Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant?

The effects of alcohol can vary wildly from person to person. Some get energized and rowdy while others become weepy or aggressive. If you’ve ever wondered “Is alcohol a stimulant or a depressant?” the answer is alcohol is a little bit of both. 

The Difference Between Stimulants and Depressants

Whether alcohol is a stimulant or a depressant has nothing to do with how drinking makes you feel. A celebratory drink with friends can put you in high spirits, while a solitudinous sip after bad news can leave you somber and contemplative. It doesn’t matter. A drug’s classification as a stimulant or depressant (yes, alcohol is a drug) is solely determined by how it affects the body. 

What is a Stimulant?

Also referred to as “uppers”, stimulants are a class of drugs that can make users feel energized, alert, or confident. Stimulants affect the central nervous system (CNS) and work by speeding up the messages between the brain and the body. They target specific neurotransmitters and increase the levels sent to the brain. Stimulants are also considered to be a psychoactive drug for this reason. Physiological responses typically include an elevation in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.

Even legal stimulants have the ability to be dangerous or addictive. Caffeine, for example, is one of the most commonly used drugs, with 90% of Americans consuming at least one caffeinated drink per day. Widely popular around the world and available in a variety of forms, this legal drug can result in unpleasant withdrawal effects that are both physical and psychological. Side effects of stimulants can include depression, anxiety, insomnia, or restlessness. Heavy or prolonged use can be fatal as a result of heart issues (irregular heartbeat, failure) or seizures.  

What is a Depressant?

A common misconception about depressants or “downers” is that they are related to depression or perhaps cause it. This class of drugs has nothing to do with mood. They are actually named so because they suppress the central nervous system – the complete opposite of stimulants. Depressants slow down the messages sent between the brain and the body. Lowered neurotransmission levels interfere with nerve receptors, thus reducing overall brain activity. 

Depressants primarily affect concentration and coordination. Substances like alcohol or GHB or marijuana will cause slower reaction times and impaired motor functions. Large doses can result in drowsiness, unconsciousness, and vomiting while long-term effects can include permanent cognitive and memory impairment, heart and liver damage, lung infections, and even an increased risk of cancer.     

So Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant?

Alcohol can be tricky to identify since it has characteristics of both stimulants and depressants. Although formally classified as a depressant, the line isn’t black and white. 

The key differences between stimulants and depressants are the specific chemical alterations they make within the brain. Stimulants affect dopamine while depressants affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which decreases neuron activity. Since alcohol targets neither of those chemicals, alcohol doesn’t fit neatly into one classification or the other. 

The effects of alcohol on the body change depending on the stage of consumption, which also contributes to the confusion surrounding alcohol’s drug classification. In the initial stage of drinking alcohol, it is found to act as a stimulant, increasing levels of dopamine within the brain. Once the drink fully enters the system, it acts more as a depressant. Studies have associated this change in bodily response to the changes of BAC (blood alcohol content) levels. Rising BAC levels are energizing and cause an increase in neurotransmitter activity while falling BAC levels slow them down.

The Dangerous Potential of Alcohol Abuse

There is still much that scientists and doctors don’t know about alcohol. There have been hundreds of studies on this substance, and even to this day, it is unknown why alcohol affects some differently than others. One thing that is certain, however, is how devastating prolonged alcohol abuse can be on the body. 

Cognitive impairment caused by alcohol is often the direct culprit of otherwise avoidable accidents and mishaps. Internally, the risk of permanent organ damage is high and the long-term consequences can be dire. Just because a drug is legal doesn’t mean that it doesn’t carry risk. An estimated 2.8 million deaths occur worldwide each year. Don’t become a number, if you or a loved one is in need of alcohol detox or treatment for alcoholism, contact Level Up Lake Worth today.

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