Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
As a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), Lexapro has a lower risk of side effects and interactions than older antidepressants. However, there are still some substances that are best avoided while using Lexapro, and alcohol is one of them.
Can you drink on Lexapro? In general, Lexapro and alcohol don’t go well together. By drinking alcohol while taking Lexapro, you may be more likely to develop side effects, drug interactions or sustain injuries due to changes in your level of motor control.
Below, we’ve explained what Lexapro is, as well as how it works to treat major depression and generalized anxiety disorder.
We’ve also discussed why you shouldn’t mix Lexapro and alcohol and shared a few tips to help you avoid drinking while you’re using antidepressants.
Lexapro is an antidepressant that’s used to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder. It’s sold in tablet form and as a liquid solution, with a recommended daily dose of 10mg to 20mg.
Escitalopram, the active ingredient in Lexapro, works by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that helps to regulate your moods and anxiety levels.
Serotonin is thought to play a key role in regulating your feelings of happiness, anxiety and even certain aspects of your sleep cycle. Maintaining optimal levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin is important for your mental focus and emotional state.
Low serotonin levels are associated with an increased risk of developing depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with low serotonin levels also have an increased risk of suicide.
By inhibiting serotonin reuptake, Lexapro increases serotonin levels in your brain and helps you to maintain a healthy mental state.
Our guide to Lexapro provides more information about how Lexapro and escitalopram work, as well as how you can use Lexapro or similar medications to treat depression and anxiety.
In general, drinking alcohol while you’re taking an antidepressant isn’t a good idea. The biggest reason for this is that drinking may increase your risk of experiencing side effects or cause your existing side effects to become more severe.
Although Lexapro is less likely to cause side effects and interactions than certain other types of antidepressants, it can still cause issues.
Common side effects of Lexapro include:
Changes in appetite
Lexapro can also cause sexual side effects, including a decreased sex drive and reduced ability to reach orgasm. In men, Lexapro can cause issues such as delayed or absent ejaculation and erectile dysfunction (ED).
As you’ve likely noticed, many of the side effects of Lexapro are similar to the effects of alcohol, especially when it’s consumed in large amounts.
Although there isn’t any scientific research on the effects of Lexapro and alcohol together, most experts suggest avoiding alcohol while using Lexapro or similar antidepressants due to the risk of side effects and interactions.
One side effect that’s particularly problematic is serotonin syndrome — a dangerous, potentially life-threatening syndrome that can occur when Lexapro is used with other substances that also increase serotonin levels.
Serotonin syndrome can involve dangerous side effects such as changes in blood pressure and heart rate. When severe, it can potentially lead to coma or death.
Although research on alcohol and the risk of serotonin syndrome is limited, alcohol is associated with changes in the function of serotonin receptors.
In addition to potentially making the side effects of Lexapro worse, drinking alcohol may make it more difficult for you to recover from depression.
Alcohol and depression are closely related. In fact, research suggests that there’s a causal link between alcohol use disorders and major depression, with heavy alcohol consumption linked to a greater depression risk.
Put simply, drinking alcohol — and especially engaging in alcohol abuse — could end up making your symptoms of depression worse.
If you have an alcohol use disorder and find it difficult to stop drinking, it’s important to tell your healthcare provider before you start using Lexapro.
If alcohol is a normal part of your daily life, giving up drinking while you’re using Lexapro can be something of a challenge.
If you often spend time with friends in bars, clubs and other settings with alcohol, you might feel pressured to drink. Try the following techniques to reduce social pressure and stay alcohol-free while you’re using Lexapro:
Ask a friend to help you. If you have a close, trusted friend that you often spend your time with, let them know that you can’t drink at the moment. They can help you to deal with drink offers and other situations that could otherwise become awkward.
Pick a non-alcoholic drink that looks like alcohol. If you’re in a bar or club and don’t want to explain why you’re not drinking, try choosing something that looks like a cocktail but doesn’t contain alcohol.
Good options include soda, juice or a mocktail. Many wine brands also have low alcohol options (usually marketed as “low-ABV”) that only contain trace amounts of alcohol.
If you feel pressured to drink, let people know you’re using medication. There’s no need to tell people you’re taking an antidepressant. However, letting people know you’re unable to drink due to medication is an easy way to stop pressure from others.
If someone asks why you’re not drinking alcohol, let them know that you’d like to, but it’s not safe to do so with your medication.
When it’s used as prescribed, Lexapro is a safe and effective medication for major depression and anxiety.
However, like with all medications, there are several things that you should know before using Lexapro. Use the tips below to keep yourself safe and lower your risk of adverse effects while you’re taking Lexapro:
Don’t stop taking Lexapro to drink alcohol. Stopping Lexapro suddenly may result in withdrawal symptoms. Stopping treatment may also cause your feelings of depression to come back, making recovery more difficult.
Don’t stop taking Lexapro without first talking to your healthcare provider. If you start to develop alcohol cravings, reach out to your healthcare provider. They can help you get professional care for alcohol addiction.
Be patient, especially in the first few weeks of treatment. It can take several weeks for antidepressants to start working, and it’s common for your appetite, sleep and ability to focus to improve before your moods.
Try to be patient during the first two to four weeks, even if you don’t notice any changes in your moods and feelings. If you still don’t feel improvements after four weeks, talk to your healthcare provider.
Tell your healthcare provider about side effects. Even if you completely abstain from alcohol, Lexapro may still cause side effects. Many of these are transient, meaning they naturally improve over time, although some may be persistent and/or severe.
If you notice side effects from Lexapro that don’t improve on their own, make sure to let your healthcare provider know about them. They may suggest adjusting your dosage or switching to a different type of antidepressant.
Combining Lexapro and alcohol isn’t advised. Not only can alcohol potentially increase your risk of developing side effects while using Lexapro, but it may also make the symptoms of anxiety or depression worse.
It’s best to totally avoid drinking while you’re using Lexapro. If you have an alcohol or substance use disorder and need help staying alcohol-free, let your healthcare provider know.
You’ll receive personalized care and, if appropriate, anxiety and depression medication such as escitalopram (the generic version of Lexapro) to help you gain control over your symptoms and make real, lasting progress towards recovery.
Start your mental wellness journey today.