May 9, 2023

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

A woman looks out a widow to represent the question: is alcohol a stimulant?.

170 million U.S. adults reported using alcohol in 2021, according to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Alcohol delivers mixed effects, leading many people to ask, “Is alcohol a depressant or a stimulant?”

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Today, we’ll examine this issue and explore questions like, “Is alcohol a downer or an upper”, “Is alcohol a stimulant”, and “Is alcohol a sedative”.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant?

Although alcohol is known as a depressant, it can also exhibit mild stimulant properties. 

Consuming small amounts of alcohol can boost energy levels and heart rate while lowering inhibitions. However, larger amounts of alcohol can slow down the body as the depressant effects take hold.

When you drink small quantities of alcohol, it triggers the release of dopamine in the brain, which is a neurotransmitter that contributes to positive mood and pleasure. As a result, you may feel stimulated and energized. In addition to this, alcohol also increases heart rate and may even lead to aggression in some cases. These are typical effects of stimulants.

The stimulant effects of alcohol can be felt when BAC (blood alcohol concentration) levels reach around 0.05 mg per liter. But once BAC levels reach 0.08 mg per liter, the stimulant effects are replaced by the depressant effects. In most of the United States, a BAC level of 0.08 mg per liter signifies that you are legally impaired to drive.

Alcohol falls into a separate category altogether. Some substances, like alcohol, are classified as depressants or stimulants but can produce effects of both.

Therefore, while alcohol can produce stimulant effects, particularly in lower doses, it is primarily classified as a psychotropic CNS depressant, and its clinical effects are that of a depressant substance. Psychotropic drugs, like alcohol, have the ability to alter your mental state.

After triggering stimulant effects, alcohol slows the CNS (central nervous system), resulting in decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and mental clarity.

a man is looking down with his hands in his pockets to represent the question: is alcohol a simulant?.

What is a Stimulant?

A CNS stimulant is a type of substance that enhances activity in the central nervous system, resulting in increased alertness and energy levels.

Various types of stimulants exist, including cocaine, caffeine, and amphetamine, which are present in prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin.

Common side effects of stimulant use include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, feelings of jitteriness, heightened talkativeness, and improved mood.

Stimulants are often colloquially referred to as uppers.

What is a Depressant?

Substances that suppress activity in the central nervous system are known as depressants or downers. They can induce feelings of sleepiness and relaxation upon consumption, and higher doses can have sedative effects.

Common side effects of depressant use include low blood pressure, reduced heart rate, feelings of relaxation, and drowsiness.

Examples of depressants include prescription antidepressants, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, marijuana, ketamine, and heroin.

Alcohol’s Depressant Effects

The depressant effects of alcohol can induce side effects similar to those caused by other depressants, including:

  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Altered perceptions
  • Loss of coordination
  • Memory loss
  • And impaired judgment

Consuming large amounts of alcohol can result in slowed reaction times, sleepiness, disorientation, and sedation.

Higher doses of alcohol can also reduce the production of dopamine, which can lead to feelings of listlessness or sadness.

Drinking too much alcohol can depress the central nervous system to the point of alcohol poisoning, respiratory failure, coma, or death. Untreated alcohol poisoning (alcohol overdose) can be fatal.

Heavy drinking can also affect neurotransmitters such as glutamate and dopamine, in addition to enhancing the effects of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. Dopamine and glutamate are responsible for pleasure and reward, as well as memory, decision-making, and overall brain function. Chronic alcohol abuse can cause permanent changes to these chemical brain messengers.

Different for Everyone

Many variables influence the effects of alcohol, including:

  • The extent of alcohol abuse
  • Duration of alcohol abuse
  • Tolerance
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Body chemistry
a woman is looking out a window while drinking coffee to represent alcohol stimulant effects.

Why Is Alcohol Considered a Depressant?

Alcohol is classified as a depressant because it slows down the central nervous system and overall brain function. This effect is achieved by enhancing the activity of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter that acts as a chemical messenger in the brain. The result is a sense of relaxation, which is why many people turn to alcohol as a means of coping with stress or anxiety.

Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, reaching out for help is an important step towards recovery. At Gratitude Lodge, located in Southern California, we provide specialized treatment programs for alcohol addiction.

Our pet-friendly treatment centers located in Newport Beach and Long Beach offer a range of addiction recovery services, including supervised medical detox and individualized treatment plans tailored to your unique needs. Our goal is to provide a safe and supportive environment where you can focus on your recovery and achieve lasting sobriety.

Whether you have been drinking alcohol as prescribed or abusing it recreationally, our team of addiction specialists can help you move beyond alcohol use disorder. We offer a range of evidence-based interventions, including:

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Psychotherapy
  • Group counseling
  • And family therapy

Our holistic approach to addiction recovery also includes a focus on mindfulness, nutrition, and physical wellness.

At Gratitude Lodge, our goal is to equip you with the tools and strategies you need to maintain lasting sobriety. When you complete your treatment program, we provide ongoing support and aftercare planning to help you transition back into your daily life with confidence.

If you are ready to take the first step towards recovery from alcohol addiction, contact our admissions team at 888-861-1658. We are here to help you every step of the way.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Russe MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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