Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant?

Alcohol is a widely available and highly addictive substance. It is one of the most popular psychoactive substances, with most American adults consuming alcohol regularly.

The difference between social drinking, binge drinking, and alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder can sometimes become blurred, mainly because alcohol is socially acceptable. So, is alcohol a stimulant or depressant?

Alcohol creates different effects. For some people, alcohol creates aggression and anger and causes them to turn into angry drunks. For others, it can result in a calming effect.

How alcohol causes someone to feel is unique to each body type, age, gender, and other factors. Because alcohol can cause so many different reactions, it can be difficult to understand what type of central nervous system reaction is caused.

So, is alcohol a stimulant or depressant? You may wonder whether alcohol is a stimulant or because it can create both types of intoxicating effects. If you drink alcohol, you may experience both stimulating effects and depressant ones.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [1], alcohol produces both stimulant and depressant effects in humans. These two seemingly opposite effects are central to the understanding of much of the literature on alcohol abuse and misuse.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant
Is alcohol a stimulant? Stimulants excite your nervous system and may boost your energy, while depressants slow down your nervous system and relax you. Some substances like alcohol have both stimulant and depressant effects.

With continued alcohol consumption, the initial stimulant effects decline, and depressant or sedative effects begin to develop. This is because continued drinking of alcohol can suppress dopamine production while enhancing the effects of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter that reduces or blocks nerve activity in the brain.

It can be either of these effects that attracts someone to alcohol and traps them in the cycle of addiction. Understanding the effect alcohol has on the brain is an important consideration when deciding on a substance addiction treatment center.

What are Stimulants?

Stimulants vary from mild substances like caffeine to much more powerful prescription drugs like amphetamines and illicit drugs such as cocaine and meth. They are called stimulants because they are substances that boost the functioning of the central nervous system (CNS). Stimulants do this by triggering the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine has many functions within the brain, including boosting mood and motivation.

For instance, the brain may release dopamine when we eat or even see the food we crave. This can result in feelings of satisfaction and pleasure. Unfortunately, dopamine can also increase heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure.

Although some level of dopamine in the brain is vital for our well-being, high levels of dopamine may cause aggression, anxiety, poor impulse control, and risk-taking behavior.

While using stimulants may initially produce feelings of well-being, large amounts and long-term use, which can generate high dopamine levels, can result in anxiety, insomnia, aggression, and paranoia.

Some stimulants may interact with dopamine in a way that their use becomes habit-forming or addicting. Consequently, while they may be involved in producing some positive feelings, stimulants can have a much more serious and often adverse effect on the central nervous system [2].

Common stimulant drugs include:

Why is Alcohol a Stimulant?

The most commonly reported stimulant effects of alcohol are:

  • Feelings of increased energy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid respiration
  • Feelings of aggression
  • Increased confidence

Alcohol can reduce the quality of sleep a person gets, similar to what stimulant does. Even though drinking alcohol can make someone feel tired and sleepy, drinking before bed leads to fewer hours of restorative sleep, frequent bathroom trips, interrupted circadian rhythms, and breathing problems. Moreover, people who suffer from alcoholism often encounter the symptoms of insomnia.

While these effects can be seen in anyone drinking alcohol, they tend to show more strongly in men than women. However, the reverse is also true; women tend to experience the depressant effects of alcohol more than men.

Dangers of Stimulants and Depressants

Both depressants or stimulants are dangerous for different reasons, and alcohol produces both stimulant and sedating effects in humans.

Stimulants

  • Boost the systems in the body, basically pushing the body into overdrive.
  • Having higher blood pressure and an increased heart rate can put unnecessary strain on the body.
  • Stimulant drug overdose can cause heart attacks, arrhythmias, and other problems by overworking the organs and causing heart attacks and seizures 

Depressants

  • It slows the body’s processes down in certain cases to the point that breathing and heart activity stops.
  • During depressant substance overdose, the body’s automatic processes, like respiration, and heart rate, start to slow down and eventually stop altogether. For obvious reasons, this is extremely dangerous and often life-threatening.

Examples of depressant drugs include:

  • Opioids such as heroin, morphine, codeine, and hydrocodone
  • Barbiturate medications
  • Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan

Mixing Stimulants and Depressants 

Combining both is dangerous. While some people mix uppers and downers, thinking it balances the negative effects of each, it actually increases the risks of both.

Dangers of Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol truly becomes dangerous when someone drinks excessively or when someone experiences alcohol poisoning. If someone is not an alcoholic, drinking a glass of wine one night a week with dinner is not usually going to cause problems. However, if someone is an alcoholic or drinks a bottle of wine each night for weeks or months, this will result in damage that may not be able to correct. If someone drinks too much, you could risk alcohol poisoning as well. Too much drinking causes the body to shut down bef0ore it can metabolize or process the alcohol.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant
Is alcohol a stimulant? Alcohol may have initial effects that mimic those of stimulants, however, alcohol mainly slows the body down, making it a depressant.

Here are some common symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Vomiting in excess
  • Bouts with severe confusion
  • Prolonged breaths (under eight during one minute)
  • Skin that begins to turn a pale gray or blue color
  • Passing out or the inability to remain conscious
  • Seizures
  • Death

If anyone ever has these symptoms, calling an ambulance immediately is necessary. If the individual does not get to a medical facility quickly, the alcohol could slow their body down so that it stops functioning altogether.

Mixing Alcohol And Stimulants

Combining stimulant drugs and alcohol is never a good idea, whether it’s prescription or illegal stimulants. Alcohol functions as both central nervous system depressants and stimulants. While alcohol does have some stimulant effects, it’s scientifically classified as a depressant. A person will typically feel the stimulant effects at a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of under 0.05mg/l. But once they go over 0.08mg/l, the depressant effects will take over.

Due to the effect, the side effects of both substances can be increased rather than canceling each other out. In addition, the use of alcohol can also enhance the concentration of drugs in the system of the person, which makes it more likely they will overdose. Specific risks of mixing alcohol and stimulants include:

Alcohol and ADHD Medications

When alcohol is combined with a stimulant such as amphetamine, it can cause the person to consume more alcohol than normal because the stimulant is masking the effects of intoxication. The result can be alcohol poisoning and drug overdose. Combining alcohol with ADHD medications can also make the individual more likely to experience heart problems, stroke, or seizures. Even the mild symptoms of mixing alcohol with prescription stimulants can include nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

Alcohol and Cocaine

Cocaine and alcohol are an all-too-common combination. Individuals may mix alcohol and cocaine to increase their high or to help them come down from the stimulant effects of the cocaine. However, combining alcohol and cocaine makes the risk of sudden death twenty times greater than it is with the use of either substance alone. In addition, cocaine and alcohol used together can increase the chances of violent behavior, and it’s an unpredictable combination that can affect someone different every time they use it.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) [3], researchers have established that cocaethylene, the ethyl ester of benzoylecgonine, forms in the liver when using alcohol and cocaine together. The individual may experience more intense pleasure than if using either substance alone. Still, they will also be exposed to the combined toxicities of cocaine and the even more potent cocaethylene.

Alcohol and Meth

Methamphetamine or crystal meth may be one of the most dangerous stimulants and drugs there is. After fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine, methamphetamine is the fourth deadliest drug in America. Alcohol is among the most used drugs, plays a large role in many societies and cultures around the world and greatly impacts public health [4].

People who use both meth and alcohol simultaneously may drink more alcohol to feel more intoxicated or feel its usual effects. This leads to alcohol toxicity, but there are treatment options to help people overcome co-occurring alcohol and meth disorders.

Meth can cause dental decay damage called Meth mouth, extreme weight loss, skin damage and facial scarring (from picking the skin), heart failure, and psychosis. In addition, when someone combines multiple drugs, known as poly-drug use, they are increasing their odds of suffering fatal overdoses—especially when alcohol is involved.

Finding the Next Level of Treatment At We Level Up NJ

So is alcohol a stimulant or a depressant, one thing’s for sure, addiction to this substance can have harmful effects on your life. And long-term substance abuse (including drinking) can cause permanent damage to the brain. 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.

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Sources:

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

[2] SAMHSA – https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf

[3] SAMHSA – https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/SAMHSA_Digital_Download/PEP21-02-01-004.pdf

[4] NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/alcohol

[5] We Level UpAddiction Treatment