Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

How Does Alcohol Affect You?

One of the questions that often crosses the mind of those who drink is what kind of substance alcohol actually is. So, is alcohol a stimulant, or something else?

While it is well-known that alcohol can affect your brain and actions, the how and why of this is not exactly common knowledge. Many people view alcohol as a stimulant, as it can make them feel more energetic, sociable, and carefree.

Of course, these are not the only side effects alcohol can cause when consumed. Just as alcohol can have some stimulative properties, so too can it act as a depressant, slowing your body and your brain down.

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Ultimately, how alcohol will affect you will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Your body chemistry
  • How much you are drinking
  • Your tolerance to alcohol
  • Any other substances you are consuming with alcohol

Keep reading to learn more about the stimulative and depressant effects of alcohol, and how these can have long-term impacts and consequences.

Central Nervous System Stimulants vs CNS Depressants

Adderall - CNS Stimulants

Both stimulants and depressants can affect the nervous system and brain function. However, these effects are the complete opposite of one another.

Stimulant effects, for starters, work by exciting the nervous system. These can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and energy levels. If these are taken in high amounts, they can even lead to insomnia, and produces feelings of shakiness, jitteriness, and impulsiveness.

Examples of stimulants that can produce these effects include caffeine, prescription amphetamines (such as Adderall), illegal drugs like cocaine and, of course, alcohol.

Depressant effects slow you down and cause your heart rate and blood pressure to decrease. This can cause you to experience feelings of relaxation and sedation, which can help treat anxiety and insomnia for many people.

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Other Types of Depressant Drugs

This is why other depressants, such as benzodiazepines, a type of medication that falls into the depressant categories, are often prescribed to help treat these issues for their sedating effects. Of course, some people will also turn to alcohol to help manage these issues.

There are various substances that can act as both a central nervous system depressant and stimulant, including nicotine and alcohol, although the latter more often has depressant qualities.

However, because drinking alcohol can be both a stimulant and a depressant, excessive drinking or mixing this with other substances can have dangerous side effects.

What are the Stimulant Effects of Alcohol?

Stimulant Effects of Alcohol

In low doses, alcohol signals the brain to release the chemical dopamine, also known as the “happy hormone,” which can create feelings of excitement, energy, and, of course, happiness.

These initial effects can also come with a higher heart rate and increased aggression levels, effects that are common when using stimulants.

Typically, the relaxing effects of alcohol will begin to kick in once your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.05 mg/l. Once your BAC passes this, usually around the level of 0.08 mg/l, the opposite effects will begin to develop.

This is the level where you will also be considered legally unable to drive due to the impairment of alcohol. Of course, it is essential to recognize that how much alcohol it will take to for certain effects to kick in for you will depend on various different factors, including:

  • Your body chemistry
  • Your sex
  • Your weight
  • Your alcohol tolerance
  • How much alcohol you have consumed

In many cases, one person may experience mainly stimulant effects from alcohol, while another person may be more likely to feel relaxed and sedated.

Some studies have found that those who experience more stimulating effects from alcohol are at a greater risk of developing habits of substance abuse than those who mainly experience sedative effects.

What are the Depressant Effects of Alcohol?

When consumed in high doses, alcohol typically takes on more depressive characteristics. This is because the central nervous system is beginning to slow down, leading to a decrease in your blood pressure, heart rate, and brain functioning. These are the three primary ways that depressants affect your body and even your mental health.

Depressant effects can impact your body in many ways, and larger amounts of alcohol can lead to a number of side effects, including:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Slurred speech
  • Disturbed perceptions
  • Reduced motor functions
  • Slower reaction times
  • Reduced impulse control

Furthermore, higher doses of alcohol can suppress dopamine production and can have a number of negative effects.

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The Dangers of Drinking Too Much Alcohol

When the level of alcohol consumed reaches past the recommended amount for the average person, this can be considered alcohol abuse, and can be extremely dangerous for both your mental and physical health.

While lower doses of alcohol can have positive effects, large amounts make alcohol a dangerous substance to be used in many ways. Drinking excessively can put you at a higher risk of experiencing the following:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration

While it can seem fun and even socially acceptable to drink in large quantities, some of these side effects can lead to coma or even death and that is why alcohol or any other kind of depressant abuse is strongly discouraged.

Furthermore, similar to other depressant drugs, regular and heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to addictive habits and behaviors, which can have a negative impact on both your and others’ lives.


When it comes to avoiding negative and dangerous alcohol effects, moderation is key. The maximum recommended number of drinks per day is usually one drink for women and two for men, although this can vary based on the various factors previously discussed.

As many people drink for the stimulant effects of alcohol, this can also help to ensure that sociability and increased desire to interact with others do not turn into an alcohol use disorder.

Related FAQs to Answer: Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

How is Alcohol Abuse Defined?

Recently, addiction science has come to define addiction as a chronic disease, due to the way that alcohol and other drugs can chemically alter your brain over time. When drinking, the dopamine released by the brain can cause stimulating effects of euphoria and relaxation.

This means that, the more you drink, the more dopamine your brain releases. This can lead to a reduced sedative response over time, causing you to drink more and more alcohol in order to achieve the same pleasurable effects.

Many individuals who abuse alcohol will notice that activities and hobbies that once brought them joy may no longer feel enjoyable, which can cause them to develop a self-destructive pattern of abusive habits as they drink more to feel normal.

Unfortunately, this will also cause you to form a dependency on this substance, which can make it extremely difficult to stop drinking on your own. Once this occurs, you will need often need a professional treatment provider to be able to overcome your alcohol abuse and addiction.

What are the Signs of Alcohol Addiction?

It can be difficult to admit when you or a loved one may be struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction. Fortunately, there are several signs that can be looked out for when determining if it is time to get help for these habits.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), these include:

  • Drinking more alcohol or over longer periods of time than previous use or originally intended.
  • Repeated attempts to stop drinking, but being unsuccessful by yourself.
  • Spending excessive amounts of time and money acquiring, using or recovering from alcohol.
  • Losing interest in or the ability to focus on and participate in activities outside of alcohol use without drinking.
  • Experiencing work, school, home or relationship issues due to alcohol use.
  • Engaging in dangerous activities while drinking or under the influence of alcohol, such as driving, having sex, or other actions.
  • Continuing to drink despite this causing you to develop or worsening physical or mental health conditions.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, or having to drink alcohol more often to avoid these symptoms.
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What is Addiction Treatment Like for an Alcohol Use Disorder?

When it comes to alcohol and drug abuse, the treatment process for these issues can be extensive and intensive. When it comes to alcohol in particular, the treatment process will often include medical detox and likely require extra attention to make sure you are safe.

This is because the withdrawal process for this substance can be extremely dangerous, particularly if you have developed severe dependence on it. Some of the most common substance abuse treatment options used to treat alcohol abuse and addiction are:

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for addiction. What works for one person may not work for you, so it is important to find a treatment provider or recovery program with a comprehensive approach that is capable of addressing all of your specific care needs.

It may be helpful to seek out advice from your healthcare provider or certified addiction professional to help you narrow down what options will work best for your recovery needs.

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Find the Right Alcohol Rehab For Your Needs Now

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, know that you are not alone, and help IS available.

At Find Addiction Rehabs, our hotline is available 24/7 to provide you with professional treatment advice, discuss your financial assistance options, and help you find addiction treatment facilities that are dedicated to serving all of your personal care needs.

We are here to help you, whenever you need it. All calls are completely confidential and can let you know your options for treatment nationwide, often within minutes and with no obligation.

If you or a loved one are struggling with drinking, please give yourself a well-deserved chance at sobriety and reach out today!

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