Can I Drink Alcohol While Taking Schizophrenia Medications?
If you have schizophrenia, you may be wondering if it’s okay to drink alcohol while taking medications to manage your condition. Doctors say that for most people this is not a good idea.
“While many people can have a glass of wine at dinner without a problem, it is more of a problem for people with schizophrenia because they have a much higher rate of alcohol dependence,” says Srinivas Muvvala, MD , MPH, associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut. As a result, a single drink often leads to several. When combined with schizophrenia medications, they can make symptoms worse and cause life-threatening health problems.
Why drinking is a problem
If you have schizophrenia, your doctor may treat it with a type of medicine called an antipsychotic. These drugs change the balance of chemicals in your brain, helping to relieve symptoms such as paranoia and seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations).
Medications work well, but they depress your central nervous system and slow brain activity. This can lead to side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, or difficulty thinking or concentrating, says Frank Chen, MD, psychiatrist and chief medical officer of Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital. Alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant, so the combination of the two can make these side effects worse.
Drinking alcohol while taking antipsychotics can also cause even more serious reactions, including:
All of these effects can make it harder for you to make good judgment, Chen notes. “Most of us are able to make good decisions even after a few drinks, but people with schizophrenia are already at risk of making bad decisions and controlling their impulses,” he says. For example, they may decide to drive even if they are weakened. Then they can end up being arrested for driving while intoxicated or even having a car accident. “Unfortunately, a lot of people with schizophrenia are incarcerated because of exactly these kinds of situations,” he says.
Alcohol can also prevent you from remembering to take your antipsychotic medication. About a third of people with schizophrenia have an alcohol use disorder, which means they can’t stop or control their drinking. “We know that when people with schizophrenia drink alcohol, they are less likely to follow their drug regimen,” says Muvvala. “As a result, their symptoms get worse. They may have more hallucinations and delusions and see their cognitive and social abilities deteriorate. This can cause them to drink even more. This, in turn, can lead to a vicious cycle that increases the risk of hospitalization, poor physical health, depression and even homelessness.
Additionally, alcohol can make it harder for your body to absorb the drug, Chen says. It’s a diuretic, so it may make you urinate more. This means that the drugs can pass through your system faster than they should.
To top it off, mixing antipsychotic drugs and alcohol can damage your liver. “Excessive alcohol consumption causes liver disease, and antipsychotic medications can increase the risk of liver problems when combined with alcohol,” Muvvala says. Research shows that about a third of people who take antipsychotics also suffer from liver problems.
What to do if you can’t stop drinking
It is best not to drink alcohol at all if you are taking antipsychotics. If you find that you can’t stop, it’s important to seek treatment, says Muvvala. “Many schizophrenic patients with alcohol use disorders go undiagnosed because doctors and other health care professionals do not screen properly for alcohol use,” he says. “It is important to treat both at the same time, but it is done in less than 10% of all cases.”
If you think you have a drinking problem, don’t suddenly stop drinking on your own. This can cause alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, hallucinations or seizures. Your doctor can help you find a drug addiction or drug addiction center to monitor you during your detox. They can recommend FDA-approved drugs like naltrexone, which helps reduce the urge and desire to drink, Muvvala says.
“It’s important to work with psychiatrists who understand both disorders, so that you can get the best treatment possible,” he says. This means that you will be more likely to stick to your schizophrenia treatment plan.
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