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Alcohol produces some stimulant effects.
However, alcohol is considered a depressant. This means it slows your body down rather than energizes it.
Alcohol affects your central nervous system (CNS.) This alters the way your body communicates with the nerves in your body.
How alcohol affects you depends on:
Alcohol affects many people differently. Some people report stimulant effects. Others report depressant effects.
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Stimulants and depressants both alter your nervous system and brain function. However, they affect them in opposite ways.
Stimulants speed up the body’s central nervous system (CNS.)
This is because alcohol alters neurotransmitters’ levels in the brain. This includes “excitatory” and “inhibitory” neurotransmitters that cause stimulant and depressant effects.
Stimulants excite your nervous system. They may heighten your blood pressure and heart rate. They may also give you more energy.
However, in large doses, stimulants can lead to insomnia. They can also make you feel jittery and impulsive.17
Examples of stimulants include:
Depressants slow you down by reducing your heart rate and pressure. Depressants may help you feel more relaxed. On the extreme end, they can sedate you.18
Examples of depressants include:
Benzodiazepines are one type of depressant drug class used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Prescription opiates are potent types of depressant drugs.
Some compounds may have characteristics of both stimulants and depressants. For example, nicotine.
However, nicotine is usually characterized as a stimulant.
You should never mix alcohol and stimulant or depressant drugs because of the risk of severe side effects.
Alcohol is often wrongly classified as a stimulant. This is because some people experience stimulant effects while drinking.
Common stimulant effects of alcohol include:
Drinking alcohol causes the release of dopamine or norepinephrine. This can lead to stimulant effects and alcohol addiction.
High-risk drinkers tend to experience more significant stimulant effects than light drinkers.
Alcohol is officially classified as a depressant drug. This is because it slows down brain function and neural activity.
Drinking alcohol can overstimulate GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) pathways.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that reduces energy levels and slows down the central nervous system. It also plays a role in memory. This is why drinking alcohol can cause memory loss.
Common depressant effects of alcohol include:
In high concentrations, serious depressant effects of alcohol include:
Many drug or alcohol-addicted patients also have mental health disorders such as depression.
Clinical depression (major depressive disorder) is a common but serious mood disorder.
Symptoms of depression vary depending on the patient.
They may include:
Multiple studies show a strong correlation between alcohol abuse and depression. Approximately 63% of alcohol-dependent people have depression.11
There is a link between a higher amount of alcohol consumption and the level of depression symptoms. The more a person drinks, the more likely that person is to develop major depression. If you have an alcohol use disorder and a mental health problem, it is essential to seek help for both conditions.
However, even moderate alcohol consumption can lead to depression symptoms.
Alcohol abuse can produce or worsen depression symptoms by affecting levels of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Alcohol use reduces the amount of tryptophan in the body. This is an amino acid needed for serotonin production. Serotonin regulates mood.
Low serotonin levels are connected to depression. This is why many alcohol drinkers can experience depression symptoms during a hangover.
Heavy alcohol consumption can also result in feelings of depression, including suicidal thoughts or actions. As many as 15% of alcoholics are at risk of death by suicide.19
Alcohol abuse can also interfere with depression treatment and the use of healthier coping mechanisms.
Depression in an alcohol-addicted person may also lower their capabilities to resist alcohol. It can lead them to drink alcohol to relieve depression symptoms.
Treatment options for alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction/alcoholism) include:
Inpatient treatment is an addiction treatment program in which patients receive 24-hour structured and intensive care in a dedicated treatment facility. Inpatient treatment is also called residential treatment.
Some examples of inpatient treatment include:
Inpatient treatment can be very effective for those with severe alcohol problems or co-occurring disorders like depression.
Outpatient treatments are part-time, non-residential addiction treatment programs.
This type of treatment is less disruptive to a patient’s life. During treatment, the patient lives at home and can attend school or work.
Outpatient treatment for substance abuse usually includes regular visits to a treatment center for:
Medical detox is otherwise known as medically supervised withdrawal or ‘detoxification.' Detox is when a patient is weaned off a substance while under medical supervision in a hospital.
Medical supervision is often necessary to address the physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including:
Withdrawal symptoms are managed with medications along with:
Medical detox is highly effective in preventing the serious medical consequences associated with alcohol use cessation. However, medical detox is not effective as a lone treatment for alcohol use disorder.
Detox is the first step toward recovery. It should be used in preparation for other treatments.
Many types of behavioral therapies are used in the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD).
These therapies can help patients recognize the impact of their alcohol use. It can also help them learn how to change their behavior to control their alcohol use disorder.
The most common behavioral therapies that have been productive in treating alcohol use disorder in the United States include:
This therapy involves techniques to modify behaviors and improve coping skills by identifying dysfunctional thinking. CBT is considered short-term therapy. It only requires 12-24 sessions to experience results.
This therapy involves giving awards to individuals to support positive behavioral change.
This therapy uses motivational interviewing techniques to help patients resolve concerns about quitting substance use.
This structured, multi-part behavioral treatment consists of evidence-based practices, including:
The model utilizes a combination of:
This therapy is typically delivered in 12 weekly sessions.
This therapy addresses not only the patient’s substance use but other issues that their family or loved ones may also be experiencing.
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