17.3 million American adults suffer from depression. At the same time, 85.6% of Americans report using alcohol at least once during their lifetime. This means that there is a high chance of US adults using alcohol and antidepressants together.
Unsurprisingly, 64.4% of patients with alcohol use disorder (AUD) report using antidepressants with alcohol. But is this combination safe? Let’s explore.
What Are Antidepressants?
Antidepressants are medications that alleviate symptoms of depression (i.e., low mood, appetite, and disturbed sleep) by correcting chemical imbalances in the brain.
Types of Antidepressants
Specifically, antidepressants work by increasing levels of serotonin (a feel-good hormone) and/or noradrenaline (an excitatory hormone) in the brain. Common examples of antidepressants include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs)
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
- Serotonin antagonists and reuptake inhibitors (SARIs)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
The Alcohol-Antidepressant Interaction
Alcohol and antidepressants interact in two ways:
- Pharmacokinetically – Alcohol increases drug absorption (by increasing solubility in the stomach) and interferes with its metabolism (as the liver metabolizes both substances). The net result is that greater quantities of antidepressants remain in the body longer. This can cause life-threatening complications (discussed below).
- Pharmacodynamically – Alcohol (like antidepressants) also increases serotonin levels in the brain. Thus, using both of them simultaneously can cause dangerous sedation and decision impairment.