Generally, for people taking antidepressants, drinking alcohol is not recommended. Alcohol itself can worsen the symptoms of depression. Alcohol interacts with a number of medications, significantly altering their effects in the body, leading to potentially fatal consequences.
This article considers the interaction between alcohol and an antidepressant – Zoloft.
Zoloft is a brand of the generic drug, Sertraline. It is recommended for use in the treatment of major depressive disorders, in anxiety disorders, and in post-traumatic stress disorders.
Zoloft belongs to the class of antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) which, as their name implies, inhibit the reuptake of serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical that nerve cells release in order to communicate with nearby nerve cells) in the body that helps to regulate mood, improve appetite, social interactions, and sleep.
Serotonin reuptake occurs when the nerve cell that releases serotonin picks up excess serotonin molecules to control its effect. SSRIs prevent this reuptake, making serotonin abundantly available in the brain and in the body.
Sertraline (Zoloft) is taken once in a day usually before meals. It has a half-life (the time it takes for the body to eliminate half of the initial drug concentration) of about 26 hours, and it usually takes about two to three weeks before its desired effects are felt on the body. Its maximum dose is about 200mg in a day.
How Alcohol Interferes with Zoloft
Antidepressants generally do not go well with alcohol. The class of antidepressants known as tricyclic antidepressants (Example is Wellbutrin) will likely increase the possibility of seizures and stroke when used alongside alcohol.
Alcohol interferes with serotonin receptors in the brain, preventing serotonin from binding to them. This can be likened to being locked out of your house. It results in the build-up of serotonin in the brain, and some other related neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
Alcohol, therefore, potentiates the sedative side effect of Zoloft. In other words, taking alcohol while taking Zoloft could leave you feeling very sleepy and unsteady on your feet. It may affect other activities such as driving, working or even your judgment.
Both sertraline and alcohol are extensively metabolized by the liver. Taking the two at the same time can put the liver at a greater risk of serious damage.
Dangers of Consuming Alcohol and Zoloft
Both substances have side effects which are potentiated by using them at the same time. These side effects may worsen if another medication is taken alongside these two. In summary, some of these effects would include;
1. Zoloft-Alcohol Black Out
Zoloft increases the chances of alcohol blackouts. Alcohol blackout is an episode where a person who has taken alcohol heavily cannot form memories during the time of intoxication. That is, everything that happens that period is a faded blur to them.
Zoloft-alcohol combination destabilizes serotonin and other neurotransmitters which are responsible for memory formation, leading to the blackouts.
2. Increased Hangover Effect
Taking Zoloft with excessive alcohol increases the chances of Zoloft-alcohol induced hangover. In addition to the regular symptoms of hangovers, this Zoloft alcohol-induced hangover may also cause symptoms such as;
- Dizziness, vertigo, and lightheadedness
- Flu-like symptoms such as joints aches, nausea, vomiting, chills
- Increased sensitivity to bright light and sound
- Abdominal pains and cramps
- Tremors (Uncontrollable shakings)
- Increased anxiety, irritability, and depression
- Increased heartbeat
3. Liver Damage
On its own, Zoloft is reported to cause abnormalities of the liver and has been discontinued for use in some patients for this reason. Zoloft has the ability to increase certain liver enzymes which in turn affect the functioning ability of the liver.
Research from the National Institute of Health reports that about five percent of liver injuries are caused by antidepressants. Alcohol also has been reported severally to cause liver cirrhosis (extreme liver damage). A combination of both Zoloft and alcohol, therefore, would increase the chances of liver damage.
4. Death From Overdose
Zoloft increases the depressant effect of alcohol in the brain and in the body. With Zoloft, the quantity of alcohol needed to cause poisoning is drastically reduced, hence, someone drinking alcohol while taking Zoloft would quickly attain and cross the poison mark.
This can lead to respiratory depression and consequently death if emergency medical attention is not received. Suicidal ideations are also increased and if care is not taken, ideations may be acted upon.
5. Increased Depression
Alcohol and Zoloft, when taken together, affect the central nervous system. They both interact with the brain thereby causing exaggerated responses from the nervous system and further intensify symptoms of depression.
Alcohol aggravates the inability to sleep well at night leading to insomnia. Initially, alcohol may cause heavy feelings of drowsiness. However, with time the sleep cycle starts to get interrupted to the point of inability to sleep.
7. Increased Sedation
The sedative effect of Zoloft is further aggravated with the introduction of alcohol to the body. This may lead to decreased motor skills, impaired judgment, and coordination.
It may also affect a person’ ability to perform tasks which require focus and attention such as driving and operating machinery. There are also greater chances for increased mood fluctuations which may result in extreme moodiness.
Side Effects of Sertraline and Alcohol
Alcohol has the potential to increase the manifestations of depression when taken by people suffering from depression. Some of these manifestations include;
- Increased Anxiety
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Tiredness or insomnia
Common side effects of sertraline which can be aggravated by alcohol consumption include;
- Increased sweating
- Trouble sleeping or sleepiness
- Dry mouth
- Decreased libido
- Muscle cramps and weakness
- Unusual weight loss
It thus follows that the side effects of each of the two substances are significantly magnified when Alcohol is taken with Zoloft.
Some experts recommend short term use of alcohol while using Zoloft. While this combination makes the person feel better in the short term, it is bound to increase the level of depression and anxiety being treated in the long run.
According to studies, the most lasting side effect of taking alcohol and Zoloft is depression. So, while trying to treat depression with Zoloft, the depression is worsened by alcohol.
In a nutshell
After all is said and done, the choice still lies with you. If you consider staying off alcohol during the duration of therapy with Zoloft impossible, you may want to discuss with your doctor so your antidepressant can be replaced with one that does not give as much concern as Zoloft when taken with alcohol.
It is also safe to inform your doctor about whatever medication you are currently using as introducing a new medication can change the levels of Zoloft or alcohol and affect your body’s response to alcohol ingestion.
It is safer to stay off alcohol while treating depression. If you need help with quitting alcohol, you may want to talk to your physician so you can consider centers that would help you quit. You may need to undergo a detoxification process or your therapy may include the use of inpatient or outpatient services in specialized centers.
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