When considering a medication that you will use long-term, it’s important to think about your lifestyle, including if you drink alcohol.
Certain drugs interact with alcohol, which can lead to impaired judgment, increase the risk of harmful and sometimes fatal side effects, and cause the medication to be less effective.
Antidepressants in particular can interact with alcohol, so it’s important to talk honestly with your healthcare provider about your drinking if they suggest you begin taking Lexapro.
In this article, I’ll cover what Lexapro is and the risks you should be aware of when taking the medication while drinking alcohol.
Then I’ll detail the side effects of Lexapro as well as how soon you can start drinking after going off of the medication.
Lastly I’ll explain alternative ways of treating depression that don’t involve prescription medications.
What Is Lexapro?
Lexapro is the brand name of a generic medication called escitalopram.
It is categorized as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI.
Doctors mainly prescribe Lexapro to treat major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder.
They also prescribe it off-label to treat panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Lexapro and other SSRIs are used to treat the symptoms relating to these psychological disorders to give patients relief and help them feel more “normal” in their day-to-day lives.
How Lexapro works
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that sends signals to your brain to regulate functions like mood, appetite, and sleep cycles.
Lexapro and other SSRIs block serotonin from being reabsorbed by the brain after it’s been used.
Preventing reabsorption (or “reuptake”) keeps more serotonin in the brain than usual.
Lexapro and Alcohol
It’s generally recommended that you avoid drinking any alcohol while taking Lexapro.
For one, alcohol consumption and Lexapro individually can make you feel drowsy, less responsive, and depressed.
When you combine these two, it can heighten these effects.
Additionally, some research shows an increase in alcohol dependence for those who drink while taking SSRI antidepressants.
The exact relationship between alcohol and SSRIs like Lexapro is not well understood.
Alcohol and Lexapro affect the brain’s neurotransmission, and combining them can result in unwanted symptoms.
Alcohol and SSRIs also both affect serotonin in the body, which has been associated with alcohol cravings.
If you want to drink while taking Lexapro, talk to your healthcare provider.
Risk of overdose
Mixing alcohol with Lexapro increases the risk of overdose.
Overdosing on SSRIs like Lexapro can have fatal consequences.
Symptoms of an overdose—either alone or in combination with alcohol—include:
If you overdose on Lexapro, you may experience serotonin syndrome.
Serotonin syndrome is characterized by:
- Muscle rigidity
- Rapid changes in blood pressure or heartbeat
If you suspect that you or a loved one has overdosed on Lexapro, it is a medical emergency.
Call 911 or the Poison Control at 800-222-1222.
Potential severe side effects
SSRIs can increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors in younger adults and adolescents during the first few weeks of treatment.
Additionally, research links alcohol use and increased rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Because both substances act on processes in your brain that affect your ability to regulate emotions, combining alcohol with Lexapro results in a higher risk for suicidal thoughts and other potentially severe reactions.
Alcohol also temporarily boosts serotonin levels in the brain, which when accompanied by SSRI use, can lead to serotonin syndrome.
Other serious side effects of mixing Lexapro with alcohol can include panic attacks, sudden outbursts of emotion or violence, and overdosing.
Alcohol and depression
Alcohol dependency and depression often go hand-in-hand.
Some experts think that “self-medication” (drinking to try to temporarily alleviate depression) may be the reason behind many dual diagnoses of alcohol use disorder and depression.
Others believe that some patients become depressed because of alcohol misuse.
Common Lexapro Side Effects
The most common side effects of Lexapro include:
- Dizziness, drowsiness, weakness
- Feeling shaky or anxious
- Sleep problems (insomnia)
- Decreased libido
- Dry mouth
- Decreased hunger
These side effects often begin to subside after the first two weeks of taking Lexapro.
When Can I Start Drinking If I’m No Longer Taking Lexapro?
Once you stop taking Lexapro, it’s safe to drink alcohol after the medication is no longer affecting your thoughts and behavior.
You should never stop taking Lexapro without discussing how to do so safely with your prescriber.
If you are trying to change or stop your medication to be able to drink, this may be a sign of an alcohol use disorder.
Talk to your doctor, who can evaluate you for other symptoms of an alcohol use disorder and discuss treatments that may help.
When to See a Doctor for Depression
Almost everyone feels depressed or down from time to time.
But if depression is interfering with your daily life, make an appointment to see your doctor.
They can assess you for depression or refer you to a mental healthcare provider for further help.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent depressed mood
- Feeling hopeless
- Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities
- Significant unintentional changes in weight or appetite
- Sleep problems like insomnia or hypersomnia
- Fatigue or low energy
- A sense of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Impaired ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicide, or suicide attempts
If you have suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
You can also text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741).
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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