Mixing Zoloft and Alcohol

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When taken as directed, Zoloft can be an extremely beneficial medication. When used in moderation, alcohol can cause minimal disruption to a person’s health and well-being. But if someone combines Zoloft and alcohol, they may be exposing themselves to considerable harm.

What is Zoloft?

Zoloft is the brand name of sertraline, which is a prescription medication that is categorized as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Other commonly prescribed medications in the SSRI category include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and escitalopram (Lexapro). 

When a person takes an SSRI, the medication causes a buildup of serotonin in the synapses, or small gaps, that separate neurons in the brain and central nervous system (CNS). Elevated levels of serotonin through the CNS can lead to improved mood, which is why Zoloft and other SSRIs are often used as antidepressants.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Zoloft to treat people who have the following conditions:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
  • Panic disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Physicians also prescribe Zoloft on an off-label basis to help people who have been living with a variety of other mental health concerns, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder
  • Body dysmorphic disorder

Physicians and pharmacists advise patients to avoid alcohol while they are using Zoloft. Unfortunately, many people don’t follow this guidance, which puts them at risk for a variety of unpleasant outcomes.

Why Would People Mix Zoloft and Alcohol?

There are several reasons why people may mix Zoloft and alcohol.

One of the more common reasons why people may combine the two is that they simply don’t realize the danger of what they’re doing. 

Someone who takes prescription Zoloft for depression or anxiety may use the medication for several years. After taking this drug on a daily basis for such an extended period of time, they may no longer consider the potential harm that could result from mixing Zoloft and alcohol.

Another reason why someone might combine Zoloft and alcohol is that they believe the alcohol will expand or intensify the medication’s antidepressant effects. 

Patients usually have to take Zoloft or other SSRIs for about six weeks before they experience notable changes in mood. Someone who is in the depths of a major depressive episode may find it difficult to wait this long, so they may turn to alcohol in a misguided attempt to speed up the process.

It’s also possible that a person might take Zoloft and alcohol at the same time as a means of boosting the alcohol’s effects. This is probably the least likely reason for engaging in this behavior, as using Zoloft for recreational purposes is extremely rare.

Dangers of Mixing Zoloft and Alcohol

Regardless of why a person combines Zoloft with alcohol, doing so can lead to problems such as:

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Impaired coordination
  • Poor judgement
  • Nausea
  • Liver damage
  • Sexual dysfunction

Also, alcohol may diminish the effectiveness of Zoloft. This means that people who drink while they are taking this medication could experience a resurgence of depression, anxiety, or other symptoms.

Finally, combining Zoloft with alcohol could lead to a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. As we noted earlier in this post, Zoloft is designed to increase the amount of serotonin in a person’s system. Alcohol can cause a serotonin boost as well.

If a person’s serotonin levels become too high, the effect can be toxic. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Racing heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Delirium
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Tremors
  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness

Anyone who develops symptoms of serotonin syndrome may be in crisis and should consult with a medical professional. Though this condition is usually mild, extreme cases can be fatal.

Is Zoloft Addictive?

Zoloft and other SSRIs don’t pose the risk of addiction that recreational substances such as alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines do. If you use Zoloft as directed by a physician, even if you take the drug for many years, you are unlikely to experience common addiction symptoms such as:

  • Needing to use more Zoloft to feel the effects that you are seeking
  • Ending your participation in sports, hobbies, or other activities as a result of your Zoloft use
  • Failing to meet personal, academic, or work-related responsibilities due to your Zoloft use
  • Continuing to use Zoloft even after incurring harm as a result of prior use
  • Spending considerable amounts of time seeking, using, and recovering from the effects of Zoloft

However, people who use Zoloft for an extended period are likely to be affected by one common characteristic of addiction: the onset of withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using the medication.

Zoloft withdrawal is nowhere near as intense or dangerous as alcohol or opioid withdrawal. But it can still be disconcerting. Common symptoms include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Coordination challenges
  • “Brain zaps” or what feel like brief electric bursts in your brain
  • Nausea
  • Disrupted appetite
  • Vivid, disturbing nightmares
  • Mood swings

These symptoms are most likely to occur if you abruptly stop taking Zoloft – which you should never do.

If you want to stop taking Zoloft, you should consult with the physician who prescribed the medication to you. They can develop a plan to taper your use, gradually reducing your dosage over time. This will allow your body to adapt to this change with minimal distress.

What to Do if You Think You Have a Problem with Zoloft and Alcohol

If you think you have a problem with Zoloft and alcohol, you should speak to your primary physician or schedule an assessment with a reputable addiction treatment provider.

As noted in the previous section, it is not overly difficult to stop using Zoloft, as long as you have a plan and follow the guidance of an experienced professional. However, if you have become addicted to alcohol, you may need professional care to safely stop drinking and build a healthier life in recovery.

Effective treatment for alcohol addiction often begins with detox. Many people don’t realize how difficult and potentially dangerous it can be to quit drinking without professional oversight. This is particularly true if you have been drinking heavily for a long period.

After detox, treatment can include both residential and outpatient programming. These programs can help you make the lifestyle changes that will support your successful, long-term recovery.

Get Help for Zoloft and Alcohol Abuse at Renewal Health Group 

If you need help to stop abusing Zoloft and alcohol, Renewal Health Group is here for you.

We offer a full continuum of customized programming at multiple locations in Southern California. At each of our addiction treatment centers, you can expect to receive personalized care and compassionate support from a team of highly skilled professionals.

Don’t let compulsive substance abuse rob you of one more day. To learn more about how we can help you, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.