Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Is alcohol a stimulant or depressant? Stimulants excite the nervous system and may boost energy, while depressants slow down the nervous system and cause relaxation. Some substances like alcohol have both stimulant and depressant effects [1]. Alcohol may have initial effects that mimic those of stimulants. However, it mainly slows the body down, making it a depressant [2]. Alcohol slows the heart rate and breathing and dulls reflexes and response time through interactions with the central nervous system (CNS). In other words, it depresses multiple systems in the body that rely on communication with the CNS to function correctly. As a result, alcohol can cause slurred speech, disturbed perceptions, distorts judgment, lessens inhibitions, and an inability to react quickly.

Drinking alcohol alters someone’s behavior, mood, and neuropsychological functioning. For most people, alcohol consumption is a way to relax; however, the effects of alcohol and hangovers can cause anxiety and increase stress. The co-occurrence of alcohol and anxiety disorders is relatively common. The research found that 20% of those with social anxiety have an alcohol misuse problem [3]. Alcohol is considered a CNS depressant, which slows down neural activity and brain functioning. Alcohol does this by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). If someone consumes too much alcohol too fast, they can depress the central nervous system to a point of coma, respiratory failure, or death.

Is Alcohol a Depressant
Is alcohol a depressant? Yes, that means any amount someone drinks can make them more likely to get the blues. Drinking a lot can harm the brain and lead to depression.

People who don’t respond to alcohol’s sedating effects as strongly as others may be at a heightened risk of developing alcoholism or alcohol use disorder. They drink more to compensate for the fact that they don’t immediately feel anything, increasing their chances of experiencing the negative side effects. Alcohol poisoning, or alcohol overdose, can cause even more severe depressant effects, including an inability to feel pain, unconsciousness, slow and irregular breathing, cold, clammy, and blue skin, and possibly even death. These reactions additionally depend on how much a person consumes and how quickly.

What are Depressants?

Depressants do not necessarily make someone feel depressed. The term refers to the way a substance affects the central nervous system. Depressants slow down or depress the function of the CNS. They do this by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA slows down messages between the brain and the body, producing a calming effect. Responses produced by the production of this neurotransmitter can range from feeling calm and relaxed to extremes such as falling unconscious.

Depressants can also affect concentration, coordination, and the individual’s capacity to respond to situations. Physically, they can decrease the heart rate and lower blood pressure. There is a range of depressant substances that include opiates, cannabis, tranquilizers, and sedatives. While all depressant substances are able to reduce central nervous system (CNS) activity, they differ in the extent to which they do so.

The milder effects of depressants make them useful for managing conditions such as acute stress, anxiety, and insomnia, and they are prescribed for some medicinal purposes. However, depressants can be addictive and life-threatening if used inappropriately or without medical advice or other appropriate guidance.

Depressant Effects of Alcohol

As we’ve already mentioned, depressants slow down the central nervous system, which can cause someone to slur words and react slower to things. It also slows down the heart rate and decreases blood pressure.


But what are the other depressant effects of alcohol? They include:

  • Lowered inhibition
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • Decrease in coordination

Alcohol can help the brain produce more dopamine, but that’s only temporary. If someone drinks large amounts of alcohol, it can actually have the opposite effect and cause the person to suppress dopamine production. As a result, the person might feel:

  • Listless
  • Sad
  • Hopeless
  • Depressed
  • Emotional

You might already know of the dangers of alcohol poisoning. This can happen when you exceed a BAC (Blood/Breath Alcohol Concentration) level of 0.2 mg/l. In this case, the depressant effects of alcohol can be so extreme that you can slip into a coma or even die.

Side Effects Of Alcohol And Other Depressants

In addition to alcohol, there are many other depressant drugs. Sometimes referred to as “downers,” these are drugs that are regularly prescribed to reduce symptoms of panic, anxiety and sleep disorders due to their tranquilizing effects. The most common depressants (prescription and illicit) include:

Abusing depressant medications and alcohol can result in both short-term and long-term effects, some of which can be irreversible. While many people use depressants because of the relaxing effects that these substances temporarily produce, the severity of the negative effects far outweighs any positive ones. 

Side effects of depressant abuse include:

  • Dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Unconsciousness
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing
  • Nausea
  • Seizures

Is Alcohol a Depressant
Is alcohol a depressant or a sedative? Alcohol can produce stimulating effects, but it is a depressant. Alcohol affects the central nervous system (CNS), impacting the way the brain communicates with the nerves in the body.

There are a number of non-physical effects of depressant abuse as well. Many depressant abusers experience problems with employment, friends, finances, and family. Additionally, the effects that alcohol induces can easily put others at risk and in danger. Activities such as driving the influence (DUI), participating in unprotected sex, and engaging in physical altercations may occur.

Drinking too much can lead to respiratory failure, alcohol poisoning, coma, or death. If someone experiences an overdose, they may experience vomiting, mental confusion, unconsciousness, slow heart rate, bluish skin, low body temperature, and irregular breathing, among other symptoms.

Some long-term effects of alcohol misuse include:

Prolonged alcohol consumption is also closely linked to cancer and suicide.

Does Alcohol Cause Depression?

The relationship between alcohol and depression in terms of mental health is complicated [4]. Just because a drug is considered a depressant doesn’t mean it directly causes depression. Being classified as a depressant only means a substance has depressant effects on the CNS.

Still, alcoholism and depression are closely related. Depression is known to increase the risk of alcohol and drug abuse as some people will abuse substances to cope with their depression. This is one reason why so many individuals with alcoholism also struggle from depression or other co-occurring mental disorders.

There is also evidence that heavy drinking can alter the brain, impair the production of vital neurotransmitters, and cause the development of depression. Whether alcoholism or depression comes first, it is crucial to provide these people with dual-diagnosis treatment that addresses both disorders simultaneously.

How Are They Diagnosed?

The doctor will likely conduct a psychological evaluation and a physical exam. These tests help them assess your risk factors for either condition. This multi-test approach will help them rule out other conditions that might account for the symptoms. Moreover, if an individual is diagnosed with one of these conditions, the doctor may ask about the symptoms of the other. This is a common part of diagnosis because both so frequently happen together. Alcohol rehab dual diagnosis is a great way to receive the help you are waiting for.

Alcohol and Antidepressants

Self-medicating is using alcohol as a medicine to cope with depression. 

If you do this, you may be at risk of deepening the feelings of depression. You may also rely on alcohol more. If this becomes your way of coping, it can lead to a dependence on alcohol. If you have depression, you are more likely to drink heavily.

Both alcohol and antidepressants can make you tired, less alert, and uncoordinated. So unless you want to be stumbling around before you keel over into bed, mixing alcohol and antidepressants is a bad idea.

Plus, alcohol can make antidepressant drugs less effective, which could cause a bout of depression to slide over into thoughts of suicide.

Potentially fatal liver problems and spikes in blood pressure are other excellent reasons not to mix these drugs.

It’s best to avoid combining antidepressants and alcohol. It may worsen your symptoms, and it can be dangerous. If you mix antidepressants and alcohol:

You may feel more depressed or anxious. Drinking can counteract the benefits of your antidepressant medication, making your symptoms more difficult to treat. Alcohol may seem to improve your mood in the short term, but its overall effect increases symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Side effects may be worse if you also take another medication. Many medications can cause problems when taken with alcohol — including anti-anxiety medications, sleep medications and prescription pain medications. Side effects may worsen if you drink alcohol and take one of these drugs along with an antidepressant.

You may be at risk of a dangerous reaction if you take MAOIs. When combined with certain alcoholic beverages and foods, antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can cause a dangerous spike in blood pressure. If you take an MAOI, be sure you know what’s safe to eat and drink, and which alcoholic beverages are likely to cause a reaction.

Your thinking and alertness may be impaired. The combination of antidepressants and alcohol will affect your judgment, coordination, motor skills, and reaction time more than alcohol alone. Some combinations may make you sleepy. This can impair your ability to drive or do other tasks that require focus and attention.

You may become sedated or feel drowsy. A few antidepressants cause sedation and drowsiness, and so does alcohol. When taken together, the combined effect can be intensified [5].

Finding the Next Level of Treatment At We Level Up NJ

is alcohol a depressant
What works for you might not work for someone else, so know there are alternative programs available.

So is alcohol a depressant or a stimulant, one thing’s for sure, alcohol abuse can have harmful effects on your life. And long-term substance abuse (including drinking) can cause permanent damage to the brain and body. If you’ve tried to quit in the past but ended up drinking or using, that’s a clear sign you need professional help. Get them the safest help they need and deserve. Our team at We Level Up NJ specializes in creating an ideal environment and providing effective therapies.

Sources:

[1] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21560041/

[2] NIH – https://medlineplus.gov/alcohol.html

[3] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860396/

[4] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658562/

[5] We Level UpDrug Addiction and Depression