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Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant?

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Is alcohol a stimulant or depressant? This might seem like a simple question with an easy either/or answer. However, as is often the case when discussing substance abuse, the truth is a bit more complicated than it may originally appear. 

Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant?

OK, let’s jump right into today’s topic: Is alcohol a stimulant or depressant?

The short answer is that it’s classified as a depressant. The longer answer, as we alluded to in the introduction to today’s post, is that not all of its effects are what you’d expect from a depressant.

When a person consumes alcohol, the initial effects are akin to what occurs when someone uses a stimulant. Over time, those effects fade away and are replaced by symptoms that are consistent with a depressant.

How Alcohol Acts Like a Stimulant

Stimulants such as caffeine, cocaine, and amphetamine speed up certain functions within the central nervous system. This leads to effects such as increased energy, elevated mood, diminished inhibitions, and greater talkativeness.

Initially, alcohol prompts a similar response. It’s far from uncommon for someone to “come out of their shell” or become more gregarious than usual once they’ve had a drink or two. This type of response is why many people would be likely to select the first option when asked “Is alcohol a stimulant or depressant?”

How Alcohol Acts Like a Depressant

As a person continues to drink, and as the alcohol that’s already in their system continues to make its presence felt, their early uptick in mood and energy will begin to subside. After some time has passed, effects such as poor coordination, slurred speech, and diminished cognition will become more prevalent.

It’s important to pause here to note that “depressant” isn’t the same as “depressing.” Yes, people can and do become morose when they’ve been drinking heavily, but the depressant nature of alcohol refers to how it inhibits the ability of neurons to pass messages throughout the central nervous system. 

These slowed internal processes are what bring about the physical and cognitive impairments that we mentioned above.

Other Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol’s impact on the central nervous system, and the resultant temporary changes in mood, energy, and mental dexterity, are by no means the only effect that this substance can have on a person’s body and mind.

Similar to what occurs when someone misuses other substances (including either stimulants or depressants), people who continue to abuse alcohol put themselves at risk of myriad negative effects. 

Even one episode of alcohol intoxication can be harmful, primarily due to impaired judgment and coordination. These effects can lead to slips and falls, automobile accidents, fights, and reckless behaviors.

The Long-Term Impact of Alcohol Abuse

The longer a person continues to drink, the greater their risk becomes of long-term and potentially irreversible damage. 

Sustained alcohol abuse has been linked to several physical concerns, including:

  • Heart damage
  • Hypertension
  • Fatty liver, hepatitis, and cirrhosis
  • Digestive problems
  • Increased risk of several types of cancer
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Malnutrition
  • Stroke

Alcohol can also cause considerable psychological, social, and economic harm, such as:

  • Onset or intensification of co-occurring mental illness
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Conflicts with loved ones
  • Ruined relationships
  • Poor performance in school or at work
  • Difficulty finding and keeping a job
  • Inability to maintain financial independence
  • Being arrested, fined, and/or jailed
  • Social withdrawal or ostracization

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol-related causes are responsible for more than 140,000 deaths in the United States every year. This makes alcohol abuse the nation’s fourth leading preventable cause of death.

How to Avoid Alcohol-Related Harm

The best way to avoid incurring alcohol-related harm is to significantly curtail your alcohol intake or quit drinking altogether. Of course, depending on the nature of your relationship with alcohol, this may not be easy to accomplish.

The good news is that alcohol addiction is a treatable condition. With proper care, ongoing support, and a concerted effort on your part, you can learn to manage your urges and end your alcohol abuse for good. The many benefits of professional care for alcohol addiction include:

  • Discovering your triggers, which are the circumstances or situations that can push you back into active alcohol abuse
  • Learning how to avoid your triggers or respond to them in a productive manner, without resorting to substance abuse
  • Replacing maladaptive thought patterns with healthier ways of viewing the world and making decisions
  • Developing better stress-management and conflict-resolution capabilities
  • Getting help for co-occurring mental health concerns
  • Forming a personal support network that you can lean on during difficult times
  • Understanding how to rebuild relationships that were damaged due to your compulsive alcohol abuse

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction in Nashville

Nashville Treatment Solutions offers several levels of outpatient care to help adults whose lives have been disrupted by alcohol addiction. We also offer a detox program for those who need professional help to get through withdrawal safely and with as little discomfort as possible.

At Nashville Treatment Solutions, patients receive the therapeutic support they need to identify and address the root causes of their struggles with alcohol abuse. We understand that alcohol addiction impacts everyone in a unique manner, and we are committed to working closely with each person to ensure that they have a truly customized experience while they are in our care.

The path of recovery from alcohol addiction can be challenging. But when you begin your journey at Nashville Treatment Solutions, we’ll help you develop skills and strategies that can support you every step of the way.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.