Is Alcohol a Stimulant or a Depressant?

By August 1, 2018Recovery
alcohol and depression

Is Alcohol a Stimulant or a Depressant?

With over 70 percent of individuals in the United States reporting drinking in the past year, alcohol is by far the most used mind-altering substance. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 27% of adults in the United States engage in binge drinking behavior every year. Many people consume alcohol, but don’t know much about it. For example, many people ask if alcohol is a stimulant or a depressant.

Is Alcohol a Depressant or a Stimulant?

is alcohol a stimulantFirst, alcohol is technically a depressant of the central nervous system. A central nervous system depressant is a substance or drug that slows the functioning of the central nervous system, including the brain. This produces the calming and sedative effects of depressants like alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates.

Alcohol produces a biphasic effect, or a two-part effect. When you consume a drink or two, you may notice an increase in energy, sociability, and euphoria. As you continue to consume alcoholic beverages, you grow tired and may even eventually pass out. This is the two-part effect at play. With light consumption, alcohol can produce a euphoria that leads to the illusion of stimulation. However, alcohol is not a stimulant. It is simply the euphoria and increased activity of the GABA receptors leading to the experience of more energy.

When the euphoria begins to wear off, the depressant quality comes forth more strongly. This is true of binge drinking, and also of long-term consumption. As individuals continue to consume alcohol regularly, they grow tolerance and lose the feeling of euphoria.

Physical Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol can have many effects on the body, especially with prolonged use. The effects of alcohol use range from liver disease to high blood pressure. The effects of alcohol are dependent on the individual, overall health, and the length of use. Here are a few physical effects of alcohol abuse:

  • Changes in brain chemistry
  • Cardiomyopathy – stretching of heart muscles
  • High blood pressure and stroke
  • Cirrhosis and other liver disease
  • Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancrease
  • Increased risk of cancer, especially mouth, throat, and liver cancers
  • Weakened immune system

Mental Effects of Alcohol

In addition to the physical effects of alcohol, there are many mental effects from long-term use. Depending on the length and amount of use, alcohol can cause:

  • Memory impairment
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Insomnia or fatigue

Alcohol Abuse and Depression

When you hear the word depressant, you may think of feeling depressed. To be clear, a drug or substance that is a depressant does not mean it leads to clinical depression. Instead, alcohol is a depressant simply because it inhibits activity of the central nervous system. However, alcohol use is closely correlated with increased risk of depression. With prolonged use, alcohol may cause depression. This is not because alcohol is a depressant specifically, but it is a commmon effect of regular alcohol abuse.

If you or somebody you know is struggling with addiction to alcohol, reach out to one of our trained sober coaches today.

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