Lexapro and Alcohol

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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
  • Other mental health issues
Lexapro

Lexapro works by blocking the reuptake of serotonin. This neurotransmitter 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 an 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:

  • 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. If these side effects bother you or don't go away, speak to a doctor.

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

  • 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 while on Lexapro.

Drinking alcohol or using illicit drugs while on Lexapro may decrease the benefits and increase adverse effects. 

In addition, Lexapro compounds the adverse effects of alcohol.

Why You Shouldn't Mix Alcohol and Antidepressants 

Healthcare providers generally advise against drinking 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 cause a potentially fatal interaction. Alcohol can prevent some antidepressants from working as well as they should.

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.

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. 

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 

Drinking alcohol while on Lexapro can affect your decision-making process, impact your 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.

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Link Between Mental Health Issues and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Many mental health issues and alcohol use disorder can occur concurrently. Some of the most common conditions that often occur with alcohol use disorder (AUD) include:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

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

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and addiction, including:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center.

These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to professional medical monitoring. 

The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer.

Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOP). Partial hospitalization programs provide similar services to inpatient programs.

Services include medical care, behavioral therapy, and support groups, along with other customized therapies. 

However, in a PHP program, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program.

PHPs accept new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program and still need intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs.

These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment.

They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school. Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Sometimes medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment.

Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal.

Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat AUD. 

When combined with other evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.

Support Groups

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART) are open to anyone with a substance use disorder.

They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober.  Support groups can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

Updated on January 14, 2022
6 sources cited
  1. “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
  2. “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
  3. “Escitalopram (Lexapro).” NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Mental-Health-Medications/Types-of-Medication/Escitalopram-(Lexapro)
  4. “Escitalopram”, NHS Choices, National Health Service, www.nhs.uk/medicines/escitalopram/
  5. 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/
  6. “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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