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Zoloft and alcohol: Sertraline (Zoloft) is a commonly prescribed antidepressant that acts as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) to alleviate depression, social anxiety, panic disorder and phobia. By promoting release of serotonin via brain cell receptors, Zoloft maintains adequate serotonin levels in the brain to help modulate mood and emotion.
Zoloft is a depression medication. It’s a brand name for Sertraline. It is an antidepressant prescribed by doctors to treat a variety of psychological problems, such as depression, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorder. A popular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Zoloft promotes release of serotonin by certain brain cell receptors that, for unknown reasons, inhibit serotonin release. One of the brain’s most important neurotransmitters, serotonin regulates mood, sleep, appetite, sex drive and motivation.
- Taking too much Zoloft may cause seizures, manic episodes, muscle twitching or stiffness, hallucinations and extreme agitation.
About Zoloft and Alcohol
Alcohol disrupts neurotransmitter levels (especially norepinephrine and serotonin) by acting as an inhibitor of neurotransmitters (short term drinking) and as an agent stimulating release of neurotransmitters.
- Although Zoloft’s website simply states that “combining alcohol and Zoloft is not recommended”.
- According to the Mayo Clinic drinking alcohol with any antidepressant may worsen anxiety and/or depression, interfere with thinking rationally and increase drowsiness.
Zoloft’s website states that “drinking alcohol while taking ZOLOFT is not recommended”. No other information is provided regarding side effects of mixing alcohol and Zoloft.
- Taking Zoloft with alcohol has the potential for causing complex, unpredictable chemical reactions in the brain involving alcohol and neurotransmitters.
People who have never taken Zoloft before often experience nausea, dizziness and drowsiness until serotonin levels stabilize in the brain. These symptoms typically subside within two to three weeks.
Drinking alcohol while using Zoloft may cause a return of these symptoms, in addition to feeling more anxious and depressed. Combining Zoloft or any other SSRI will further affect reaction time/motor skills, judgement and ability to concentrate.
Combing Zoloft and alcohol may result in or more of the following side effects:
- Intensify moodiness
- Negatively impact psychomotor functions
- Cause aggressive and impulsive behavior
- Cause suicidal ideation
Depending on how much Zoloft and alcohol are consumed at one time, users could suffer extreme physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation and profuse sweating.
An alcohol blackout is an amnesiac episode caused by heavy alcohol drinking that impairs a person’s ability to form memories during the time they are intoxicated. Zoloft increases the risk of alcohol blackouts by destabilizing serotonin and other neurotransmitters implicated in memory formation and retention.
Alcohol interferes with serotonin receptor functioning by stimulating receptors and flooding the brain with serotonin. This action also stimulates release of dopamine, norepinephrine and other neurotransmitters involved in alcohol intoxication. Excessively drinking while taking Zoloft may worsen hangover symptoms (headache, nausea, dry mouth, body soreness) or promote blackouts in people who do not abuse alcohol.
Blackouts are periods of alcohol-induced amnesia during which a person cannot remember anything they did, saw or heard. Referred to clinically as “anterograde” amnesia, blackouts happen because alcohol interferes with the brain’s ability to “remember” new memories. Generally, blackouts only happen to alcoholics or “bingers” (people who drink too much on the weekends). However, Zoloft’s biochemical affects on the brain could cause those mixing Zoloft and alcohol to have blackouts more frequently than they normally would.
Mixing Zoloft with alcohol may severely aggravate symptoms of a typical alcohol-induced hangover. Hangovers occur after drinking heavily and passing out or going to sleep. In addition to suffering excessive thirst and headache, a Zoloft-alcohol hangover will also cause:
- Flu-like symptoms (joint aches, nausea, vomiting, chills)
- Abdominal pain/cramping
- Sensitivity to sounds and bright lights
- Increased irritability, anxiety and/or depression
- Tachycardia (fast heartbeat)
Researchers think that Zoloft and other antidepressants interfere with normal pancreatic functioning responsible for regulating blood glucose.
- Drinking while taking Zoloft for depression and/or anxiety can contribute to development of strong craving as tolerance to alcohol builds rapidly.
When blood sugar levels decrease due to mixing Zoloft and alcohol, cravings for more alcohol may occur because alcohol tends to raise blood sugar. In addition, depression and anxiety increase the risk of alcohol abuse and or addiction.
The National Institutes of Health report liver abnormalities may occur in about one percent of individuals taking Zoloft. However, the extent of a detected liver abnormality in those on Zoloft is typically minimal and rarely requires discontinuation of Zoloft.
It is well-established that long-term abuse of alcohol will cause liver damage (cirrhosis). Recovering alcoholics with moderate to severe cirrhosis who take Zoloft may need to reduce Zoloft use due to diminished liver functioning inhibiting the elimination of Zoloft from the bloodstream.
It is an established fact that long-term alcohol use damages the liver. Cirrhosis of the liver is often diagnosed in chronic drinkers, a serious liver disease sometimes requiring a liver transplant procedure.
- Zoloft may raise levels of certain liver enzymes that negatively impact the ability of the liver to function normally.
- According to the National Institutes of Health, antidepressants, including tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, account for up to five percent of clinical cases of liver injury.
Taking a prescribed amount of Zoloft and drinking can produce symptoms of alcohol poisoning since Zoloft increases the depressant effects of alcohol on the brain and body. While a person would need to drink large amounts of alcohol in a short period to suffer alcohol poisoning, they would not need to drink more than a few mixed drinks when taking Zoloft to require emergency treatment for alcohol poisoning symptoms.
Can It Cause Overdose and Death?
Anytime you mix alcohol with prescription or over the counter medication, you risk the chance of overdosing. Since metabolic rates differ significantly among individuals, one person’s ability to drink and take Zoloft without suffering adverse affects does not mean someone else can do the same. Signs of a Zoloft-alcohol overdose include respiratory depression, arrhythmia, slurred speech, confusion and sudden hypotension. Death may occur if emergency treatment is not initiated as soon as possible.
Can You Stop Taking Zoloft If You Want to Drink Alcohol?
Zoloft or any other antidepressant should not be abruptly discontinued, especially if you have been taking Zoloft for several months and have adjusted to the medication’s effect. Depression, anxiety and feelings of panic return within a few days of stopping Zoloft, although users won’t crave Zoloft. While alcohol temporarily relieves anxiety and depression, existing psychological issues will return once the person is no longer intoxicated.
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