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BuSpar® and Alcohol: What Are the Side Effects?

Katelyn Hagerty

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 7/7/2022

If you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, your healthcare provider may recommend using the medication BuSpar® to reduce the severity of your symptoms and make living with anxiety easier.

BuSpar contains the active ingredient buspirone, an anxiolytic drug. It’s generally used when other medications for treating anxiety, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) aren’t effective or cause too many side effects.

Although some medications are safe to use with alcohol, BuSpar isn’t one of them. Combining BuSpar and alcohol can increase your risk of developing adverse effects, and it may make the effects of alcohol more severe.

Below, we’ve explained what BuSpar is, as well as how it works as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and other forms of anxiety.

We’ve also discussed why it’s not a good idea to combine BuSpar and alcohol, as well as what you can do to limit your risk of alcohol-related side effects while using BuSpar.

What Is BuSpar?

BuSpar is a prescription medication that’s used to treat anxiety. It contains the active ingredient buspirone. BuSpar is currently approved as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, and as a medication for managing the symptoms of anxiety in the short term.

Most of the time, BuSpar is prescribed as a second-line treatment (meaning the second form of medication used to treat a specific condition) when anxiety medications such as antidepressants or benzodiazepines cause side effects or don’t work effectively.

BuSpar is also prescribed to reduce the severity of side effects caused by other medications for anxiety, such as sexual side effects caused by SSRIs.

Experts aren’t yet aware of precisely how BuSpar works as an anxiety treatment, but research suggests that it targets receptors throughout your brain and body for neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

These naturally-occurring chemicals are involved in regulating certain aspects of your thoughts and moods, including feelings of anxiety.

BuSpar is available as an oral tablet and is typically used two or three times per day. It usually takes two to four weeks for BuSpar to begin working as an anxiety treatment, during which you may notice a gradual improvement in your symptoms.

Our complete guide to anxiety medications goes into more detail about how BuSpar and similar drugs work for the treatment of anxiety. 

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Is It Safe to Combine BuSpar and Alcohol?

BuSpar and generic buspirone shouldn’t be used with alcohol. Drinking alcohol may make the side effects of BuSpar more severe and debilitating, potentially increasing your risk of injury or other health issues. 

Common side effects of BuSpar include:

  • Dizziness

  • Confusion

  • Drowsiness

  • Excitement

  • Headaches

  • Nervousness

  • Paresthesia (burning or tingling sensation)

  • Abnormal dreams

  • Ataxia (reduced coordination and/or balance)

  • Elevated liver enzyme levels

  • Outbursts of anger

  • Blurred vision

  • Chest pain

  • Nasal congestion

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

  • Skin rash

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea

  • Sore throat

  • Sweating

  • Muscle pain and/or joint pain

  • Physical weakness

  • Tremor

Using BuSpar and alcohol together could also make the effects of alcohol more severe. Many of the potential side effects of BuSpar, such as dizziness and drowsiness, are similar to the effects of alcohol. 

Not only can mixing BuSpar and alcohol increase your risk of dealing with side effects or feeling more intoxicated, but the effects of alcohol may make your anxiety symptoms worse.

Over the last few decades, numerous studies have looked into the relationship between alcohol use and anxiety. Although findings are mixed overall, research shows that anxiety disorders and alcohol use disorder co-occur at higher rates than would be expected by chance alone.

Put simply, alcohol and BuSpar — and alcohol and mental health disorders in general — aren’t a good combination.

How to Stay Safe While Using BuSpar

If you’re prescribed BuSpar, making a few simple changes to your habits and lifestyle may help you to stay safe and get the optimal results from your medication. Use the following tips to keep yourself healthy and safe while using BuSpar to treat anxiety:

  • Try to avoid drinking alcohol. It’s best to completely avoid drinking alcohol while you’re using BuSpar. Try to replace beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages you typically drink with water, soda, juice or other alcohol-free alternatives.

  • Let your healthcare provider know if you have an alcohol use disorder. If you have an alcohol use disorder, it’s important to inform your healthcare provider before you start treatment with BuSpar.

    Your healthcare provider may adjust your therapy to help you more effectively treat your substance use disorder, or recommend using a different type of medication.

  • Inform your healthcare provider about any other medications you use. It’s not just alcohol that can interact with BuSpar — other medications, including numerous common antidepressants and opioid drugs — can also cause issues when used with BuSpar.

    To keep yourself safe, inform your healthcare provider about any other medications you currently use or have used within the past 14 days.

  • Avoid grapefruit juice while using BuSpar. Drinking grapefruit juice can increase the concentration of BuSpar in your blood, which may increase your risk of developing side effects or drug interactions. Try to avoid consuming grapefruit juice while using BuSpar.

  • Don’t stop BuSpar without talking to your provider first. Although BuSpar generally doesn’t cause withdrawal symptoms like other types of anti-anxiety medication, it’s best not to stop taking it without first talking to your healthcare provider.

    Stopping BuSpar abruptly or reducing your dosage could cause your anxiety symptoms to return. 

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Learn More About Treating Anxiety

BuSpar is generally a safe, effective anxiety medication when it’s used as prescribed. However, drinking alcohol while you’re using BuSpar could increase your risk of adverse side effects and make your anxiety symptoms worse. 

If you’re prescribed BuSpar, try to avoid drinking alcohol. If you have a history of alcohol abuse, or if you currently have alcohol cravings or an alcohol use disorder, it’s important to inform your healthcare provider before using BuSpar or any other anti-anxiety medications.

Worried you may have an anxiety disorder? We offer several medications for anxiety online via our online psychiatry service. We also offer a range of online mental health services, including individual therapy and anonymous online support groups

You can also learn more about coping with anxiety and improving your quality of life using our free mental health resources and content

3 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Wilson, T.K. & Tripp, J. (2022, March 16). Buspirone. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531477/
  2. Brain Hormones. (2022, January 23). Retrieved from https://www.endocrine.org/patient-engagement/endocrine-library/hormones-and-endocrine-function/brain-hormones
  3. Smith, J.P. & Randall, C.L. (2012). Anxiety and Alcohol Use Disorders: Comorbidity and Treatment Considerations. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews. 34 (4), 414-431. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860396/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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