If you have been prescribed an antidepressant-like Lexapro due to depression or anxiety, it’s best not to drink alcohol. Mixing Lexapro and alcohol can lead to dangerous side effects. It can also make your medication less effective, which could actually make your depression worse. This, in turn, can lead to more drinking to numb the symptoms of depression.
What Is Lexapro?
Lexapro is the brand name of a prescription medication known as escitalopram, an antidepressant. Lexapro belongs to a group of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
SSRIs treat anxiety and major depressive disorder in adults. They can also be prescribed to treat depression in adolescents at least 12 years old.
Antidepressants like Lexapro work by changing how the body uses a neurotransmitter known as serotonin. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry signals between brain cells. They influence mood and other bodily functions, such as muscle movement and heart rate. Serotonin is one of the most important neurotransmitters for regulating mood, including dopamine, GABA, and norepinephrine.
In particular, serotonin is calming. It’s necessary for memory, learning, and healthy sleep, and it helps promote feelings of well-being and happiness.
SSRIs prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed by brain cells so that it continues to be available for use in the brain. SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed types of antidepressants.
Lexapro was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2002.
What Are the Side Effects of Lexapro?
SSRIs are generally considered safe, but there are some side effects and potential risks to taking antidepressants. Some people may not experience any side effects. Others may experience negative side effects with one SSRI but may be able to tolerate a different one.
Some side effects of Lexapro may go away after the first few weeks. If you experience long-term or extremely negative side effects while taking Lexapro, talk to your doctor about taking a different SSRI.
Possible side effects of SSRIs include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dry mouth
- Nervousness or agitation
- Reduced sexual desire or function
- Weight loss or weight gain
Some people may also experience suicidal thoughts when first taking an SSRI. Alert your doctor or family members if you experience changes in your mood. Do not stop taking prescription medication without your doctor’s approval.
Can You Mix Lexapro and Alcohol?
Mixing alcohol and Lexapro is not recommended, and doing so could lead to dangerous side effects. Even drinking a small amount of alcohol while taking an SSRI could have serious consequences.
Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down parts of the brain and leads to impaired cognitive function, causing effects such as slurred speech, delayed reactions, and unsteadiness.
Drinking alcohol can temporarily increase serotonin levels, and many people drink it because of the initial stimulant effect. But over time, alcohol consumption decreases serotonin levels, which can cause depression or make existing depression worse.
What Are the Side Effects of Lexapro and Alcohol?
Antidepressants can worsen the effects of alcohol, and alcohol can intensify the side effects of antidepressants. Both alcohol and antidepressants can make you drowsy and impair your motor skills. When taken together, these effects are multiplied, and the risks increase with every drink you have.
In addition to an increased risk of depression and anxiety, drinking while on Lexapro could lead to:
- Decreased effectiveness of the medication
- High blood pressure
- Liver problems
- Increased risk of suicidal thoughts
The Biggest Risks of Mixing SSRIs and Alcohol
Drinking while on Lexapro can decrease the effectiveness of your antidepressant. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression severe enough to warrant taking a prescription medication, it’s ill-advised to do anything that interferes with their effectiveness. Your symptoms of depression could return and be even harder to treat.
Combining alcohol with antidepressants can cause extreme drowsiness and confusion and can severely impair an individual’s coordination, reflexes, and motor skills. This increases your risk of injuries or falls. Even if your blood alcohol level is under the legal limit, your loss of coordination and impaired motor skills can be severe, and driving a motor vehicle can be extremely dangerous.
If you are taking an antidepressant and another prescription medication simultaneously, alcohol can make the side effects of both medications more severe.
The Effects of Alcohol on Neurotransmitters
In addition to reducing the effects of your medication, continued alcohol use can also cause further changes to your brain chemistry, having lasting effects on your mental health.
It’s common for people with alcohol use disorder to be depressed or anxious. Alcohol changes the way the brain functions and has a particular effect on the interaction of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters all work closely together. Some are known as excitatory neurotransmitters, which means they have a stimulating effect on neurons. Others, like serotonin, are inhibitory neurotransmitters, which have the opposite effect and inhibit neuron activity.
Normally, excitatory neurotransmitters and inhibitory neurotransmitters are somewhat balanced in the brain. Alcohol consumption, however, creates an imbalance in the brain’s neurotransmitters. Short-term alcohol consumption temporarily enhances the function of inhibitory neurotransmitters and decreases the function of excitatory neurotransmitters. This means that drinking alcohol can improve mood in the short term.
Long-term alcohol consumption, however, has the opposite effect, leading to an increase in excitatory neurotransmitters, and lower levels of inhibitory neurotransmitters such as serotonin. The resulting neurotransmitter imbalance can lead to symptoms such as:
- Hormone dysfunction
- Panic attacks
- Obsessive or compulsive behavior
- Eating disorders
- Migraine attacks
- Chronic pain
- Premature death
With long-term alcohol use, these neurotransmitter imbalances can have serious consequences. Attempting to suddenly discontinue alcohol use can lead to alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which is in part related to these changes in neurotransmitter and neurotransmitter receptors. Alcohol withdrawal can lead to symptoms such as seizures, hallucinations, anxiety, increased heart rate, tremors, nausea, and vomiting. It’s often recommended that individuals with alcohol use disorder undergo medically supervised detox, under the care of qualified health care professionals who can help manage symptoms with medication if needed.
Even after detoxing from alcohol, changes in the brain can last for months, making someone more likely to relapse if they are not receiving treatment through a qualified addiction treatment program.
Alcohol and Mental Health Disorders
While alcohol abuse can cause changes in the brain associated with depression, it’s also true that someone with persistent depression has a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder. It’s common for alcohol use disorder to accompany other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and others.
Having low serotonin levels is thought to be one of the most common contributors to mood problems such as depression.
What Causes Low Serotonin Levels?
For most cases of serotonin deficiency, the cause is unknown. Certain genetic disorders may affect the body’s ability to produce serotonin. Some research suggests that stress early in life may affect the body’s ability to transport serotonin.
Digestive issues can also affect serotonin production. Roughly 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is produced by gut bacteria. Research shows that when levels of gut bacteria are disturbed or imbalanced, serotonin production can be disrupted.
Low serotonin levels can also be related to lifestyle factors, such as:
- Poor nutrition
- Chronic stress
- Hormonal changes, can naturally occur due to factors such as menopause, pregnancy, or aging
- Lack of sunlight
- Certain drugs and medications
Some people naturally have low serotonin levels or may have fewer serotonin receptors. Others also naturally break down serotonin quickly or absorb it too quickly.
How Is Serotonin Deficiency Diagnosed and Treated?
Serotonin deficiency is complex and difficult to diagnose. No test can measure serotonin levels in the brain, and it can be difficult to determine whether the symptoms are causing a deficiency, or a deficiency is causing the symptoms. As a result, doctors will usually opt to treat the symptoms.
Antidepressants like Lexapro are often the first course of action in treating symptoms related to depression and anxiety. SSRIs don’t help the body produce more serotonin, but they do help it use serotonin more efficiently.
Not all of the serotonin that the body produces is used. Some of it is reabsorbed by the cell that produced it. SSRIs block this reabsorption so that more serotonin can be used by the body. While different SSRIs work in the same way, they have some differences, such as how much serotonin reuptake they block and how quickly the drug is eliminated from the body. It may take a few weeks to see any noticeable results from taking SSRIs.
Contact Us for Help
If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol use disorder, help is available. Contact The Recovery Team today to learn about residential drug and alcohol rehab treatment in South Florida. Our programs will help you learn the tools and skills needed to manage your addiction long-term.