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Risks in Mixing Lexapro and Alcohol

What is Lexapro?

Escitalopram (marketed as Lexapro) is included in the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) [1]. This class of drugs is used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. It is an antidepressant prescription drug that works by boosting levels of a natural substance in the brain called serotonin. Serotonin, known as the “happy” neurotransmitter, signals an increase in feelings of happiness or well-being. It’s released into the spaces between your brain cells (synapses) in order to transmit this “happiness” signal through your brain and central nervous system.

Lexapro is a popular antidepressant, possibly one of the most frequently prescribed in the United States. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the symptoms of Lexapro detox withdrawal. In addition to treating depression, this drug is also prescribed for anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. SSRIs have long been associated with withdrawal symptoms. While medical professionals still refer to these symptoms as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome, many people believe the name minimizes the seriousness of the problem.

Lexapro and Alcohol
Like all medications, Lexapro does have a long list of side effects.

Lexapro and alcohol should not be mixed. Not only can alcohol worsen your mood or anxiety, but mixing Lexapro and alcohol might also lead to potentially dangerous side effects. People who have struggled with substance abuse or polysubstance abuse in the past may attempt to abuse Lexapro. The medication also has interactions with several drugs, including other prescription medications, so some may try to combine Lexapro to enhance a high from another drug.

How Lexapro Works 

Escitalopram is a chemical substance approved by the FDA to treat generalized anxiety disorder in adults and major depressive disorder in adolescents and adults. In Australia and most European countries, Escitalopram is approved for treating depression (MDD) and anxiety disorders. These include social anxiety disorder (SAD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Lexapro’s mechanisms of action to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression are not fully understood. However, based on the many clinical trials conducted over the past decade, scientists have concluded that Escitalopram affects serotonin. Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter involved in sleep, mood, and other bodily functions. It is thought that by taking Lexapro, serotonin levels in your brain become more balanced, helping to enhance your mood and reduce anxiety.

Can You Drink Alcohol While Taking Lexapro?

If you take the SSRI antidepressant Lexapro for depression or anxiety, you may wonder if it’s OK to have a cocktail, beer, or glass of wine once in a while. But there are lots of reasons to stay away from alcohol when you take antidepressants like Lexapro. The combination of Lexapro and alcohol should be avoided due to potentially dangerous side effects. Even a small amount of alcohol can lead to a large number of unpleasant effects. Mixing these two substances may actually lead to heightened symptoms of depression and anxiety.

By taking Lexapro, you’re given a sense of relief. The medication helps you function in normal, everyday life by blocking severe symptoms of anxiety or depression. But mixing Lexapro and alcohol, you actually decrease the effectiveness of the medication, which can make your anxiety or depression worse. This worsening scenario is potentially dangerous as it can lead to some people having an increase in suicidal thoughts.

Mixing Lexapro and Alcohol

When mixing any two substances, there is always a danger of potential side effects. This is especially true when mixing an antidepressant such as Lexapro and alcohol. Lexapro can cause side effects. But the side effects that you get may vary from someone else’s. Drinking alcohol can also lead to more and different side effects, and risks when combined with the drug. 

Additionally, anxiety and depression can worsen when using Lexapro and alcohol together. This is because alcohol can lower the ability of Lexapro to treat the symptoms you are taking the drug for. As a result, it is best to avoid alcohol to ensure that Lexapro is working to its fullest potential. In extreme cases, drinking alcohol while taking an SSRI like Lexapro can sometimes lead to side effects such as becoming violent. But usually, doing it can just make it harder to do tasks that require you to be sharp and alert.

Lexapro and Alcohol Interaction

Antidepressants can cause complex behavioural effects, especially early in treatment, and after increase or decrease in dosage. Alcohol also produces a range of psychological and behavioural effects, depending on the individual and the setting; people with mood disorder commonly use it. Likewise depression is recognized as a frequent and sometimes serious complication of alcohol abuse.

Lexapro and Alcohol
If you or someone you know has been affected by escitalopram misuse, there are resources to help you recover.

Interactions between selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, the most commonly used class of antidepressants) and alcohol have been studied in healthy volunteers, mainly in experiments measuring intoxication and psychomotor performance. In such settings, SSRIs tend not to impair function nor do they aggravate the effects of alcohol.

Clinical trials have also studied the effects of antidepressants in problem drinkers, with and without co-morbid depression or anxiety. Though some people seem to benefit, the results are unimpressive overall. Patients have substantially increased their alcohol intake during antidepressant treatment, sometimes with serious untoward effects.

Side Effects of Lexapro and Alcohol 

Lexapro by itself has a few side effects such as drowsiness, dry mouth, and constipation. But once alcohol enters the equation, things become more dangerous. Generally, medical advice recommends not drinking at all while on SSRIs. In fact, the negative side effects become gradually more severe with each drink you take.

To get an idea of the danger, take a look at these Lexapro and alcohol side effects:

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

Serotonin Syndrome 

When you mix Escitalopram (Lexapro) with alcohol, a disorder called serotonin syndrome can arise, but it’s rare. Serotonin syndrome occurs when the brain has an excess of serotonin. Lexapro enhances serotonin levels in the brain. Alcohol produces a transient increase in serotonin levels when combined with Lexapro, leading to this fatal illness.

Lexapro treats depression by boosting serotonin levels. Alcohol can also cause a temporary increase in serotonin. When your brain contains too much serotonin, you may develop serotonin syndrome. This condition causes symptoms such as:

  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there)

Serotonin syndrome can lead to permanent organ damage or death when left untreated.  

Lexapro and Alcohol Blackouts

Some experts have raised concerns that even moderate drinking while on an antidepressant-like Lexapro may cause an exaggerated response to alcohol in some people. This includes violence, inhibition, and memory loss in about half of the cases. While most healthy adults do not experience this, experts are unsure why it occurs and which patients are at greater risk of it happening.

Risk to Mental Health

When Lexapro is coupled with alcohol, mental and emotional instability might be seen, leading to more severe depression or anxiety, as well as suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, the anger or violent behavior that this process can cause might lead to rash or even dangerous decisions that harm oneself or others.

Risk to Liver

Antidepressants may put your liver at risk if you drink while on them. When you combine alcohol with antidepressants, the liver cannot absorb all of the toxins present. It results in deadly poisoning, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. According to research, antidepressant-related liver damage has been associated with drinking while on antidepressants. It’s yet unclear how Lexapro affects the liver in particular.

Risk to Heart

Both alcohol and Lexapro increase heart rate, which can lead to life-threatening conditions such as heart failure, particularly in those with high blood pressure. It’s unknown whether Lexapro combined with alcohol causes long-term heart problems.

Lexapro and Alcohol
Individuals can still develop a physical dependence on antidepressants. People with depression are also more likely to abuse other drugs.

Lexapro and Alcohol Addiction Treatment 

There is a strong link between mental health and substance abuse. Individuals who struggle with mood disorders like depression and anxiety are more susceptible to developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, often to self-medicate symptoms of their underlying mental health condition. These co-occurring disorders can make each other worse without proper treatment.

To determine the most effective ways to treat Lexapro and alcohol addiction, it’s crucial to first get an accurate assessment of all the symptoms. When the symptoms have been evaluated by a mental health professional, it may be determined that another form of mental condition is present and needs a particular type of treatment. Very often, some combination of psychotherapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes are effective for coping with functional.

Medically-Assisted Detox

Detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated process of withdrawal, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to drug abuse. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.

Psychotherapy for Depression and Anxiety

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of depression including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.
  • Solution Focused Therapy – is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Substance abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use disorders and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

The development of tolerance and withdrawal are indications of addiction. If you or a loved one are struggling with long-term Lexapro and alcohol addiction and a co-occurring mental health condition such as anxiety and depression, contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

Lexapro and alcohol
Consuming alcohol while on antidepressants like Lexapro may negatively impact a person’s mental health and put them at risk for substance abuse.
Sources:

[1] FDA – https://www.fda.gov/drugs/postmarket-drug-safety-information-patients-and-providers/escitalopram-marketed-lexapro-information

[2] NIH – https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a603005.html

[3] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10863885/