Are Anxiety Drugs OK to Take With Alcohol?

Friday, 26 Apr 2013 10:01 AM

By Peter Hibberd, M.D.

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Question: My daughter has anxiety and was prescribed Buspar. But she only takes it when she feels the onset of the anxiety. Does this medicine work this way or does she have to take it daily as prescribed? Also: Is it safe to take it with alcohol?

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Dr. Hibberd’s answer:
Buspar is a member of the benzodiazepine family of drugs and is commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. This family of drugs includes similar acting medications such as Valium and Xanax. Buspar is designed to be taken regularly and is not usually very effective when not used as prescribed.
These drugs work on receptors in the brain to relieve anxiety, but they do not usually have a significant treatment effect on those with depression who don’t also suffer with anxiety. Benzodiazepines should not be used in combination with other central nervous system depressants, and this includes alcohol.
My advice is to stay away from combinations of food, drink, or drugs that may interfere with your prescription medications, especially psychoactive meds such as Buspar. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist when you start new medications and ask for clarification if alcohol or other medication use is anticipated. Some antidepressants (called monoamine oxidase inhibitors) are known to cause hypertensive emergencies or even strokes when mixed with certain wines (chianti) and (aged) cheeses.
Some antidepressants (especially the older trycyclic agents such as Elavil) can affect the heart and may cause sudden death or coma, even in otherwise young and healthy people. Unusual side effects are seen much more commonly when alcohol intake is added.
Remember that Food and Drug Administration drug testing does not usually check for safety in combination with agents such as alcohol. So you may become your own experiment if you are not careful. Sometimes adverse effects are unpredictable and unexpected, especially with an unpredictable variable like alcohol. As a general rule, do not mix alcohol or other non-prescribed agents with psychoactive drugs.

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