Sertraline (Zoloft) and Alcohol - Is it Safe To Mix? | Rehab Guide

Sertraline (Zoloft) and Alcohol – Is it Safe To Mix?

Sertraline (Zoloft) and Alcohol – Is it Safe To Mix?

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Most people know that drinking alcohol excessively whilst being prescribed the antidepressant Sertraline (Zoloft) can contradict the drug’s effects. In other words, alcohol is a depressant drug, and when consumed to excess, it prevents antidepressants from working as they should.

Many people do not realise that the short-term effects of mixing alcohol and Sertraline are something that everyone who is prescribed this medication should be aware of.

Not only does alcohol prevent Sertraline from working as effectively, but drinking alcohol whilst taking Sertraline can cause immediate side effects & health risks.

What is Sertraline & how often is it prescribed?

Sertraline is the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medication in the UK and is sold under the brand names of Lustral and Zoloft.

packet of prescribed sertraline antidepressants


Sertraline belongs to a group of SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) antidepressant drugs.

SSRIs are often the first-line in treatment for the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Other SSRIs  most commonly prescribed of all the antidepressant medications are Citalopram, Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Mirtazepam 1.2

Sertraline is commonly prescribed for the treatment of panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Treatment is most effective when combined with therapy to address the underlying causes of the illness and to introduce healthy coping strategies 3

Why is Sertraline so commonly prescribed?

Sertraline tends to be prescribed more often than other SSRIs, as NICE prescribing guidelines recommend it over other antidepressant medications for patients with chronic health problems. This is due to sertraline having fewer interactions with other drugs. However, it does not mean that it is safe to consume alcohol with Sertraline.

Data shows that 2.1 billion doses of antidepressants were prescribed to a total population of 52 million people. This equates to 11% of the general population taking at least one antidepressant medication regularly.

Sertraline is also recommended as a first-line SSRI for those who suffer from unstable angina or who have suffered a recent heart attack 4

After around 3-4 weeks of taking Sertraline, the drug has a positive effect on a persons ability to fall asleep. An individual who takes serotonin reuptake inhibitors will have a build-up of serotonin in the body which increases melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone primarily released by the pineal gland at night and has long been associated with the control of the sleep-wake cycle. The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that itself is derived from the amino acid tryptophan.

The effects of mixing alcohol and Sertraline (Lustral)

Since 2015, antidepressant prescriptions in the UK have doubled

with 70.9 million prescriptions being recorded in 2018 2

list of the common side effects of zoloft


With Sertraline being so frequently prescribed, many people who take this medication will also drink alcohol. They will also not be fully aware of the risks and complications of mixing the two.

The short term risks & effects of mixing Sertraline and alcohol :

  • Both Sertraline and alcohol work on the brain’s neurotransmitters and, when used together, can cause what is known as ‘alcoholic blackout’. Alcoholic blackout is when a person struggles to recall events that took place whilst intoxicated by alcohol’s effects.
  • During the early days of treatment, anxiety and suicidal thoughts can be increased as a side effect. Drinking alcohol whilst experiencing suicidal thoughts may give a person the impulsiveness to act on their thinking.
  • Using both Sertraline and alcohol simultaneously can increase symptoms of anxiety.
  • Mixing Sertraline and alcohol can cause digestive problems, leading to nausea, indigestion, excess stomach acid and diarrhoea.
  • Alcohol and sertraline can both make you feel drowsy. When the two are combined, the effects of drowsiness and sleepiness are increased, as are side effects such as impaired cognitive ability, decision making and coordination 5,6,7

For the above reasons, it is recommended that all alcohol use is avoided whilst undergoing treatment. Drinking alcohol whilst taking Sertraline will make you more prone to suffering an accident or injury or making an impulsive, ill-judged decision that can have long-lasting or fatal effects.

The long term risks of mixing Sertraline and alcohol – Can I drink alcohol whilst taking Zoloft?

Drinking alcohol isn’t recommended if you suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression. In fact, drinking alcohol to excess or abusing it can even trigger the onset of anxiety-related or depressive disorder 8

Drinking alcohol whilst taking Zoloft is actively discouraged because of dangerous health risks and implications.

list of drugs that you should not take with alcohol


Whilst it can be tempting to have a few alcoholic drinks to relax from anxiety or stress, the effects of alcohol are only very temporary. As alcohol depresses the brain’s function whilst it works, when the effects wear off, the brain speeds up again.

Add to this the effects of a hangover, poor quality sleep and dehydration; the following morning can leave you feeling extremely anxious, low in mood and unmotivated. If you are taking Sertraline, these effects will only be further increased 9

Alcohol and anxiety

Alcohol dependence and anxiety have been linked. In fact, about 20% of people who suffer from social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol dependence 10

The likelihood of developing a problem with alcohol if you suffer from anxiety is increased, as alcohol seemingly (albeit temporarily) calms anxiety symptoms.

If you are prescribed Sertraline (Zoloft), please be aware that frequent alcohol use could lead to an alcohol use disorder and consequently a much worsening of your anxiety and depression 11

Signs of an alcohol use disorder include:

  • Depending on alcohol to socialise
  • Drinking 5, or more, alcoholic drinks a day
  • Experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms (these differ from a hangover)
  • Inability to control your drinking or stop drinking completely
  • Spending more and more time either drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking
  • Depending on alcohol to be able to function
  • Building a tolerance to alcohol (requiring more alcohol overtime for the same effect)
  • Purposely mixing alcohol with medications or drugs to increase alcohol’s effects.
  • Depending on alcohol to enable sleep
  • Experiencing ‘craving’ for alcohol
  • Frequently losing control over your drinking once you start (drinking more than intended)
  • Suffering adverse consequences to other areas of your life as a result of your alcohol use, i.e. physically, mentally, socially and/or occupationally 12

Help for anxiety-related drinking

If you or a loved one are trying to self-medicate anxiety with alcohol or are mixing alcohol with Sertraline, professional help is strongly recommended.

Continuing as you are, when large amounts of alcohol are involved, your anxiety will only get progressively worse. This, in turn, could lead to developing an alcohol use disorder which can be potentially fatal if left untreated, and a long-lasting rewiring of your brain  11,12

Thankfully, professional dual diagnosis treatment is available, and we at Rehab Guide are here to help. Call us today for a free and confidential assessment of your individual treatment needs. We are here to support you or a loved one in accessing the correct professional help for a full and lasting recovery from alcohol and anxiety.

 

 

 

 

References & sources

  1. Antidepressant prescribing in England, patterns and costshttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32302071/
  2. 10 most commonly prescribed antidepressants in the UK – https://www.druggist.online/most-common-antidepressants-uk/
  3. “Psychotherapy Versus Pharmacotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Systemic Review and Meta-Analyses to Determine First-Line Treatments”. Depression and Anxiety. Lee DJ, Schnitzlein CW, Wolf JP, Vythilingam M, Rasmusson AM, Hoge CW (September 2016)
  4. NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) – Sertraline – https://bnf.nice.org.uk/drug/sertraline.html
  5. Hall-Flavin DK. (2017). Why is it bad to mix antidepressants and alcohol?mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressants-and-alcohol/faq-20058231
  6. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2014). Harmful interactions: Mixing alcohol with medicines.pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Medicine/Harmful_Interactions.pdf
  7. Sertraline – Zoloft: Highlights of prescribing information. (2017).accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2017/019839s091lbl.pdf
  8. Alcoholism and Psychiatric Disorders https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/90-98.htm
  9. Alcohol and sleep https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep
  10. Social anxiety disorder and alcohol abuse. (n.d.)adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder/social-anxiety-and-alcohol-abuse
  11. Heavy drinking rewires the brain, increasing susceptibility to anxiety problems. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120902143143.htm
  12. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder

 

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