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Is Alcohol a Depressant or a Stimulant?

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Some people drink alcohol and become more energetic and outgoing. Others have a few drinks and become quiet and withdrawn. What’s the reason for these differing effects? Is alcohol a depressant or a stimulant? 

How Do Depressants Affect People?

To understand if alcohol is a depressant or a stimulant, we first need to review what each of these terms mean in the context of substance use. We’ll start with depressants.

When we use the word “depressant” to refer to certain substances, we are actually just using part of the term that we should be employing. The full term is “central nervous system depressant,” which can be shortened to CNS depressant.

The reason this is important is that many people see the word “depressant” and think it refers to drugs that can make you sad or cause you to experience other symptoms of depression. While depressants can cause people to act in ways that look similar to depression, they are categorized this way because of how they affect the central nervous system – not because they can change your mental health status.

As described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), CNS depressants cause the following types of effects:

  • Slowed brain activity
  • Impaired memory
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Shallow breathing
  • Diminished coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion

Prescription depressants are sold under several brand names, including Ambien, Valium, Lunesta, and Xanax, or types of Benzodiazepines. They are often prescribed to treat people who have anxiety disorders and certain sleep disorders.

What Are the Effects of Stimulants?

As is the case with depressants, drugs that are classified as stimulants were placed in that category because of the way they impact the central nervous system. As described by NIDA, stimulants can produce the following types of effects:

  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Enhanced sense of alertness
  • Boost in energy

The category of stimulants contains both legal and illicit substances, such as:

  • Amphetamine
  • Caffeine
  • Cocaine
  • Ephedrine 
  • Methamphetamine
  • Nicotine
  • Pseudoephedrine

Prescription drugs that contain stimulants are often used to treat people who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, obesity, and some mood disorders. Examples of brand name medications that contain stimulants include Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, Desoxyn, and Dexedrine.

Is Alcohol a Depressant or a Stimulant?

Now that we’ve established how depressants and stimulants affect people, it’s time to turn our attention back to the question at the top of this page: Is alcohol a depressant or a stimulant?

Alcohol can elicit some effects that are characteristic of stimulants and some effects that are associated with depressants. So, the answer to the question, “Is alcohol a depressant or a stimulant?” is that it doesn’t fully belong in either category, but it has features of both types of drugs.

When a person begins to consume alcohol, the initial effects often align with what we would expect from a stimulant. Their mood may improve, they may become less inhibited, and they may feel as though they have more energy.

As the individual continues to drink, though, depressant-like effects may come to the forefront. The person may start to slur their words, struggle with balance and coordination, and exhibit confusion. They may sometimes (but not always) also experience a reduction in energy.

Finding Alcohol Rehab

One feature that alcohol shares with both stimulants and depressants is that people who abuse any of these drugs can become addicted. An addiction to alcohol can have a devastating effect on a person’s mind and body.

Thankfully, people who get proper help can end their alcohol abuse and achieve long-term recovery. Alcohol addiction is a chronic condition, so the goal of treatment isn’t to “cure” a person, but to help them learn how to manage their symptoms and resist the urge to drink.

People who attend rehab may participate in several levels of care, including inpatient, residential, and outpatient options. At Peachtree Recovery Solutions, our alcohol rehab in Atlanta offers three levels of outpatient care:

  • Partial hospitalization program (PHP): This level typically features full days of care, five days per week. Treatment is similar to what someone would receive in a residential program. The main difference is that when treatment is not in session, participants do not remain at the facility. They may return to their homes or to an alternative supported residence.
  • Intensive outpatient program (IOP): In an IOP, participants usually attend sessions a few days each week, for a few hours each day. During non-treatment hours, they may be able to practice their relapse-prevention skills in real-world environments, such as by working part-time, taking classes, or volunteering.
  • Outpatient program (OP): Outpatient sessions can be scheduled at the frequency that works best for each person. An OP can be an ideal source of ongoing support for people who have completed a higher level of care, but who can benefit from additional help as they grow in their recovery.

Find Alcohol Rehab in Atlanta, Georgia

If you or someone that you care about has been struggling with compulsive alcohol abuse, Peachtree Recovery Solutions is here to help. Our center serves adults in the Atlanta, Georgia, area whose lives have been disrupted by alcohol addiction and dual diagnosis disorders.

With the compassionate support of our skilled professionals, you can quit drinking and start building a healthy life in recovery. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our admissions page or call us today.