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Drinking Alcohol Can Make Your Medication Ineffective

321px-Red_Wine_GlasShe’s a twenty year old college student majoring in social work. She works part time at a bakery to supplement her income and lives at home with mom. Her father has been out of the picture since she was eleven. She’s been taking a highly-prescribed antidpressant (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) which has been hailed as one of the most effective medications for depression, for the past year. Before that, she was on another medication, and before that others. She reports that they seem to work for a month or so, then stop working.

He’s forty two, a tenure tract professor at an Ivy League university. He’s published his first popular book and hopes to publish more. On weekends he plays lacrosse. He recently got married to a successful real estate agent who has one child from a previous marriage. He’s been taking a medication for depression and anxiety and has another medication he can take as needed for unmanageable anxiety symptoms. He still feels mildly depressed and his anxiety symptoms, though bearable, are uncomfortable.

She’s sixty, a museum curator of one of the top art museum’s in the country. She has a summer house in an affluent area, just a couple of streets from the beach. She’s traveled around the world and speaks four languages fluently. She has many friends and socializes many nights each week. On the weekends she rides horses. She has depression and anxiety. Her main symptoms are occasional feelings of hopelessness and bouts of rage. She taken a number of medications for them for more than twenty years. None seem to work really well for her.

Jeff is nineteen.  He works for his father’s plumbing supply company which has been struggling. His brother is his supervisor and can be verbally abusive. He’s been a client at an outpatient addiction treatment clinic for eight weeks. He’s been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, too. Although he’s taken anti-anxiety medication and medication for depression in the past, this is the first time it’s ever really worked for him.

Why is Jeff’s anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants working now? Why not in the past? Why is the medication prescribed for the student, the professor, and the museum curator not working?

Setting aside the issue of whether or not medication is the best way of dealing with anxiety or depression, the main reason why medications in these patients aren’t working is because they all drink. None of them, even Jeff, would likely be recognized as being an alcoholic by their friends or family (or even their physicians or therapists.)

Yet, these patients have been medicating themselves with alcohol for years. Although they all had symptoms of depression and anxiety before they started drinking, the alcohol made the symptoms much worse.

The reason Jeff’s medication is finally working, is because he was mandated to an outpatient addiction program for treatment following a drunk driving charge. He is tested for the presence of alcohol and drugs every week, and he is clean. At his initial evaluation, his therapist felt that a diagnosis of depression and anxiety were warranted. She felt that if he could feel better, he might progress more in therapy. His medication is finally able to work and he says that for the first time in his life, “I feel normal, not depressed.”

The other three individuals were never evaluated for alcohol or drug abuse. The college student drinks beer or mixed drinks several nights per week. The professor downs a bottle and a half of wine almost every night. And beginning nearly every afternoons, the museum curator has a couple of mixed drinks and often drinks into the evening.

Not only is their medication is rendered ineffective by the alcohol, but there are also dangers of mixing psychiatric medication and alcohol.


Drinking Alcohol Can Make Your Medication Ineffective

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2014). Drinking Alcohol Can Make Your Medication Ineffective. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Jun 2014
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