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Is Alcohol a Depressant?

When some people drink, alcohol boosts their energy and they become more social and talkative, while others withdraw, want to be alone, or get more emotional. It is pretty evident that alcohol use (and abuse) affects the brain and, in turn, people’s emotions and behaviors. But what exactly is going on inside of the brain when we drink? Those who get more social may think alcohol is a stimulant because of how they act after drinking. But others have the opposite effect and consider it a depressant. So what is the truth?

The long story short is that alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant, regardless of what some people might think. It may not always feel like it, especially when you’re drinking in social situations, but it has a depressing effect on your body and mind.

What is a depressant?

Depressants, such as benzos, opioids, and alcohol, slow down the brain and nervous system functioning. The word depressant does not mean someone will feel depressed when ingesting it. It does mean that alcohol slows down the speed that neurotransmitters send messages between the body and the brain, causing multiple side effects, such as a lack of coordination. While people who drink may feel extra relaxed and have lower inhibitions (they might do things they usually wouldn’t, thinking that they have “liquid courage”), these are true because their central nervous system is impaired.

In the United States, aside from alcohol, most depressants are controlled substances. Some are prescribed to help with anxiety, sleep, and prevent seizures, while others are considered street drugs. Most people have heard of the date rape drug Rohypnol. This classic example of a depressant with no medical use is sold on the streets to increase a high or used against someone without their knowledge.

Just like alcohol, other depressants cause specific effects on the body. These effects range from minor to severe and can ultimately cause death. When people mix alcohol with other types of depressants, such as opioids, they are putting their life at risk every time.

How alcohol affects the body

Did you know that alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance worldwide? It’s no wonder, considering how socially accepted it is. But many people don’t know how alcohol can affect the body. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not just a relaxant –– it has a range of impacts on different body parts. Alcohol alters mood, behavior, thoughts, and even the nervous system. People who drink heavily, even on occasion, risk putting their health and well-being in danger from the depressant-type effects alcohol has on the body and mind.

Experts at the Alcohol and Drug Foundation remind their readers that there is no safe level of drug use. The following information on the effects of depressants shows that the adverse side effects of drinking alcohol have a wide range.

These effects can occur only after taking a low dose or having one to two drinks of alcohol:

  • reduced inhibitions
  • enhanced mood
  • reduced anxiety
  • slowed reaction time
  • impaired judgment
  • slowed breathing
  • increased risk of accident or injury

Higher doses of alcohol look much different than one to two drinks:

  • impaired judgment and coordination
  • vomiting
  • irregular or shallow breathing
  • blackouts and memory loss
  • unconsciousness
  • coma
  • death

Lastly, an overdose on a depressant such as alcohol can look like this:

  • vomiting
  • awake but not responsive
  • limp body
  • pale or clammy face
  • blue fingernails or lips
  • slow breathing or not breathing at all
  • slow heartbeat
  • chocking or gurgling sounds
  • unconsciousness

Individual body mass, weight, the amount of alcohol consumed, genetics, history of use, overall health, and whether or not alcohol is combined with other substances are all factors in how a certain level of alcohol will affect one person versus another. Someone with increased risk factors might only drink a few drinks yet experience side effects such as those on the high or overdose list. There is no safe way to know ahead of time how a depressant will affect you, and this is especially true if you mix a number of depressants to get high.

The safest thing to do is to stay away from depressants altogether. If you are someone who likes to have a drink or two from time to time, understanding the effects of depressants on your body and mind will help you make better choices.


Alcohol is a depressant and should be consumed in moderation to avoid the many dangers associated with its use. It’s essential for people who drink alcohol to learn about these dangers so they can make intelligent decisions about their health and well-being. If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, get help from a professional like the compassionate staff at Arista Recovery. There are many resources available to you, and seeking treatment is the best thing you can do for yourself or your loved ones.

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