If you have ever felt depressed or anxious, you may have spent some time researching potential treatment methods on the internet. If this is the case, you’ve likely run across the medication class known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. These medications are some of the most commonly used medicines to help people suffering from depression or anxiety. However, you may not be aware of some of the specific characteristics of SSRIs, including the particular medication known as Lexapro (escitalopram).
Lexapro can help people with mental health conditions overcome their setbacks and regain normalcy in their routine. However, individuals also must be careful about combining Lexapro with other substances, such as alcohol. Mixing alcohol and Lexapro can put you at an increased risk of side effects because both substances affect your brain.
Here’s what you need to know about mixing Lexapro and alcohol, as well as when to follow up with your medical provider.
The Basics of a Lexapro Prescription
Lexapro is one of several medications categorized as SSRIs. Others in this category, some of which may be familiar to you, include Zoloft (sertraline), Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram).
Like other SSRI medications, Lexapro achieves its effects on mood by modifying the content of the neurotransmitter serotonin within specific regions of your nervous system. The serotonin neurotransmitter has a variety of functions within the body, including regulating processes in your gut, your lungs, and your heart. Scientists believe that serotonin is involved in moderating your behavior, emotions, stress responses, addictive tendencies, and mood within the brain, among many other effects.
Starting a Lexapro Prescription
Medical professionals generally initiate a Lexapro prescription for two common conditions: either generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or major depressive disorder (MDD). Lexapro has an official FDA indication for the treatment of both.
Weighing the Side Effects of a Lexapro Prescription
SSRI medications like Lexapro may cause two different categories of side effects—those of significant danger that would prompt a change in treatment (due to a severe condition), and those that may extinguish over time, or they may not cause a severe condition.
Lexapro can cause the following significant adverse reactions in some patients:
• An increased risk of a condition known as hyponatremia, in which the salt content of the blood is too low, causing characteristic symptoms
• An increased risk of a painful eye condition known as acute angle-closure glaucoma
• An increased risk of bleeding, especially if a person is taking another medication to help with a bleeding disorder
• An increased risk of breaking a bone
• An increased risk of prolonged QT syndrome, leading to dangerous heart rhythms, especially if Lexapro is combined with other medications that affect the QT interval
• An increased risk of serotonin syndrome, in which there is too much activation of the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in severe symptoms, including coma or seizure
• An increased risk of sexual dysfunction, including trouble with ejaculation, decreased libido, or a condition known as priapism
• A manic episode, especially if a person has an underlying bipolar disorder
Lexapro’s other potential side effects include:
• Abdominal pain
One of the most critical side effects of Lexapro is an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior. Young people, in particular, should be aware of this risk. This is why it’s essential to weigh medication’s costs and benefits when making a decision.
Can You Mix Lexapro and Alcohol?
Alcohol is not a prescription medication; however, it can similarly act on your brain and other parts of your body. The effects of alcohol can mirror those of antidepressants like Lexapro because both substances affect the neurotransmitters within your brain.
Alcohol is a depressant, which means that alcohol can slow down some of the processes within your nervous system, such as your motor control, cognition, decision-making ability, reflexes, and breathing. Lexapro can also slow your nervous system, given its side effects of fatigue, lethargy, and drowsiness.
Drinking alcohol with Lexapro, then, can put you at increased risk of these dangerous side effects. Your liver also processes both substances, so they can compete with each other and have unintended consequences.
When you start on a Lexapro prescription, a medical provider should counsel you to avoid mixing Lexapro and alcohol—drinking while on Lexapro can be dangerous. It’s important to heed this advice and avoid drinking while on the medication to stay out of harm’s way.
Managing a Mental Health Condition and a Substance Use Disorder
Often, people who are feeling depressed or anxious turn to alcohol consumption to cope with their symptoms. If this sounds familiar, you may be feeling concerned about your ability to stop drinking alcohol; Despite a medical provider’s warnings that it may interact with your prescription medications. If you’re worried that you might not be able to stop drinking even when you know it may bring you harm, you may have an alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol use disorders that occur along with mental health disorders are prevalent—in fact, medical experts refer to this situation as having “co-occurring disorders.” Per data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 9.2 million Americans are suffering from co-occurring disorders.
Having co-occurring disorders can feel particularly discouraging because you may feel like you’re unable to overcome both conditions at the same time safely. Luckily, medically reviewed treatment plans offered by professional rehabilitation facilities can simultaneously help you address co-occurring conditions.
When to Follow Up with a Medical Professional
If you seek treatment for anxiety or depression and struggle with an alcohol use disorder, it’s imperative to talk to your doctor about your concerns. The bottom line is that mixing Lexapro and alcohol is not safe. Even if your doctor does prescribe Lexapro, you shouldn’t automatically start taking it, especially if you don’t think you can stop drinking.
Be transparent with your doctor about your alcohol use to help make sure that you are safe. It’s also important to talk to your doctor if you begin having side effects after starting Lexapro, such as a sudden increase in suicidal thoughts.
Seeking Effective Treatment for Substance Use Disorders and Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions
Trying to manage a substance use disorder and a mental health condition simultaneously can be overwhelming. You may feel stuck because the medication you need to overcome a condition such as depression cannot safely be used while drinking alcohol. However, an evidence-based treatment program can provide you with the support, structure, and resources that you need to successfully overcome both conditions and begin your journey toward sustained recovery.
At the Indiana Center for Recovery, our program helps our patients address co-occurring conditions in a safe and comfortable setting. Our individualized treatment plans address a person’s comprehensive mental health history and any elements of self-medication that may have been occurring, including alcohol abuse. We offer various treatment options, including both inpatient and outpatient settings.
To learn more, contact us today at (844) 650-0064.