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dangers of mixing zoloft and alcohol

Zoloft and alcohol work at cross purposes. Zoloft, a brand name for the drug sertraline, is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that rewires those pathways in your brain that lead to clinical depression or other mental disorders. Alcohol is a depressant, so it can worsen the same conditions Zoloft is working to alleviate. It is simply common sense that you should not take the two together. More than that, though, you may be putting yourself at risk if you drink while on Zoloft.

How Zoloft Works

Zoloft is effective in treating the following mental health disorders:

  • Major depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder

Zoloft targets serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that conveys messages between the nerve cells in the brain.

Normally, the nerve cells absorb serotonin once they deliver their message. However, people with the above mental health conditions do not have enough serotonin, so the messaging network does not function normally.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Zoloft prevent the absorption of serotonin, making more of it available to the brain. This helps keep the transmission pathways open and functional, clearing the blocked or missed connections that cause specific mood disorders.

How Alcohol Affects the Brain

In contrast to serotonin, alcohol blocks the connections between nerve cells. Alcohol abuse impairs your memory, your speech, your reflexes, and your cognitive functions. It removes your inhibitions, leading to uncharacteristic, risky behavior.

Because heavy drinking is addictive, your brain comes to depend upon the effects of alcohol to function. If you stop drinking, your brain and body suffer symptoms of withdrawal. These are so powerful that you keep drinking to avoid them. This cycle is extremely difficult to break. That’s why most people need help to recover successfully.

Alcohol damages the brain in several ways. Prolonged drinking causes neurotoxicity, which poisons the nerve cells. The continued overstimulation makes these cells burn out, just like a light bulb that you never turn off. The results are blocked or missed connections in your brain, which affect your ability to think, remember, and even speak.

Fortunately, you can stop this deterioration when you quit drinking. Your brain even has some capacity to heal. The key is getting into a reliable rehab program like those we offer at Granite Recovery Centers.

Zoloft Misuse

Prescription drug abuse is currently at epidemic levels. As one of the most popular antidepressant drugs, Zoloft is available for those determined to get it. Someone using Zoloft without a prescription, taking it more often than a doctor recommends, or taking a larger dose than prescribed is likely experiencing a substance use disorder.

Like alcohol, serotonin can make you feel relaxed, friendlier, and more sociable. It may make you feel more connected and alert to everything around you. Also, like alcohol, too much serotonin makes you irritable, ill, and at risk.

Serotonin syndrome is the result of serotonin buildup in your brain. Taking too much antidepressant medication can cause this. Symptoms of the syndrome include:

  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rise in blood pressure
  • Loss of coordination
  • Excess sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache

Symptoms of severe serotonin syndrome include fever, seizures, heart arrhythmia, and death. However, if you seek treatment for Zoloft misuse before your syndrome becomes severe, you can make a complete recovery.

Dual Diagnosis Substance Use Disorders

If you have depression, social anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, or OCD, you are at a higher risk for alcohol or substance use disorder and nicotine addiction. In turn, misusing drugs or alcohol sometimes leads to clinical depression or anxiety disorder.

Often, people who are depressed drink to feel better. Typically, depression comes first, and then alcoholism follows. However, it is common for a heavy drinker to develop depressive symptoms, even if a mood disorder was not a problem before the drinking began. As a result, people might begin self-medicating with illicit prescription antidepressants and increase their alcohol intake. The irony is that alcohol does not help depression, being a depressant itself.

Instead, drinking complicates matters for people already taking prescription medications like Zoloft. When the alcohol only makes them feel worse, they may ramp up their drinking, take more Zoloft, or both.

A dual diagnosis is often too complex to figure out on your own. The best way to approach treatment is to seek professional help.

Getting Treatment for Dual Diagnosis Disorders

A mental disorder and a substance use disorder each have their own difficulties, risks, and treatment options. However, the two are interrelated and co-dependent. When you are dealing with both, a dual diagnosis treatment program is your best approach to recovery.

In times past, medical professionals treated alcohol use disorder and mental health disorders separately in different settings. They believed that physical addiction and mental disorders required different approaches. However, with nearly 8 million adults in the U.S. with dual diagnoses, rehabilitation experts saw the need for a unified approach.

At Granite Recovery Centers, we have specific programs to successfully treat co-occurring disorders. Our cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapies are evidence-based treatments that have proven track records.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps clients focus on the thoughts and emotional experiences that trigger their substance use. Once they have identified these triggers, we work with them to develop alternative responses that do not involve harmful behaviors.

Dialectical behavior therapy engages clients in a question-and-answer process that helps them identify their stressors and how their heightened emotional responses lead to substance use. Once they understand the dynamics of this self-destructive behavior, we work with them to develop more positive coping skills.

Depending upon the nature of a client’s dual diagnosis, our health care professionals can implement additional therapies that have a high degree of success. For example, our trauma therapy helps individuals suffering from PTSD come to terms with the source of their trauma and recognize the negative behaviors that result. Through therapy, these clients learn to replace self-destructive responses such as substance use with more positive and constructive behaviors.

For clients whose dual diagnosis involves the loss of a loved one, therapists offer grief and loss therapy, an evidence-based treatment, in one-on-one sessions. They work to identify and explore the sources of and responses to grief and then together develop more positive pathways to recovery.

We provide both inpatient and outpatient rehab options, group and individual therapy sessions, and medically assisted detox. At Granite Recovery Centers, we believe that by offering a number of options and treatment profiles, we can customize care to meet the individual needs of each client.


We understand that remaining drug- and alcohol-free will be a challenge to you throughout your life. At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to continue to help even after you complete your inpatient rehabilitation program. We offer structured aftercare facilities and less structured sober living support to see you through the difficulties of transitioning back into society.

One of the most important elements of Granite Recovery Centers’ aftercare is the 12-step program. Originally adopted by AA, the 12 Steps form a strong structural foundation for lifelong sobriety.

Another key component of aftercare is life skill training. We incorporate the development of daily skills in time and money management, ongoing education, and the job search process.

The final phase of our aftercare program is support for such “real world” activities as employment, peer interactions, mentorship, and personal identity development.

You will have a dedicated case manager who helps customize aftercare to fit your particular needs. Along with psychotherapy, 12-step meetings, group therapy, goal setting, exercise, meditation, and household responsibilities, aftercare supports a successful transition toward sustainable sobriety.

Granite Recovery Centers has two aftercare residences. Harmony House in Wakefield, New Hampshire, is our women’s facility, and Freedom House in Effingham, NH, is our men’s residence.

Sober Living

Relapse after completing an alcohol treatment program is most common within the first year. When you are recovering with a dual diagnosis of alcohol and Zoloft use disorders, staying on track in that first year will likely be even more challenging. With those challenges in mind, Granite Recovery Centers offers a sober living option as a follow-up therapy.

Our sober living homes are safe and supportive residences where you can reacclimate yourself and gradually transition from your structured treatment program to your normal life without the pressures that can overwhelm you. It’s also a good place to meet like-minded individuals who can become an integral part of your support system.

We require our Sober Living residents to:

  • Follow our residential code of conduct
  • Be accountable
  • Attend nearby 12-step meetings
  • Get a 12-step sponsor
  • Opt into regular, random substance testing
  • Practice total abstinence
  • Maintain an outside work service position
  • Do weekly home upkeep chores

Fewer restrictions and a less restrictive structure allow more freedom than your inpatient program, and living among others in recovery provides strong social support. A house manager oversees daily operations, ensuring your safety and comfort as you begin to take on more responsibilities. These include:

  • Personal hygiene
  • Housekeeping
  • Managing your finances
  • Job interviews

We have several sober living homes in the Manchester, NH, area. Many of our residents report that these programs are instrumental in preventing relapse during that first year following treatment when the risk of relapse is the greatest. Our ultimate goal for you is a smooth transition back into your own home.

Do You Need Treatment?

If you are taking Zoloft or another prescription drug for a mental health condition, look for the following signs of prescription drug abuse:

  • Stealing or selling prescriptions
  • Forging prescriptions to get more of the drug
  • Taking more than your doctor prescribed
  • Uncharacteristic hostility or mood swings
  • Sleeping significantly more or less than normal
  • Mental fog
  • Significant changes in your energy level
  • Self-destructive or risky behavior

While taking Zoloft, evaluate your alcohol intake habits. The following symptoms are cause for concern:

  • Inability to control your drinking
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work and at home because of drinking
  • Continuing to drink despite health, social, and behavioral issues
  • Giving up activities you enjoy in favor of drinking
  • The need to drink more for the same effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drink

Granite Recovery Centers Can Help

If you recognize the signs of prescription drug and alcohol abuse in yourself or a loved one, you need to seek professional help. For more than a decade, Granite Recovery Centers of New Hampshire have been successfully treating dual diagnoses with successful therapeutic modalities. We are committed to innovation, accountability, and compassionate care to help our clients experience positive, life-long change. Contact us today to find out more.