When stress or anxiety peaks, some people turn to alcohol to take the edge off.
This isn’t always a problem. However, for individuals who take anti-anxiety medication, drinking can have unwanted and potentially harmful effects.
Let’s take a look at how buspirone hydrochloride (Buspar)—a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of anxiety disorders—interacts with alcohol consumption.
In this article, I’ll explain what Buspar is and what happens if you drink while taking it.
Then I’ll discuss how the use of alcohol affects anxiety and how Buspar can support people who are trying to quit alcohol dependence.
Lastly, I’ll share when to see a healthcare provider about Buspar and alcohol.
What Is Buspar (Buspirone)?
While selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are a common first choice for anxiety treatment, buspirone (Buspar) is becoming more popular because it may cause fewer side effects.
SSRI and SNRI drugs work to increase how many neurotransmitters the brain has, which can have a mood-stabilizing effect.
Buspar also influences how serotonin and dopamine receptors work, however, it is in a different class of anxiolytic medications known as azapirones.
It is used to treat anxiety and related symptoms such as fear, tension, and irritability.
Buspar does not influence GABA receptors, like alprazolam (Xanax) and other benzodiazepines do, which is why it is not addictive or habit-forming.
It also is not a controlled substance.
Buspar takes longer than Xanax to start working.
You may need to take Buspar for 2-4 weeks before noticing decreased anxiety.
Buspar is available as a tablet and is typically taken 2-3 times a day.
Buspar and Alcohol
Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications affect the brain in significant ways.
They alter neurotransmitter levels, influence mood, and can change a person’s overall outlook.
This can also be true for alcohol, although the effect of alcohol is short-lived and has complications.
Mixing alcohol with any prescription mood-altering medications can be dangerous.
Both Buspar and alcohol have a direct influence on the central nervous system.
When you take Buspar with alcohol, a few things can happen:
- Your body may metabolize Buspar differently, leaving higher levels of the drug in your body for longer. This can influence how your body responds to the medication and can increase the potential for adverse effects or more significant interactions.
- Alcohol and Buspar have some similar side effects, such as headache, nausea, and dizziness. If you combine the two or take them at overlapping times, it can worsen these effects. It can also make it harder for you to understand how your body is responding to Buspar or increase the risk of dependence.
These effects may be more noticeable in people who are older or who have reduced liver or kidney function.
If you take any other medications that can slow your body’s clearance of Buspar, adding alcohol can lead to severe side effects or risks.
Medications that can decrease how quickly your body clears Buspar include:
These are not the only medications that may interact with Buspar.
To avoid complications, speak with your healthcare provider and pharmacist about any medications, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, or supplements you are taking.
Grapefruit juice can also slow the body’s metabolism of Buspar and should not be consumed while taking the medication.
Common adverse side effects of Buspar include:
Mixing alcohol with Buspar can worsen side effects and lead to potentially serious complications like an overdose.
On its own, Buspar has not been known to cause any overdose-related deaths.
But when Buspar is mixed with alcohol, overdose cases occur more frequently and can be severe.
When Can You Drink After Stopping Buspar?
If you are stopping or plan to stop taking Buspar, there is no specific timeframe in which it is absolutely safe to drink alcohol.
The half-life of Buspar is around six hours, which means that it takes that long for the dose you took to be reduced by half.
However, kidney or liver problems, older age, other medications you take, and genetic factors can slow the time it takes for your body to clear medication.
If you are stopping Buspar but still experience anxiety, do not use alcohol.
Your healthcare provider can give you a safe timeframe in which it might be appropriate to have an alcoholic beverage.
Alcohol and Anxiety
Anxiety disorders involve disruptions or changes to brain chemicals.
This triggers symptoms of anxiety such as irritability, sleep difficulties, and restlessness.
Alcohol has a direct effect on the central nervous system which, in the short term, can seem to provide relief from feelings of anxiety.
For some people, though, anxiety can contribute to alcohol use disorder.
Research links alcohol use disorder with anxiety, noting that as many as 75% of people who have both conditions had anxiety issues first.
As the brain associates alcohol with feeling relaxed, you may want to drink more frequently to avoid experiencing anxiety.
Or you may require more alcohol if your brain builds a tolerance to its relaxing effects.
Either way, this may lead to alcohol dependence.
Buspar for Alcohol Withdrawal
If you have alcohol abuse disorder, it can take time to no longer desire a drink.
In some cases, Buspar may be prescribed to support a patient during alcohol withdrawal.
It can reduce alcohol cravings and help to support a more stable mood, although it has not been FDA-approved for this purpose.
Because quitting alcohol can cause many symptoms, it can be hard to quit, especially for someone who also has underlying anxiety or other mood disorders.
If you are dependent on alcohol and want to quit, ask your healthcare provider about Buspar or other prescription medications that could help make the transition easier.
When to See a Healthcare Professional
See your healthcare professional if you have any questions about Buspar and alcohol, including:
- When you can have a drink after stopping Buspar
- If it is safe to have a drink while taking Buspar
- If Buspar could help reduce your dependence on alcohol
- How to manage anxiety with medication
A healthcare provider can take your symptoms and situation into consideration and formulate a safe plan to help you address anxiety and feel better.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Buspar (Buspirone HCl). (2010).
Buspirone: An Update on a Unique Anxiolytic Agent. (1988).
Buspirone Hydrochloride Tablets. (2021).
Co-Occurring Alcohol Use Disorder and Anxiety. (2019).
The Role of Buspirone in the Management of Alcohol Withdrawal: A Preliminary Investigation. (1990).