Before you drown your sorrows, you should know that your cocktail consumption can interact with certain meds, prolonging any depression and anxiety you may be dealing with.
Colleen Travers,Feb 21, 2020 • 4 min read
Unwinding at the end of a hectic day with a glass of wine or meeting some friends out for happy hour can have its benefits—it’s a quick way to de-stress and connect with others. But sometimes the occasional drink can turn into three, four, or more, and if you’re dealing with mental health issues like depression or anxiety, alcohol may help at first, only to make you feel pretty crummy later. “People with depression or anxiety tend to self-medicate their feelings with alcohol because ultimately, it’s so readily accessible,” says David Hu, MD, medical director of Banyan Treatment Center in Palm Beach County, FL. “And it does have a pretty immediate effect on improving mood. The trap is that these effects are often short-lived and can make you feel worse once the alcohol has worn off.”
Here’s what you need to know about alcohol’s effects on your mental wellbeing—from how it can mix with certain medications to red flags that you may need to dial your drinking back.
Drinking to Cope Doesn’t End Well
This is a situation Dr. Hu calls “kicking the can down the road.” “Sometimes people feel that drinking can help them check out for a bit and go numb,” he says. “But the problem is, this is a brief respite, and all the issues you’re dealing with are right there waiting for you the next day. This can sometimes lead people to drink more instead of addressing the problems they have and why they may feel the need to drink in the first place.”
If you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue make an appointment with a licensed therapist or counselor to learn how to navigate through your issues without using alcohol as a crutch. Here’s how to find a mental health specialist if you don’t know where to start.
Alcohol Can Interact with Antidepressants and Anxiety Meds
This happens for a number of reasons. First, depending on how far along you are in your treatment, antidepressants take time to kick in. “A person may need to take an antidepressant for weeks or possibly months in order to appreciate the full benefits of the medication,” says Dr. Hu. “It is often an exercise in patience.” However, if you decide to have a few drinks while you take antidepressants you may be negating the drug’s potency. “Drinking alcohol can obscure the effects of antidepressants, so you think they aren’t working as well as they really are,” says Dr. Hu.
Depending on the type of antidepressant or anxiety medication you’re on, alcohol also can cause some serious side effects. “Certain medications for anxiety that are considered sedatives like alprazolam (Xanax) are unsafe to take with alcohol, because the two have a combined effect that is more than one would expect from the additive properties of the two.” This means that when taken together, you’re likely to feel more intoxicated than you normally would and way more sedated than if you had only taken your prescription.
You May Be Drinking More Than You Think You Are
Whether you’re on medication or not, you may be drinking a bit too much, and this can hamper your mental health, regardless of whether you suffer from depression or anxiety. “If you’re largely drinking alone instead of in a social setting, drinking to the point where you don’t remember things that happened from the night before, or to the point that it causes you to get into arguments and conflicts with others, these are all signs you may be drinking too much,” says Dr. Hu. But good news: Even cutting back just slightly can improve your mental health. Research published in Canadian Medical Association Journal found that both quitting alcohol completely or simply cutting back your alcohol intake to a moderate amount can improve your mental health-related quality of life. This breaks down to one drink a day for women, and two for men.
If you take an antidepressant like citalopram (Celexa), bupropion (Wellbutrin), or duloxetine (Cymbalta) or anxiety medication like alprazolam (Xanax), fluoxetine (Prozac), or sertraline (Zoloft), make sure to check Blink Health to see if you can get your prescription for less.