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Depression

13 min read

Zoloft and alcohol: to mix or not to mix

Written by Dr. Geralyn Dexter

Published: Jul 9, 2024

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Paul Hetrick

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If you live with depression and are ready to start feeling better, your provider may prescribe a medication, like Zoloft (sertraline), to help you. But, you might be wondering if it’s okay to mix an antidepressant, like Zoloft, and alcohol. 

In this article, learn about whether it’s safe to mix Zoloft with alcohol and what happens if you do. Also, find out how Zoloft and alcohol affect the brain, and how to talk to a healthcare provider about the best way to take your medication. 

Talk to a provider about the right depression or anxiety medication for you.
Appointments available in as little as 24 hours.

If you have symptoms of depression or anxiety, talk to a licensed mental health professional about depression treatment or anxiety treatment to find out how to start feeling better. 

Is it safe to mix Zoloft and alcohol?

Zoloft is an antidepressant, specifically a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). It’s an effective medication for treating depression and anxiety. It works by decreasing the reuptake of serotonin (a brain chemical that helps regulate your mood and sleep). That’s a fancy way of saying that Zoloft treats anxiety and depression by making more serotonin available in your brain. 

Alcohol is a depressant. It affects your central nervous system (CNS) by slowing down brain function. Your CNS is made up of the brain and spinal cord. It’s responsible for many of your bodily functions. Your brain allows you to move, feel, sense, speak, process, and more. 

When you mix 2 drugs that affect your CNS, like Zoloft and alcohol, the results can be dangerous. It can lead to serious side effects and impaired functioning. With a lack of research on whether it’s okay to mix Zoloft and alcohol, it’s hard to know what amount would be safe. It may be best to avoid drinking alcohol while on Zoloft, and your provider will most likely recommend that. 

What happens if you mix alcohol and Zoloft?

If you take Zoloft, you’ve probably noticed improved mood, concentration, and sleep. It feels good to have some relief and maybe you’ve started to see improvements in your daily life. At this point, you may wonder what could happen if you have alcohol from time to time while taking Zoloft. 

Zoloft can alleviate depression symptoms. Alcohol may also make you feel better, but only for a short while. Alcohol can work against Zoloft by exacerbating your mental health symptoms. And it can worsen Zoloft’s side effects. If you drink alcohol with Zoloft, you may notice increased drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired motor control (your ability to move your body).

Real user experiences with Zoloft and alcohol

Real people share their experiences with drinking alcohol while taking Zoloft on Reddit. In response to whether they drink while taking Zoloft, Sea_Equipment5987 said, “Yes, but the anxiety and depression after is unreal, [it] takes about a week to feel normal.” 

To the same question, Reddit user Nimfty shared, “You can drink, but you’ll feel miserable afterward. I’ve been on Zoloft for 2 months, and I drank only 2 beers a week and it was not the best decision. [I] felt very tired and woke up feeling extremely groggy.”

User Bee_119453 responded, “Yes, but I cut back a LOT after some trial and error. I also drink lighter stuff. I learned my lesson after drinking some heavier hard liquor 1 night. I couldn’t sleep and felt awful the next day. The hangovers are awful… and it really does put you down (at least me anyway) for about 2 days. I get into this weird funk. It messes with me physically and just drains me mentally. I’ve started to learn that I [can] drink enough to have a nice relaxing buzz and then usually cut it off.”

Experiences from real users may provide insight into what happens when you mix Zoloft with alcohol, but they don’t replace recommendations from your healthcare provider or pharmacist. Consider your mental health symptoms and side effects when deciding whether to drink alcohol with Zoloft. 

What Zoloft and alcohol do to your brain 

Both Zoloft and alcohol impact serotonin levels in your brain. When you combine these substances, there is a risk of oversedation, among other things. 

Too much serotonin can lead to serotonin syndrome, a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. Serotonin syndrome can cause agitation, dilated pupils, diarrhea, difficulty with muscle coordination, nausea or vomiting, increased heart rate and blood pressure, and even hallucinations. If you believe you’re experiencing serotonin syndrome, seek medical attention immediately. 

How alcohol affects anxiety, depression, and OCD

If your serotonin levels are low, you may experience symptoms of anxiety or depression. When you drink alcohol, you may notice feelings of calm or relaxation as it increases serotonin. This effect is temporary. When the alcohol wears off, your brain works hard to regulate your serotonin levels. As your body adjusts, you might feel anxious or depressed, restless, have trouble concentrating, notice an increased heart rate, or have difficulty sleeping. 

Alcohol can make you feel terrible in the short term. And, because of its effects on brain chemicals, continued use can worsen anxiety and depression in the long run, too. 

Brain chemicals also play a role in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). An excess of the neurotransmitter glutamate has been found in people with OCD. It excites your brain and helps send messages from cell to cell. Another brain chemical, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), can help slow the release of glutamate, but research shows that people with OCD have lower levels of it. 

Alcohol can reduce GABA levels while increasing glutamate. If you have OCD, this can lead to more excitability in your brain, making it harder to manage compulsive behaviors. 

Talk to a healthcare provider and/or pharmacist about the do’s and don’t’s when taking a medication

When prescribing antidepressants, or any medication, your provider will discuss the basics with you. That conversation is a great time to ask questions or express concerns. 

Some questions you might ask your provider include: 

  • I’d love to understand why you’re prescribing this specific medication. Can you share your thoughts?
  • How does this medication work?
  • How might this medication improve my symptoms?
  • How and when do I take this medication?
  • What are the potential side effects?
  • What can’t I take, or what should I avoid, while on this medication? Does this include alcohol?
  • What are the best steps to take if I experience any side effects?

The information you gain can help you make an informed decision about your care and managing your medication. If you’re prescribed Zoloft, your provider will likely advise against drinking alcohol while taking it to minimize the risk of side effects like increased dizziness, drowsiness, or impaired functioning. If you experience side effects, let your provider know as soon as possible. You’ll work together to figure out the best treatment option for you. 

Key takeaway

  • You might be tempted to have a drink or 2 after work, at a social gathering, or when celebrating a special occasion. If you’re taking an antidepressant like Zoloft, mixing it with alcohol isn’t recommended and may not be worth it.
  • Alcohol and Zoloft both act on your CNS. Drinking can exacerbate symptoms of depression and cause motor control impairment. Zoloft can cause side effects like dizziness or drowsiness. Mixing alcohol and Zoloft can worsen these side effects. 
  • Your provider will most likely recommend that you avoid alcohol when taking Zoloft to decrease the chances of having an adverse reaction. 

Find a provider to discuss depression treatment online

If you’re struggling with your mental well-being, you’re not alone. You can find the support you need by connecting with a knowledgeable and compassionate licensed mental health provider. Getting started is easy and only takes a few minutes. Find a provider on Klarity today and schedule an appointment with just a few clicks.

Sources

Alcohol health and research world, Serotonin’s Role in Alcohol’s Effects on the Brain, 1997, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6826824/ 

DailyMed, Zoloft-sertraline Label, Updated Jan. 2023, https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/lookup.cfm?setid=fe9e8b7d-61ea-409d-84aa-3ebd79a046b5

Journal of neural transmission, Glutamate as a neurotransmitter in the healthy brain, Zhou, Y., & Danbolt, N.C., 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4133642/ 

Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, Investigating the Role of Glutamate in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Current Perspectives, Karthik, S., et al., Apr. 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7173854/ 

Reddit, Do you drink alcohol while taking Zoloft?, https://www.reddit.com/r/zoloft/comments/12xv1dk/do_you_drink_alcohol_while_taking_zoloft/?onetap_auto=true&one_tap=true 

Statpearls, Anatomy, Central Nervous System, Updated Oct. 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542179

Statpearls, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, Updated May. 2023, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554406/ 

Statpearls, Serotonin Syndrome, Updated Mar. 2024, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482377/ 

Statpearls, Sertraline, Updated Feb. 2023, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547689/ 

The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you have regarding your health.

If you’re having a mental health crisis or experiencing a psychiatric emergency, it’s crucial to seek immediate help from a mental healthcare professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. You can also call your local emergency services, visit your nearest emergency room, or contact a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, by calling or texting 988 or dialing the Lifeline’s previous phone number, 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) in the U.S.

How we reviewed this article: This article goes through rigorous fact-checking by a team of medical reviewers. Reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the author.

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All professional services are provided by independent private practices via the Klarity technology platform. Klarity Health, Inc. does not provide any medical services.
If you’re having an emergency or in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help: Emergency: Call 911. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 988. Crisis Text Line: Text Home to 741-741
Fax:
(855) 975-3008

PO Box 5098 Redwood City, CA 94063

100 Broadway Street, Redwood City CA, 94063

If you’re having an emergency or in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help: Emergency: Call 911. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 988. Crisis Text Line: Text Home to 741-741
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