What is Zoloft?

Zoloft is a brand-name antidepressant which is commonly prescribed to treat mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Zoloft works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which helps improve mood and reduce symptoms of mental illness.

When combined with alcohol however, this medication can cause a variety of dangerous reactions including increased drowsiness, confusion, nausea and vomiting. The severity of these side effects will depend on how much alcohol is consumed and how long the patient has been taking antidepressants.

The most common antidepressant medications that are taken by patients who also drink alcohol include tricyclic and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These include drugs such as Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa and Paxil. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) work by blocking the reuptake of both norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. This allows them to increase levels of these neurotransmitters in the brain and improve symptoms of depression. TCAs are also used to treat anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain.

SSRIs on the other hand increase serotonin levels in the brain, which is what helps reduce symptoms of depression. They have become a popular choice among patients due to their effectiveness and lower side effects compared to TCAs. However, it has been shown that these medications can cause severe drowsiness when combined with alcohol. This can lead to decreased reaction time, impaired judgment and increased risk of accidents.

Side Effects of Mixing Zoloft and Alcohol

The side effects that are caused by mixing antidepressants such as Zoloft with alcohol can vary from patient to patient depending on the medication they are taking, how much they drink and how long they have been using them. For example, a person who has been using Paxil for several months may experience more severe side effects than someone who only drinks occasionally and starts taking Zoloft one week before drinking. The following are some common side effects that patients may experience when taking these medications:

  • You may feel more depressed or anxious.
    Drinking can counteract the benefits of your antidepressant medication, making your symptoms more difficult to treat. Alcohol may seem to improve your mood in the short term, but its overall effect increases symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Side effects may be worse if you also take another medication.
    Many medications can cause problems when taken with alcohol — including anti-anxiety medications, sleep medications and prescription pain medications. Side effects may worsen if you drink alcohol and take one of these drugs along with an antidepressant.
  • You may be at risk of a dangerous reaction if you take MAOIs.
    When combined with certain types of alcoholic beverages and foods, antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure. If you take an MAOI, be sure you know what’s safe to eat and drink, and which alcoholic beverages are likely to cause a reaction.
  • Your thinking and alertness may be impaired.
    The combination of antidepressants and alcohol will affect your judgment, coordination, motor skills and reaction time more than alcohol alone. Some combinations may make you sleepy. This can impair your ability to drive or do other tasks that require focus and attention.
  • You may become sedated or feel drowsy.
    A few antidepressants cause sedation and drowsiness, and so does alcohol. When taken together, the combined effect can be intensified[1].

Signs and Symptoms of Zoloft Withdrawal

It’s important to note that you should never stop taking your antidepressants just so that you can drink. Skipping doses of Zoloft or any medication can make them less effective for your depression or anxiety. Suddenly stopping Zoloft can cause withdrawal symptoms that you may not want to happen. Withdrawal symptoms may occur a few days after you stop taking the medication and can include:

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Mood changes
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Electric shock-like sensations
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Seizures[2]

When stopping antidepressants, some symptoms may persist for up to six weeks and occasionally may continue for up to a year. You should always talk to your healthcare provider first before you stop taking Zoloft so that you can gradually be tapered off the medication under proper supervision.

Can One Alcoholic Beverage with Zoloft Put Me In Danger?

If you take Zoloft, it’s not likely that one serving of alcohol will be life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), examples of one serving of alcohol include a 12-ounce beer (5% alcohol-by-volume or ABV), a 5-ounce glass of wine (12% ABV), or 1.5 ounces of liquor (40% ABV).

However, the problem is that having one alcoholic beverage can lead to more. Drinking alcohol is known to impair your judgment and may lead to choices that you wouldn’t make if you were sober. Since the dangers of mixing alcohol and Zoloft are very serious, don’t take the chance to put yourself in a potentially harmful situation. Stick to the rule of simply no amount of alcohol is safe to consume while on Zoloft.

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[1] Antidepressants and Alcohol: What’s the Concern? Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/antidepressants-and-alcohol/faq-20058231

[2] Pfizer https://labeling.pfizer.com/ShowLabeling.aspx?id=517&section=MedGuide#:~:text=Stopping%20ZOLOFT%20too%20quickly%20may,%2Dlike%20sensations%2C%20shaking%2C%20confusion