Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Last Updated: Sep 21st 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Alcohol loosens inhibitions, causing feelings of euphoria. Additionally, users may notice slurred speech and slowed reaction time. Is alcohol a depressant or stimulant? Above all, this an important question to ask, especially if you use alcohol regularly. Since it’s in the name, most people assume that a depressant needs to make you feel depressed in order to be classified as such. While depressants “depress” the central nervous system, they do not cause a person to become sad while using the substance.

Depressants can actually initially make a person feel comfortable and happy, as alcohol relaxes its users and creates a feeling of ease. Having said that, depressants are rarely used in limited form. When alcohol is misused, the consequences add up and can become not only life-threatening, but mentally dangerous as well. Alcohol is intensely addictive. When abused over a long period of time, the drug can lead to symptoms of depression.

How does Alcohol Work?

The active ingredient in all alcoholic beverages is ethanol, which forms as a result of the fermentation process. The substance passes through the bloodstream, where it depresses central nervous system activity. Then, it enters the brain, where it reaches neurotransmitters. With the capacity to interfere with a number of functions such as speech, reflexes, and coordination, ethanol wreaks havoc on the body.

Furthermore, alcohol stimulates the release of two euphoria-inducing chemicals in the brain. These are serotonin and dopamine. Additionally, endorphins in the nucleus accumbens increase, which is why many associate alcohol with pleasure and reward.

Side Effects of Alcohol

Short-Term Effects Of Alcohol

Even if you’re not a regular alcohol user, you can still experience its short-term effects on the mind and body. This includes:

  •       Difficulty concentrating
  •       Loss of coordination
  •       Weakened sense of critical judgement
  •       Mood swings
  •       Reduced core body temperature
  •       Raised blood pressure
  •       Passing out
  •       Vomiting

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol

After long-term heavy drinking, your body will experience mental and physical symptoms, as well as unease. Heavy drinking is also linked to liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and various kinds of cancer.

  •       Memory loss
  •       Loss of attention span
  •       Trouble learning
  •       Steatosis (fatty liver)
  •       Throat, mouth, larynx, breast, liver, colorectal, or esophageal cancer.
  •       High blood pressure
  •       Stroke
  •       Irregular heart beat

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Technically, pharmacologists classify it as a depressant, although the amount you consume largely determines its effects. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding how to categorize alcohol. Many people continue wondering is alcohol a depressant or stimulant. 

While using alcohol in moderation, you’ll likely notice many of the “feel good” benefits. However, if you drink in excess, you’ll notice you become sluggish or lethargic. This is why you feel terrible after drinking in excess. However, you may notice fewer consequences after merely consuming one or two drinks.

So, is alcohol a depressant or a stimulant?

Alcohol is indeed a depressant. Depressants are a class of drugs that restrict the function of the central nervous system (CNS). Alcohol impairs and slows both physical and psychological activity. Drugs that also fall into the depressant category are sedatives, tranquilizers and anesthetics. CNS depressants reduce brain activity and awareness by blocking messages from nerve receptors to the brain. This slow-down and block alters the user’s judgments, perceptions, movements, emotions, and senses. When under the influence of a depressant, the person at hand becomes immediately more vulnerable to many health risks, as well as unintentional injury and death.

Problems with Excessive Drinking

Alcohol is a pleasurable substance. Therefore, it comes with a high propensity for abuse. Perhaps you first began using socially and now find yourself consuming the drug on a daily basis. It’s possible to feel like you can’t function without the drug. If this is the case, you likely have an addiction. It’s time to seek help from a qualified addiction treatment facility.

Even moderate drinking causes long-term health effects including high blood pressure, liver disorders, and heart disease. Don’t wait until these health risks develop. The sooner you seek treatment, the faster you’ll begin living a more rewarding lifestyle.

Becoming Addiction: Alcohol

Alcohol has been known as a highly addictive depressant for a long time, especially when consumed in a short amount of time. Alcohol addiction has the ability to develop in several stages. It may even just start with one drink, but then develops into an addiction you depend heavily on. Getting treatment for addiction is a must before it spirals out and causes you more physical and inward pain.

Endorphins From Alcohol Use

Addictive drugs alter the brain’s chemistry. Consuming alcohol impacts the brain which then causes it to release endorphins, which are chemicals in charge of signaling pleasure and reward. This rush of endorphins is why people often feel happy and confident when under the influence of alcohol. This is partly why people don’t always realize that alcohol is actually a depressant that has negative long-term consequences. It may feel good in the moment, but the misuse and aftermath make it a dangerous drug to use. 

Alcohol Tolerance

To bring home the last point, the effects of happiness that alcohol brings are temporary. Once the effects of alcohol wear off, so does the feeling of happiness, pleasure, and satisfaction caused by the endorphins. Thus the cycle of over drinking begins because the person will find themselves depending on alcohol for the endorphin boost. After using alcohol for an extended amount of time, it takes more substantial quantities of alcohol to feel the same effect. This process is called tolerance and is the reason people use higher amounts of alcohol over time to achieve the same level of intoxication.

 Alcohol Withdrawal

Cutting alcohol out completely after depending on it for a while will cause withdrawal symptoms. When experiencing withdrawal, the brain becomes so used to alcohol that it has an intense reaction when the drug is removed. This can cause symptoms such as  headaches, vomiting and anxiety.

Alcohol Addiction, or Physical and Psychological Dependence

When physical dependence becomes connected with psychological dependence, addiction takes place. When this occurs, the user will feel incapable of stopping their drinking habit and this then turns it into a dependence. This is also when other issues start to arise in their personal lives.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism is defined by a strong urge to consume alcohol and the inability to stop drinking, despite the harm it causes. Although a proper diagnosis requires the patient to be honest to their doctor about their history, there are multiple factors — both from the history of the patient, as well as symptoms, that may help your health care professional diagnose alcohol abuse.

Alcohol addiction may be diagnosed by signs such as:

  •       Increased physical tolerance to alcohol
  •       Withdrawal symptoms
  •       Inability to follow through on intentions to stop drinking
  •       Neglect of normal activities
  •       The amount of time spent drinking
  •       Drinking alcohol even though it is causing health problems
  •       A strong desire or compulsion to drink alcohol

It is really important to be honest with your doctor so that they can help you in the most proper way in your road to recovery. Alcohol is a dangerous depressant and conquering the obstacle begins with being honest about it to yourself, and well as your doctor.

Why is Getting Addiction Treatment Important?

Alcoholism is a progressive disease that requires professional intervention and treatment before it progressively gets worse. The following are general triggers for addiction and relapse: 

  •       Chronic stress or sudden life stress like job loss or a death
  •       Social networks that include other substance abusers
  •       Environmental cues

When it comes to mental health conditions or addictions that need to be treated, people often feel like they can take care of it on their own. Would you ever try to fix a broken leg at home? We can safely assume your answer is no and that’s why it’s just as important to take alcohol addiction seriously.

1st Step Behavioral Programs

Accepting your alcoholism is difficult. Once you determine you or a loved one suffers from addiction, the next step is visiting 1st Step Behavioral Health for comprehensive programs including:

The staff at 1st Step Behavioral Health takes a traditional approach to recovery. Above all, we believe that a combination of talk therapy and caring support provides the best possibility for successful recovery. With short and long-term programs available, we can match you with a treatment plan for your unique needs.

Get Help Today

Stop letting alcohol control your life. Progress is always possible. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through it alone. Take the first step to recovery today by calling (866) 319-6126 or contact us here a confidential intake assessment.

References:

https://www.alcohol.org/comorbid/cancer-and-alcoholism/  

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.