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What is Lexapro?

Lexapro is a brand name for the drug escitalopram oxalate. Lexapro is a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). The FDA approves Lexapro to treat generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, panic attacks, and other mental health issues.

Lexapro

Lexapro works by blocking the reuptake of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that affects various functions in the body and mind. Lexapro helps to balance brain chemicals that can lead to depression and anxiety.

SSRIs like Lexapro are among the safest classes of antidepressants, so they're frequently prescribed. However, Lexapro is not entirely risk-free, and when combined with alcohol, it could increase your risk of problems.

In the United States, approximately 13% of people above the age of 12 are on some SSRI antidepressant, including Lexapro.

Side Effects of Lexapro

For most people, escitalopram is safe to take for a long time. But like many other medicines, Lexapro can cause side effects in some people.

Here are the common side effects of Lexapro that may occur in more than 1 in 10 people:

  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Sexual side effects affecting ejaculation and sexual desire

Many people have no side effects while taking Lexapro. The most common side effects of escitalopram will gradually improve as the body gets used to it. If you experience any of these common side effects while taking Lexapro, you should continue taking the medicine and talking to a doctor if these side effects bother you or don't go away.

Here are some serious side effects of Lexapro that are rare and happen in less than 1 in 1,000 people:

  • Painful, long-lasting erections
  • Severe dizziness or fainting
  • Any bleeding that's very bad or you can't stop, such as cuts or nosebleeds that won't stop within 10 minutes
  • Constant headaches
  • Long-lasting confusion
  • Weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • A high body temperature (100F and above) 
  • Agitation
  • Trembling and twitching
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood
  • Blood in the urine or stool
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Weight gain or loss 
  • Changes in menstrual periods, such as heavy bleeding, spotting, or bleeding between periods
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Can You Drink Alcohol With Lexapro? 

You should avoid using alcohol or illegal drugs while on antidepressant medications. Drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs while on Lexapro may decrease the benefits (e.g., worsen your condition) and increase the medication's adverse effects (e.g., sedation). 

In addition, Lexapro compounds the adverse effects of alcohol, especially those related to muscle control, making driving a car or operating machinery especially dangerous.

Why You Shouldn't Mix Alcohol and Antidepressants 

Healthcare providers generally advise against drinking alcohol while on antidepressants because alcohol can worsen depression. Alcohol also increases the side effects of some antidepressants, such as drowsiness, dizziness, and coordination problems.

Combining alcohol with antidepressants can potentially be fatal. Alcohol can cause depression and also keeps some antidepressants from working as well as they should. When your antidepressants don't work correctly, it can increase suicidal thoughts and actions. 

Also, if you drink alcohol while on a particular type of antidepressant called a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI), your blood pressure could rise dramatically and even cause a stroke. Finally, sometimes the liver cannot process toxins present when alcohol is combined with antidepressants, and fatal toxicity can occur.

In addition, people on antidepressants suffer from symptoms of depression, including low mood or sadness, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts. Alcohol is a depressant and can worsen these symptoms, which puts those who mix alcohol and antidepressants at an increased risk of suicide.

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Side Effects of Mixing Lexapro and Alcohol

There are both short- and long-term side effects:

Short-Term Effects

Many people who take Lexapro will not experience side effects from drinking. However, for others, drinking while on Lexapro can be extremely dangerous. Prior to drinking alcohol while on Lexapro, it's important to understand the way these two strong substances can affect each other. 

Drinking alcohol while on Lexapro may cause the following short-term effects:

  • Decreased efficacy of the medication (it may not work as well to treat your condition)
  • Increased anxiety
  • Worsened depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep
  • Lack of energy
  • Liver problems
  • Alcoholism

Long-Term Effects

Drinking alcohol while on Lexapro may cause the following long-term effects:

  • Decreased effectiveness of medication
  • Nausea
  • Lack of energy
  • Liver problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you experience any of these long-term side effects of mixing alcohol and Lexapro, you should contact your healthcare provider urgently to avoid further complications.

The Risks of Mixing Lexapro and Alcohol 

Most people usually start using an antidepressant to address a mental health condition such as depression. Therefore, it's generally not advisable to destabilize the recovery process by introducing alcohol use into the equation.

Drinking alcohol while on Lexapro can affect your decision-making process, affect coordination and motor skills, and increase your risk of suicide and self-harm. Combining these two drugs can also put you at an increased risk of developing an addiction.

One in every eight adults in the United States struggles both with an alcohol and substance use disorder simultaneously.

How to Avoid the Dangerous Effects of Lexapro and Alcohol

To avoid dangerous side effects of Lexapro and alcohol, you should not drink alcohol while taking Lexapro. Avoiding alcohol consumption altogether is the only way to prevent the adverse side effects of drinking alcohol while on Lexapro.

Is Any Amount of Alcohol Safe While Taking Lexapro?

According to the FDA, clinical trials have not shown with certainty that alcohol increases the effects of Lexapro on the brain. However, there is still a risk with drinking alcohol while on Lexapro, as research has not shown that it is safe otherwise.

Most doctors advise against drinking alcohol while taking Lexapro. However, some doctors allow their patients to have one standard drink per day while on Lexapro.

Individuals who drink alcohol while on Lexapro may feel more depressed or anxious. This is potentially dangerous as it can lead to the development of suicidal thoughts.

Drinking alcohol can worsen the side effects of Lexapro or other antidepressants, including drowsiness and dizziness because alcohol can also cause these side effects.

Link Between Mental Health Issues and Alcohol Use Disorder

Many mental health issues and alcohol use disorder can occur concurrently. Some of the most common conditions that often occur with alcohol use disorder include depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Alcohol use can cause psychiatric symptoms associated with mental health disorders, including erratic behavior, aggression, depression, anxiety.

Treatment Options for Lexapro and Alcohol Use & Misuse

If you or a loved one are experiencing Lexapro and alcohol misuse, there are treatments available. Treatment for Lexapro and alcohol misuse includes inpatient, outpatient, detox, and partial hospitalization treatment. 

The best addiction treatment considers each patient's unique needs and background and will treat any other health disorders concurrently. To find the proper addiction treatment, contact an addiction specialist today.

Resources

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“Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/90-98.htm

“Can I Drink Alcohol If I Am Taking Antidepressants?” NHS Choices, National Health Service, www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/medicines/can-i-drink-alcohol-if-i-am-taking-antidepressants/#:~:text=Drinking%20alcohol%20while%20taking%20antidepressants,dizziness%20and%20co%2Dordination%20problems

“Escitalopram (Lexapro).” NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Escitalopram-(Lexapro)

“Escitalopram”, NHS Choices, National Health Service, www.nhs.uk/medicines/escitalopram/

Muhonen, Leea H et al. “Treatment of alcohol dependence in patients with co-morbid major depressive disorder--predictors for the outcomes with memantine and escitalopram medication.” Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy vol. 3 20. 3 Oct. 2008, doi:10.1186/1747-597X-3-20 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2569922/

“Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): Use and Safety.” GOV.UK, The Government Digital Service, www.gov.uk/government/publications/ssris-and-snris-use-and-safety/selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors-ssris-and-serotonin-and-noradrenaline-reuptake-inhibitors-snris-use-and-safety

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