Antidepressants and alcohol do not mix well.
In some cases, severe reactions can occur. If you are taking Celexa, you may wonder why you cannot drink alcohol and how long you have to be off the medication before you can safely have a drink.
This article explores why antidepressants and alcohol can be a dangerous combination, common side effects of Celexa, alternative ways to address depression, and how to know when you should see a doctor.
What is Celexa?
Citalopram (Celexa) is an FDA-approved medication for the treatment of depression.
It is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant.
Celexa is used to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and other conditions relating to depression.
It may also be used off-label, at your doctor’s discretion, for other purposes.
These may include:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
- Binge eating disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
How Celexa works
SSRIs work to help improve the way that your brain processes serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of calm, balance, and well-being.
Some people clear serotonin too quickly, either from genetic predisposition, from other health conditions, or as a side effect of medication.
Celexa helps your brain retain the use of serotonin, promoting more balanced levels, and creating a stabilizing effect on mood.
Celexa and Alcohol
Most antidepressants come with warnings to avoid alcohol.
Celexa can contribute to the risk of overdose and other complications.
Risk of overdose
A major risk of mixing alcohol and Celexa is the risk of overdose.
Celexa is metabolized by the liver, but when you consume alcohol, your body prioritizes that first.
This can lead to higher concentrations of Celexa staying in your system, even if you only took your regularly prescribed dose.
Symptoms of overdose can include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Extreme drowsiness
- Racing heart
If you have these signs or suspect that you are experiencing Celexa overdose because of alcohol consumption, seek emergency medical help right away.
Potential severe side effects
Alcohol can also lead to worse side effects from Celexa.
This is also related to how the liver metabolizes alcohol and medication.
The FDA notes that, apart from alcohol, higher doses of Celexa may include the risk of heart effects.
Alcohol can make this more severe.
Some dangerous side effects of consuming alcohol while taking Celexa include:
- Irregular heart rate or other serious heart problems
Alcohol and depression
Alcohol and depression do not pair well.
While alcohol may be consumed because it produces feelings of pleasure, relaxation, or social confidence, alcohol itself is a systemic depressant.
In the short term, alcohol increases how much dopamine is in the brain.
However, low levels of dopamine are what contribute to depression, and when the initial buzz from alcohol wears off, and dopamine levels fall, depressive and anxiety symptoms can be worse.
If your brain subconsciously connects alcohol with feeling better, you may become dependent on it.
This can worsen depression, lengthen how long you are dealing with it, and even contribute to the risk of alcoholism.
To ensure that your doctor or mental health provider can safely prescribe antidepressants, be transparent with them about:
- How much alcohol you routinely consume
- How many ounces and what type of alcohol you drink
- How long you have been consistently consuming this amount
- Events, seasons, or triggers that may lead to a change in your alcohol intake pattern
Common Celexa Side Effects
Celexa may cause some mild side effects in around 10% of patients.
These may resolve after your body adjusts to the medication.
Celexa side effects include:
If you take a higher dose of Celexa (30-40 mg), you may experience additional side effects.
If you notice worsening side effects or other symptoms that concern you while taking Celexa, let your doctor know.
When Can I Start Drinking if I’m No Longer Taking Celexa?
Celexa is mostly cleared by your liver.
The half-life is 35 hours, which means that it takes at least that long for a single dosage to be reduced in the body by half.
Celexa builds up in your system over time, and it typically takes around a week before it is fully out of your system.
However, it may take longer for people who have liver problems or are older than age 60.
Ask your doctor for a specific recommendation as to when it is safe for you to drink alcohol after stopping Celexa.
The answer will depend on your specific health variables, your age, and how quickly your body clears medication.
This can also be influenced by other medications that you take.
Ways to Treat Depression Without Medication
Depression does not always require medication.
It is important to work with your healthcare provider to ensure that your symptoms are properly addressed.
For some, this can mean therapy or lifestyle changes.
Your needs may also change over time, so communicate with your doctor if you start to feel worse at any time.
Working with a licensed psychotherapist may help to ease depression.
The success of therapy depends on your connection with a therapist, the cause(s) of your depression, and many other variables.
Two specific types of therapy may be helpful in addressing depression.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a type of talk therapy that involves structured sessions focused on building awareness around negative thought patterns. CBT provides an evidence-based way to challenge subconscious thinking which might contribute to or worsen depression. Studies show it is effective for helping to address depression.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): This is an interactive type of talk therapy that is aimed at decreasing psychological distress and trauma, which may be present in depression. EMDR will not intentionally resurface repressed memories but will help you to decrease traumatic feelings surrounding past experiences that are still contributing to distress. It can help your brain change the way that memories are stored, which can downgrade associated feelings and emotions.
Making healthy lifestyle changes will not always address depression and it should not be viewed as a failure if they do not immediately make you feel better.
However, improving your lifestyle can make other treatments work better and can lead to an improvement in your overall health.
Lifestyle changes that support mental health include:
- Not smoking
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Getting regular physical activity
- Having a consistent bedtime and getting enough sleep
- Being hydrated
- Avoiding excessive caffeine intake
- Eating a nutritionally balanced diet
- Engaging in hobbies or activities that bring you joy
- Having a support network of friends or family
When to See a Doctor for Depression
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or are struggling to function in your daily life, talk to your doctor.
Depression can look different from one person to the next.
If you do not feel like yourself, have no motivation, feel agitated a lot, or feel chronically sad, you may be experiencing depression.
Your doctor can explore treatment options, including medications and supportive alternatives, that can help you feel good again.
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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Interaction between antidepressants and alcohol: signal amplification by multiple case reports. (2014).
FDA Drug Safety Communication: Revised recommendations for Celexa (citalopram hydrobromide) related to a potential risk of abnormal heart rhythms with high doses. (2017).
Alcohol and dopamine. (1997).
Cognitive behavioral therapy. (2020).
The Efficacy of EMDR in the Treatment of Depression. (2016).