Alcohol affects people both as a sedative and as a stimulant. Depending on such factors as the makeup of one’s body chemistry and how much one has drunk, one’s response to alcohol can vary. Those who have an alcohol use disorder tend to experience more severe and intense reactions when they drink. Still, the question remains—is alcohol a stimulant or a depressant?

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

It is easy to see why some people think of alcohol as a stimulant. After all, it does have some stimulant effects. For instance, it raises one’s heart rate and boosts energy. It makes one feel giddy and cheerful and increases their self-confidence.

However, these are temporary effects, and the result of the brain releasing dopamine. In the final analysis, alcohol is not a stimulant.

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

The short answer is yes, alcohol is scientifically classified as a depressant. Evidence of its depressant effects includes slurred speech, slower reaction times, disorientation, forgetfulness, and the tendency to “pass out.”

Drinking to excess brings out the most intense depressant effects of alcohol, as the body begins to suppress the release of dopamine. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lethargy often hound those who drink to excess.

How Alcohol Affects the Brain and Body

Alcohol can damage both the brain and the body. In addition to causing real and lasting brain damage, alcohol can cause changes in behavior, mood, memory, judgment, coordination, and sleep patterns. Appetite, heart rate, blood pressure, and many other bodily functions are also affected by excessive alcohol intake.

The Brain

Biologically speaking, the brain breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde before converting it into acetic acid. Acetaldehyde is toxic to the brain. Alcohol also affects the brain by changing the structure and function of nerve cells known as neurons.

Neurons send electrical signals throughout the body with synapses, which are tiny gaps between neurons. When alcohol enters the brain, it binds to these synapses and blocks the flow of information. Memory loss, poor judgment, impaired thinking skills, and other cognitive impairments soon follow.

The Body

The body metabolizes alcohol by breaking it down into acetaldehyde, then into carbon dioxide and water. Again, acetaldehyde is toxic to the brain.

When drinking, alcohol mixes with the stomach’s gastric juices and digestive enzymes. It then moves through the small intestine, where it mixes with bile and pancreatic juice, then the large intestine, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream.

Once inside the bloodstream, alcohol can affect every cell in the body. This is where damage to the heart, pancreas, liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, and eyes can occur.

Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder

Moving past the question of whether alcohol is a stimulant or a depressant, it’s important to note that many people can drink casually, stopping at just one or two. But for others, one drink can be all that’s needed to begin a downward spiral into alcohol use disorder. That is when alcohol use disorder treatment is needed.

Some of the signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Drinking to get drunk
  • Blacking out while drunk
  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking in the morning
  • Experiencing hangover symptoms when not drinking
  • Unsuccessful attempts at “cutting back”
  • Needing to drink more alcohol to get the same effects
  • Loss of interest in non-alcohol-related activities
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences

If someone has noticed one or more of these signs in either themselves or a loved one, it may be a good idea to consider rehabilitation. After all, alcohol use disorder is a chronic, relapsing disease. Some of the longer-term consequences of alcohol abuse include conflicts in relationships, legal troubles, physical health issues, and poor academic or work performance.

Additionally, as long as someone continues drinking, they run the risk of developing physical dependence and experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Some of these include anxiety, sweating, fatigue and muscle pain when they suddenly stop drinking.

Long-term alcohol use can worsen the symptoms of an underlying mental health disorder, particularly depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder. This dynamic is known in medical circles as “co-occurring disorders,” since the alcohol use disorder exists with the mental health disorder.

The truly frightening aspect of co-occurring disorders is that alcohol abuse feeds the mental health disorder and vice-versa, resulting in a vicious circle.

Find Treatment for an Alcohol Use Disorder in Knoxville, TN

The best treatment programs not only get to work on the physical dependence one may have developed to alcohol or drugs, they also seek to find the root cause of the addiction. The medical detox and addiction treatment center of Discovery Place can help if you are ready to take control of your life and beat addiction.

We are located in the calming, slower-paced countryside of Tennessee, and offer quality, hands-on care. If you’re wondering whether alcohol is a stimulant or a depressant, we pride ourselves on our accessible communication standards.

Contact us today.


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