Is Alcohol a Depressant or Stimulant? – Alcohol is technically categorized as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, but the answer is a little bit more complicated than that.
Alcohol, depending on the level consumed and a person’s individual reaction, can cause both sedating and stimulating effects. For example, increased heart rate and aggressive behavior are two effects associated with a stimulant, but motor skill and cognitive impairment are characteristics of a depressant.
Some researchers believe that persons who are at a heightened risk of developing an alcohol use disorder do not respond as dramatically to alcohol’s sedative effects as others do. In fact, alcoholism is more strongly associated with a greater stimulatory reaction to alcohol.
Alcohol impacts the brain in a variety of ways. For one, it binds to receptors for gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) responsible for producing feelings of calm, relaxation, and sedation, as well as the suppression of breathing and heart rate. It also inhibits glutamate, a neurotransmitter that excites the central nervous system.
Is Alcohol a Depressant or Stimulant? – The Deception
In addition to its effect on GABA and glutamate, alcohol also releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical responsible for feelings of reward.
As dopamine increases, good feelings continue to emerge, and those affected may continue to drink alcohol, more or less in an effort to “chase” the dopamine high. As more alcohol is consumed, however, more depressant effects will develop.
Moreover, alcohol does not excite the nervous system, but rather, it is the excessive release of dopamine that invokes pleasurable, rewarding effects that may sometimes feel like energy. But this effect is misleading – as the person continues to drink, the central nervous system also continues to be depressed despite the presence of dopamine.
Mixing Alcohol With Drugs (Polysubstance Abuse)
Alcohol, like benzodiazepines, muscle relaxers, and sedatives are all CNS depressants – they all suppress activity in the brain and body.
When alcohol is used in conjunction with another sedating drug, the risk of life-threatening CNS depression increases. When CNS activity begins to slow down to a crawl, the threat of coma and death becomes a very real and present danger.
On the other hand, stimulants increase activity in the central nervous system and include substances such as caffeine, amphetamines, and cocaine. Some people use stimulants when drinking to decrease alcohol’s depressant effect and counteract the adverse effects of stimulants, such as anxiety, nervousness, and agitation.
Using alcohol with stimulants, however, is equally dangerous. People may continue to drink alcohol while feeling energetic and elated from stimulants (the depressant effect is essentially masked) under the erroneous belief that they are unlikely to suffer any ill consequences.
However, using alcohol with short-acting stimulants such as cocaine is especially dangerous, because alcohol’s depressant impact can continue well after the effects of the stimulant have worn off. In fact, combining alcohol and cocaine makes the risk of sudden death 20 times greater than by either substance alone.
Mixing alcohol with other stimulants such as prescription amphetamines (e.g., Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta) increases the risk of seizures and heart-related problems such as arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and cardiac arrest.
Also, continued use of alcohol while intoxicated by stimulants increases the likelihood of alcohol poisoning, a condition that can occur and be fatal in persons who reach a blood alcohol concentration of .4 or higher.
Finally, both alcohol and other psychoactive substances can invoke serious psychological effects such as major depression and anxiety, suicidal thoughts, irritability, aggression, delusions, hallucinations, and even psychosis.
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction treatment may begin at a medical detox center, where patients receive around-the-clock care and may be rendered medications to relieve highly unpleasant and possibly fatal alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
After detox, patients are encouraged to participate in one of our treatment programs and opt for either partial hospitalization (PHP) or intensive outpatient therapy. PHP offers clients most of the same therapeutic components as a residential program while allowing them more flexibility to attend to outside activities. These programs can be just as effective as residential programs, however, as they offer similar treatments, including individual therapy and group support. Conversely, outpatients enjoy even more scheduling flexibility while they meet for several therapeutic sessions at the center each week.
Why Seek Our Help?
Alcohol dependency is a grave and potentially life-threatening disease that requires long-term treatment and support. While there is no cures an alcohol use disorder, it can be effectively treated. Those who seek help and enter recovery can regain their lives and ultimately experience long-term sobriety and well-being.
Our center offers a secure, structured environment and professional medical personnel who are trained to identify and address the individual needs of each patient using an in-depth, customized approach to alcohol and addiction treatment.
Call us now to learn about our treatment options!