Alcohol is categorized as a CNS (central nervous system) depressant, yet explaining why alcohol is a depressant and not a stimulant is slightly more complicated.
Alcohol, dependent on how much is consumed and the person’s reaction to it, can result in both stimulating and sedating effects. For example, aggressive behavior and an increase in heart rate and a sudden boost in mood or energy are some of the effects linked with stimulants, yet cognitive and motor skill impairment is characterized as depressants.
When most people think about consuming alcohol, it makes sense that most people assume that it is a type of stimulant. However, it is actually a depressant and this has to do with the way that it works.
Alcohol works in the way of mimicking the inhibitory neurotransmitter known as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). These are the neurotransmitters that send specific messages to your brain that results in relaxation, mood improvements, and sedation. These are effects can be compared to depressant medications like benzodiazepines, that operate in a very similar manner.
What You Need To Know About The Depressant And Stimulant Effects Of Alcohol
When an individual is inhibited, then they might become more open to doing things they usually wouldn’t do like dancing or doing something slightly crazy. This is when many people may assume that alcohol is, in fact, a stimulant.
Studies have displayed that the “stimulant” effects associated with alcohol might be linked with a dopamine “reward” system. When a person consumes alcohol, they might start to experience feelings of euphoria, happiness and wellbeing.
These types of effects often occur due to an increase in dopamine neurotransmitters inside the brain.
Research has indicated that the euphoric and stimulant effects may occur as BACs (blood alcohol concentrations) rise, which usually happens after one to two drinks. As the BACs increase to higher levels, the sedative effects become more prominent.
The stimulant effects linked to alcohol include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Excitatory behaviour
- An improvement in mood
- The Depressant effects linked to alcohol include:
- Slowed breathing
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination or motor skills
- Cognitive impairment
- Reduction in anxiety
How Is Alcohol Described As A Stimulant?
Overall, alcohol is more of a depressant than a stimulant due mainly to the inhibitory effects it has on the brain. However, studies have revealed that alcohol might affect other types of neurotransmitters inside the brain, like dopamine, glutamate, and serotonin.
An increase in dopamine levels has been known to result in typical stimulatory and euphoric effects that become apparent after the person has had a few drinks. These are effects that can result in the behaviors that other stimulant medications are influenced by. For this reason, alcohol actually does exhibit a few stimulant effects which will depend on the individual and the amount they have had to drink.
When a person drinks a couple of alcoholic beverages it can cause this individual to become more social. However, after consuming multiple drinks, depressant effects linked to alcohol will become a lot more obvious. The depressant effects may become dangerous or severe in the case of an overdose or alcohol toxicity.
The symptoms and signs of overdose and toxicity can include extreme sedation, slowed breathing, and slurred speech. In cases that are more severe, this can even lead to death or a coma.
In the majority of cases, when alcohol has been consumed in a responsible manner, the person will usually experience a mild stimulating effect when their blood-alcohol concentrations start to rise or depressant effects when higher blood-concentration levels are reached. Based on these activities, alcohol is able to produce both sedative and stimulant effects.