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Updated on July 31, 2023
4 min read

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant?

While alcohol produces some stimulant effects, it’s considered a depressant. Depressants slow your body down rather than energize it.

Alcohol affects your central nervous system (CNS). It alters the way your body communicates with the nerves in your body.

How alcohol affects you depends on:

Alcohol affects many people differently; some report experiencing stimulant effects, while others say they experience depressant ones.

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Stimulants vs. Depressants

Stimulants and depressants both alter your nervous system and brain function. However, they affect them in opposite ways.

Some compounds, like nicotine, may have characteristics of both stimulants and depressants. You should never mix alcohol and stimulant or depressant drugs because of the risk of severe side effects.

Stimulants

Stimulants speed up and excite the body’s central nervous system (CNS). 

These are its possible effects:17

  • Heightened blood pressure and heart rate
  • More energy
  • Insomnia (in large doses)
  • Feeling jittery
  • Impulsiveness

Examples of stimulants include:

  • Caffeine
  • Prescription amphetamines
  • Cocaine

Depressants

Depressants slow you down by reducing your heart rate and pressure. Depressants may help you feel more relaxed. In some cases, they can sedate you.18

Examples of depressants include:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Prescription opiates

Does Alcohol Have Stimulant Effects?

Alcohol is often wrongly classified as a stimulant because some people experience stimulant effects early on when they drink. However, these effects eventually disappear.

Common stimulant effects of alcohol include:

  • Increased talkativeness
  • Increased energy or excitement
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increased aggression 
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased impulsiveness and lowered inhibitions
  • Feelings of happiness

Drinking alcohol causes the release of dopamine or norepinephrine. These releases can lead to stimulant effects and alcohol addiction.

High-risk drinkers tend to experience more significant stimulant effects than light drinkers. According to the NIAAA, high-risk drinking is more than four drinks per day for men and more than three drinks a day for women.

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Does Alcohol Have Depressant Effects?

Professionals officially classify alcohol as a depressant drug. It slows down brain function and neural activity.

Drinking alcohol can also overstimulate GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) pathways. GABA is a neurotransmitter that reduces energy levels and slows down the central nervous system.

It also affects memory, so drinking alcohol can cause memory loss.

Common depressant effects of alcohol include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Tiredness
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed breathing
  • Nausea

In high concentrations, severe depressant effects of alcohol include:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Coma
  • Death
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Does Alcohol Cause Depression?

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. 

Alcohol abuse can produce or worsen depression symptoms by affecting levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. It also reduces the amount of tryptophan in the body, an amino acid that helps produce serotonin, a mood-regulating hormone.

If you have an alcohol use disorder and a mental health problem, you must seek help for both conditions. 

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Treatment options for alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction/alcoholism) include:

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is a program in which people receive 24-hour structured and intensive care in a dedicated treatment facility. Inpatient treatment is also called residential treatment.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatments are part-time, non-residential addiction treatment programs. This type of treatment is less disruptive to a person’s life. During treatment, the person lives at home and can attend school or work.

Medical Detox

Medical detox is otherwise known as medically supervised withdrawal or ‘detoxification.’ Detox is when a person is weaned off a substance while under medical supervision in a hospital.

Healthcare providers manage withdrawal symptoms with medications along with:

  • Vitamins
  • Exercise
  • Sleep

Medical detox is highly effective in preventing the severe consequences associated with alcoholism. 

Therapies

Healthcare professionals use many behavioral therapies to treat 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:

Summary

Alcohol is a depressant, which slows down the body’s functions. However, it can also act as a stimulant in some cases. Alcohol alters how the brain works, leading to euphoria and increased energy. If you are struggling with alcohol use disorder, different treatments can help you manage your symptoms and begin the journey to recovery.

Updated on July 31, 2023
19 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. “Depressants.” Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 2020.

  2. “Stimulants.” Alcohol and Drug Foundation, 2020.

  3. “Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018.

  4. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2020. 

  5. Brabant, et al. “Stimulant and Motivational Effects of Alcohol: Lessons from Rodent and Primate Models.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 2014.

  6. Intensive Outpatient Treatment.” Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US), 2006. 

  7. Chung T., Martin, CS. “Subjective Stimulant and Sedative Effects of Alcohol during Early Drinking Experiences Predict Alcohol Involvement in Treated Adolescents.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2009.

  8. DiSalvo D. “What Alcohol Really Does to Your Brain.” Forbes Magazine, 2015.

  9. Hendler, Reuben A., et al. “Stimulant and Sedative Effects of Alcohol.” SpringerLink, Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2011.

  10. King et al. “Rewarding, Stimulant, and Sedative Alcohol Responses and Relationship to Future Binge Drinking.” Archives of General Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011.

  11. Kuria et al. “The Association between Alcohol Dependence and Depression before and after Treatment for Alcohol Dependence.” ISRN Psychiatry, International Scholarly Research Network, 2012.

  12. McKay and iller-Sturmhofel. “Treating Alcoholism as a Chronic Disease: Approaches to Long-Term Continuing Care.” Alcohol Research & Health: the Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2011

  13. “Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.

  14. “What Types of Alcohol Treatment Are Available?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020.

  15. Trevisan et al.Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2020.

  16. Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 2016.

  17.  “Prescription Stimulants DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018.

  18. “Prescription CNS Depressants DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018.

  19. Pompili et al. “Suicidal behavior and alcohol abuse.” International journal of environmental research and public health, 2010.

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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