol while on this medication. However, if you don’t suffer from a substance use disorder, it may be safe to consume some levels of alcohol.

This, of course, should be addressed and discussed with your doctor in terms of amount, frequency, and the interaction with your dose and other medications/medical conditions.

Drinking in excess not only puts you at a greater risk for relapse, alcoholism, and substance use disorder, it will worsen the effects of Lexapro. Think about it—the whole reason why you began the medication was likely because you had low mood, irritability, and anxiety.

When you drink, these feelings are enhanced, because alcohol affects how the medicine gets metabolized in your body.

Lexapro is used to help increase serotonin and overall improve your mental health and wellbeing. When you combine this medication with alcohol, it can get in the way of the medication’s job, leaving you feeling worse. A drink here and there, while safe, may still offset your progress as you continue on your mental health journey.

The more you know yourself and how you respond to medications, the better you can balance your intake of alcohol in addition to these drugs. Just be sure to keep your doctor in the loop of your alcohol intake and monitor how you’re feeling.

How To Know if You Can Drink On Your Medication

If you’re taking a medication and you would like a deeper look into its interaction with alcohol or other medications/drugs/substances, you can use a drug interaction check such as this one. 

These databases help you access information about your drug’s interaction with other substances and how severe the effects will and can be. 

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Samantha Mineroff

Samantha Mineroff is a writer, mental health advocate, and aspiring author. In 2018, her paper, “The Rhetoric of Major Depressive Disorder: Performativity and Intra-activity of Emotions in Major Depression” won best seminar paper award at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. At the Poetics And Linguistics Association (PALA) Conference in 2019, she went to The University of Liverpool to present her paper “An Application of Scripts, Schemas, and Negative Accommodation Theory in Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams.” She currently works as a marketing writer for clinical research. She enjoys live jazz, good conversation, and writing letters. You can reach her at sammineroff@gmail.com

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