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Alcohol Abuse - Nuview Treatment Center

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Is Alcohol a Stimulant? Side-Effects of Alcohol Use and Abuse

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Whether you drink often or just on occasion, chances are you have had at least one drink in your life. In fact, more than 85% of American adults have drunk before. From relaxation to recreation to celebrations, alcohol can be a fun way to share a special moment with friends and family.

Unfortunately, because of how normalized drinking is, alcoholism has become more common. In order to truly understand what type of impact alcohol can have on someone, it’s important to know how it works. You may be wondering, is alcohol a stimulant?  You may think you know the answer, but the truth may shock you.

While it does make people feel happy and energized in smaller quantities, alcohol is actually a depressant. Many people think the difference between stimulants and depressants is how they make you feel. The difference, however, is in how they impact the central nervous system (CNS). Stimulants increase CNS activity, while depressants slow things down.

Alcohol falls under the category of depressant for many reasons. The energetic and exciting stimulant effect, in the beginning, can be a lot of fun, but when large amounts are consumed, the depressant traits become apparent.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

When it comes to drugs, there are a few categories they can fall under: depressant, stimulant, or hallucinogenic. While alcohol does have some of the same effects as stimulants, it is actually a depressant.

Stimulants are made to energize and excite your central nervous system. These uppers can make you more focused and alert, but they can also lead to increased blood pressure and heart rate. You would think that these string drugs would be illegal, but some of the most commonly used stimulants are legal.

Some of the most often used stimulants are:

  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Betel nut

Depressants, on the other hand, slow things down; the effects are basically the opposite. Downers result in relaxation and sleepiness. They can even lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate. Depressants slow down the activity in the central nervous system and they can impact your mood.

Common depressants include:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Ketamine
  • Barbiturates
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana

Seeing the effects of the dopamine taking over after the first drink can certainly make alcohol seem like it could be a stimulant, but it is a true depressant. Even if you are a “happy drunk”, that doesn’t mean that alcohol is a stimulant. Some of the most common side effects of alcohol show how it is a depressant, including slower reaction times and slurred words.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant

A lot of people with social anxiety use alcohol as a way to loosen up and lower their inhibitions a bit. These effects, while positive and enjoyable for some, are actually the result of the depressant slowing down the activity of the central nervous system.

Alcohol does help the brain produce dopamine, but this only lasts for so long. When you consume excessive quantities, you can see a drop in dopamine levels, leading to feeling:

  • Depressed
  • Emotional
  • Hopeless
  • Restless
  • Sad

Other depressant effects of alcohol can include:

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Sedation
  • Disorientation
  • Lowered inhibition
  • Drowsiness
  • Decrease in coordination

On the more extreme end of the potential side effects of excessive alcohol consumption, because it can cause sleepiness and slow the heart rate, drinking too much can cause you to slip into a coma, have a heart attack, or die.

Is It Possible for Alcohol to be a Stimulant and a Depressant?

Alcohol is classified as a depressant and a depressant alone. Many people believe alcohol to be a stimulant, mainly because of how many people act when intoxicated. Lots of drunk people are loud, outgoing, energetic, and all-around upbeat. Despite these effects, alcohol is not a stimulant. The difference between a stimulant and a depressant is how it impacts the central nervous system. Depressants and stimulants impact the CNS in opposite ways.

The main reason alcohol puts people in a good mood and gives this burst of energy and euphoria is that alcohol causes the brain to release dopamine when you drink. For those who generally have a good time and are in a pleasant mood while drinking, it makes sense why they would think that alcohol is actually a stimulant.

When consumed in lower amounts, alcohol can have stimulant-like effects. Some side effects include:

  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased energy
  • Increased confidence

The stimulant-like side effects are more common for men, while women feel the depressant effects more often. Women also tend to start feeling the effects more quickly than men do.

Alcohol is also similar to stimulants because it can negatively impact sleep. While alcohol does have sedative qualities, it just helps you fall asleep. Many people have poor sleep when they fall asleep while intoxicated. Additionally, long-term alcohol abuse can lead to insomnia.

How To Get Help if Addicted to Alcohol

The initial stimulant effects of alcohol are why a lot of people drink in the first place. Whether you just want to have a little fun or you’re using it to cope with social anxiety, a lot of people love how they feel after their first couple of drinks. Unfortunately, it is easy for this coping mechanism to turn into a full-blown addiction.

If you or a loved one are addicted to alcohol and need help, reach out to an alcohol addiction treatment center to help you get back on track. Are you unsure if you need help?

Have you done any of the following within the last year?

  • Wanted to stop drinking but couldn’t
  • Experienced strong cravings for alcohol
  • Chose drinking, or recovering from drinking, over your responsibilities
  • Chose to continue drinking despite it causing problems with friends, family, or work
  • Had to increase your normal amount due to an increase in tolerance
  • Ended up in an unsafe situation due to drinking

It’s not too late to reach out for help. In fact, it is imperative to one’s health and well-being that they reach out immediately when an addiction is at hand. Seeking professional help in an addiction treatment Los Angeles Center can provide the necessary support and resources to overcome addiction and achieve long-term recovery. Your future self will thank you for taking the time to get healthier right now.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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