alcohol a stimulant

Is Alcohol a Stimulant? The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Due to last year’s quarantine, alcohol orders increased by 54% in America.

Our society’s relationship with alcohol has a long history but you may be curious about how alcohol can affect you personally.

If you are unsure about how to categorize alcohol then it’s time to ask some questions. For example:

Is alcohol a stimulant? 

Read our guide to find out the answer and learn about your body’s relationship to alcohol.

The Effects of Alcohol

For most adults, alcohol plays a part in some of their best or worst memories.

The relationship that one has with alcohol is dependent on several factors. As with any substance, how your body processes it is unique to every individual.

Consider these factors about how alcohol may affect you personally:

  • The amount of alcohol you regularly drink
  • The relationship you have with stress
  • The current state of your mental health
  • The current state of your physical health
  • Your family history with alcoholism

As you can see, the effects of alcohol on your body are dependent on factors like your genes, stress levels, and lifestyle habits.

The Definition of a Stimulant

A stimulant contains chemicals that signal your brain to release dopamine, the hormone responsible for good moods, pleasure, and motivation.

Dopamine spreads throughout your central nervous system while increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness.

In low amounts, stimulants can increase energy levels, confidence, and productivity. This is exemplified by your daily cup of coffee in the morning.

Copious amounts of stimulating chemicals, however, can alter your body’s natural relationship with dopamine and induce states of anxiety, insomnia, and aggressive behavior.

Stimulant abuse is seen in the form of nicotine and cocaine addictions.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

Now you know more about the general effects of alcohol on the average person and what stimulating substances do to the body.

So, is alcohol a stimulant?

Referring to the list of considerations, alcohol could have a stimulating effect on you. Much like coffee, if you only drink a little bit at a time, then the effects are generally positive or neutral.

When categorizing alcohol it’s important to know the difference between what your mind is thinking at the moment versus the scientific effects the substance is actually having on your body.

You may think that the alcoholic beverage you are drinking is giving you energy, confidence, and positivity, but that can be a temporary mental condition.

Alcohol Over Time

The next day, your body will be dehydrated and your “happy hormone” may be feeling depleted.

If you begin to drink alcohol over time, you may notice your behavior begin to change while drinking as well.

What begins as a happy occasion can turn into a depressive episode under the influence of alcohol.

As true as the science may be, two people may experience even the smallest quantity of alcohol differently.

This is due to their own personal and genetic histories

The Definition of a Depressant

A depressant chemical has the opposite effect on the body when compared to stimulants.

Instead of dopamine, these substances release gamma-aminobutyric acid that slows down the central nervous system. Your blood pressure lowers and your heart rate decreases as well.

Instead of being alert, your reflexes respond much slower under the influence of a depressant.

Depressants have a relaxing effect that is found in prescription drugs that treat anxiety, insomnia, and stress disorders.

In large amounts, depressants can disrupt your body’s hormone regulation and quite literally cause you to become depressed or even suicidal.

Depressant abuse is seen in the form of benzodiazepine and heroin addiction.

Alcohol as a Depressant

After the initial “buzz” of alcohol wears off, you may notice your emotions becoming more volatile or heavy. Your reactions to external stimuli can seem slower or nonexistent.

The initial rush of dopamine may convince you to drink more alcohol.

Once you reach your body’s limit, the depressive effects begin to take over (even if you don’t realize it until the next day).

While the alcohol is exiting your system, it depletes your body of nutrients and electrolytes that make you feel worse than before.

Because of its inhibiting effects, alcohol is often called “liquid courage”.

Your rational mind is sedated with gamma-aminobutyric acid. You may begin to do things that you wouldn’t normally do.

This can lead to your involvement in traumatic events that have a lasting effect on your mental health.

Consider Your Mental Health

Being aware of your mental health is a good way to gauge how alcohol will affect you.

Make sure you do not compare your alcohol tolerance to the tolerance of somebody else.

Trying to keep up with other people’s alcohol intake can have devastating effects. Peer pressure and social norms are a harsh reality about the society we live in.

Here are mental health related questions to ask yourself before drinking alcohol:

  • How much stress did I encounter today?
  • Am I drinking because I want to or to be socially accepted?
  • Are there any emotions that I may be suppressing?
  • Am I drinking alcohol to manage my emotions?
  • Have I been drinking more often than usual?

Answering these questions beforehand can help you forget the effects that different amounts of alcohol may have on you that day.

Consider Your Physical Health

Understanding your physical predisposition to a substance like alcohol will help you understand how your body will metabolize it.

It’s important to note that females and males generally process alcohol at different rates.

Understanding your family’s history with addictive behavior and alcohol abuse can help determine how your body will react to alcohol and how much alcohol you can consume.

Here physical health-related questions to ask yourself before drinking alcohol:

  • Am I on any medications that conflict with drinking alcohol?
  • Do I have any medical conditions that put me at risk?
  • How high or low is my blood pressure lately?
  • Have I been well hydrated throughout the day?
  • Have I eaten recently?

Above all else, make sure you are physically protected by securing a safe ride home while under the influence of alcohol.

The Truth About Alcohol

Is alcohol a stimulant? Scientifically, no, alcohol is not a stimulant.

Although it may have initial effects that are stimulating, it is classified as a depressant because of its long-term effects on the physical body and mind.

Still curious about the effects of alcohol and other substances on your body?Read our blog to learn more about your body and the chemicals that affect it.

Clinically Reviewed By

Dawn Masick, LMFT

Dawn has experience dealing with various relational, emotional, and psychological struggles. Dawn’s training has prepared her to work with children, teens, young adults, adults, couples, and families. She has undergone training in DBT, TF-CBT, and Family Therapy.  Other competencies include dealing with ADHD, mood/anxiety disorders, parenting challenges, addiction, PTSD, co- dependency, and relationship issues. I have experience in residential, school-based mental health, children’s community mental health, victims of crime (VOC), and private practice settings.

Dawn has been committed to guiding clients through their trauma, coming alongside them in their healing, and supporting them as they navigate life changes. Dawn’s passion is working with clients struggling with trauma in substance abuse and mental health.