What is Lithium?
Lithium is an increasingly important element. Depending on the form, it can be used for anything from powering electronics to managing mood swings.
Lithium is the lightest of the elemental metals and is incredibly reactive with water. It is often used in the production of both rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries for various devices, including mobile electronics like our phones and cameras, or even electric cars.
Lithium salts are used in the world of mental health as a mood stabilizer in order to treat certain mental health conditions. Lithium acts on the central nervous system and is thought to work by strengthening nerve cell connections in important mood and behavior regulating regions of the brain.
What is Lithium Used For?
Lithium is commonly used as a prescription medication to help treat mental health conditions. There are some forms of lithium that can be found in dietary supplements that have several purported health benefits.
Lithium carbonate is a prescription medication that is commonly recommended by psychiatrists to help treat manic depressive disorder, now more commonly referred to as bipolar disorder. It is made by reacting lithium salts with some type of sodium carbonate or sodium oxide, or an alkaline potassium compound, followed by the purification of the salts.
Lithium carbonate is an antimanic agent, which means it helps to control symptoms of mania and prevent manic episodes. This helps to treat affective disorders by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain and stabilizing mood. Using lithium can even help decrease the risk of suicidal behaviors.
Thanks to the suspected neurotrophic effects of lithium (meaning it helps with the growth and regeneration of neurons), bipolar disease progression may be limited or reversed with the use of a lithium salt such as lithium carbonate.
A form of lithium with many potential health benefits, lithium orotate is made of lithium and orotic acid, which can be synthesized in the human body. Lithium orotate is typically taken in a much lower dose than lithium carbonate and it is considered a dietary supplement, which means a prescription is not required in order to get it.
There are several purported health benefits to taking this dietary supplement, including lowered stress and anxiety, improved memory, and stabilized mood. Some people use lithium orotate as a non-prescription self-treatment for mood disorder or stress reduction, though this should never be done without consulting a doctor. Lithium orotate is also being tested for its effectiveness in treating alcoholism.
Lithium Carbonate Side Effects
Though lithium carbonate is prescribed by a medical professional to help you control your mood and is generally considered to be safe, it is important to know what negative side effects you might experience.
Common Side Effects
Some of the most common side effects include but are not limited to:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dry mouth or increased thirst
- Frequent urination
- Low energy
Uncommon Side Effects
There are some side effects that people tend to experience less frequently, though you should still be aware of them. Some slightly less common side effects with low severity include but are not limited to:
- Appearance of rashes or acne
- Changes in taste
- Weight gain
- Lack of coordination or muscle weakness
Some uncommon side effects may be more dangerous than others, including:
- Diabetes Insipidus
- High white blood cell count
Rare Side Effects
By definition, it is unlikely that someone will experience rare side effects, but some can be severe and should be treated by a healthcare professional immediately. Contact your doctor if you experience any side effects on this non-exhaustive list:
- Low blood pressure
- Overactive thyroid gland
- Abnormal muscle movements
- Extreme allergic reaction
It is good to know why your body feels a certain way, so keep these rare (but not as severe) side effects in mind if you take lithium carbonate:
- Feeling colder than usual or being more sensitive to the cold
- Blurred vision
- Unusually high blood sugar
- Weight loss
Can You Mix Lithium and Alcohol?
Lithium carbonate and alcohol should not be mixed. Not only can mixing these substances decrease the medication’s effectiveness, but it could exacerbate existing symptoms and cause worsening mental states.
Alcohol has broad depressant effects on the entire nervous system. It is important to be cautious even when mixing common supplements like 5-HTP and alcohol.
The ethanol in alcohol acts on the central nervous system and has mood altering effects, as does lithium carbonate. With these two substances acting on the central nervous system at once, symptoms like dizziness and confusion may be exacerbated and the mood regulating effects of the lithium medication may not be as strong, causing a higher risk of manic or depressive episodes.
There is also a higher risk of lithium toxicity due to the dehydrating effects of alcohol. As the body becomes dehydrated, the lithium concentration in the blood increases. High serum lithium levels could lead to lithium toxicity, which can be incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening in some cases.
The Side Effects of Mixing Lithium Carbonate and Alcohol
If you do accidentally mix lithium carbonate and alcohol, you may experience the following:
- Dizziness or drowsiness
- Impaired thinking and judgment
- Impaired motor function or tremors
- Liver damage
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle and joint pain
Increased depression is also a possibility for those that mix lithium and alcohol. People who have bipolar disorder and abuse alcohol are at almost double the risk for attempted suicide as those who have bipolar disorder and do not abuse alcohol. Using and abusing substances when fighting against a mental health condition is never helpful, and can be even more dangerous if you are taking a mood stabilizer like lithium carbonate.
Lithium Orotate and Alcohol
Though it would be best to avoid mixing lithium carbonate and alcohol, other kinds of lithium such as lithium orotate may actually help treat alcoholism. In one study, 42 patients going through alcohol rehabilitation were given 150 mg of lithium orotate daily for about six months. Many had no relapse for up to 10 years, and others were alcohol-free for years as well.
The chance of experiencing side effects during this treatment with lithium orotate was also lower than with other lithium-based substances and included rare cases of muscle weakness, loss of appetite, or mild apathy. After lowering the frequency of the doses, the symptoms subsided.
Lithium orotate may even help to reduce certain symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Lithium orotate may be especially useful in reducing the alcohol consumption of people who suffer from a co-occurring affective disorder and alcohol use disorder (AUD).
When to Seek Medical Help
When taking any substance, it is important to be aware of your bodily sensations and your symptoms so you can seek medical help if necessary. When it comes to lithium, you should seek help if:
- You experience severe side effects either before or after mixing it with alcohol
- You are having a manic episode
- Your drinking is out of control
- You are experiencing symptoms of lithium toxicity
Symptoms of Lithium Toxicity
Some symptoms of lithium toxicity are similar to the side effects of taking lithium. Be sure to contact your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or experience any of these symptoms, especially after mixing lithium and alcohol.
If you have mild to moderate lithium toxicity, you might experience:
- Intestinal and digestive tract issues such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Muscle weakness and lack of coordination
- Muscle tremors or muscle twitches and spasms
In a more severe case of lithium toxicity, the symptoms may include:
- Confusion or impaired consciousness
- Agitation or giddiness
- Muscle stiffness or pain
- Uncontrollable eye movements or blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Large urine output
- Abnormally low blood pressure
Lithium has several uses and is an extremely beneficial element in both the field of engineering and that of modern medicine. Lithium can have great effects on mental health when taken correctly and can even lower the risk of suicide.
Some studies suggest that lithium orotate could be effective in the treatment of alcoholism and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Though lithium orotate can be bought over-the-counter, it is important to remember that dietary supplements are not a substitute for medical assistance or prescription drugs, and you should talk to a professional to get expert advice before taking new substances.
Though prescription lithium carbonate can help improve the lives of so many people with bipolar and other affective disorders, it is crucial that it is taken as directed and you should be familiar with the side effects and symptoms of lithium toxicity outlined above.
Always check with your healthcare provider before mixing substances. If you are taking lithium, be sure to talk to your doctor about the safety concerns and risks associated with consuming alcohol.