Is Alcohol a Depressant?

A resident of Ontario thinks about the warning signs of Alcohol Addiction.

Alcohol, as a drug, is similar to nicotine and caffeine. These are drugs which are widely available, easy to access, and perfectly legal for recreational consumption. This is not to say, however, that alcohol, or other legal drugs, do not have negative effects or consequences. All drugs affect the body and brain differently. And if we are to consume these legally available drugs, it is important to understand their effects.

Drugs are classified as either depressants or stimulants, and it is equally as important to understand the differences between these two types of drugs. What’s more, there are certain myths around the effects of alcohol, and whether or not it is a depressant or stimulant.

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Depressants vs. Stimulants

Depressants and stimulants are drugs which affect the body’s central nervous system (CNS). Both types of drugs are available in legal and illegal forms, and both have the potential for dependency, misuse, or addiction. But the similarities end here. Stimulants and depressants have opposite effects on the CNS and create an opposite effect (or symptoms) in those who consume the drugs.

A depressant slows or reduces activity in the CNS. This creates depressant side effects like drowsiness or fatigue, muscle relaxation, or a slowing down of breathing and heart rate. Alcohol is a widely used and easily accessible legal depressant. Other depressant drugs include:

  • Benzodiazepines like Valium
  • Barbiturates like Amobarbital
  • Opioids like heroin, fentanyl, or morphine

Stimulants, on the other hand, increase activity in the CNS. The effects of stimulant drugs can include greatly increased energy, breathing, heart rate, and alertness. In some cases, these feelings are coupled with a rush of euphoric feelings. These effects are all short-term and temporary. Examples of stimulant drugs include:

  • Adderall or Ritalin
  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamines

It is important to remember that the side effects of depressants and stimulants help contribute to their potential for misuse. When misused, these drugs have the potential for addiction which leads to withdrawals or dangerous long-term effects. Moreover, always consider the potential for addiction and misuse for legally available drugs like alcohol.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

No, alcohol is not a stimulant. Alcohol is a depressant given how it affects the body and the central nervous system. As mentioned above, stimulants increase overall brain activity, while depressants slow it down. Alcohol in small doses may give the illusion of a stimulant effect, but technically speaking, only slows communication between the nervous system and the body. These slow down effects thinking, moods, behaviour, and coordination.

While certain alcohol consumption may make us feel temporarily energetic or euphoric, the depressant effect is still taking place. The immediate short-term effects of alcohol may vary depending upon how much is consumed, age, weight, height, and sex. These are common effects of alcohol consumption, no matter those factors:

  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed breathing or heart rate
  • Changes in perception or lack of coordination
  • Changes in moods
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Nausea
  • “Blacking out” or loss of memory
  • Euphoria or energy
  • Dehydration

These alcohol-related effects may not appear right away. They do have the potential to lead to alcohol abuse or addiction. Plus, some have the potential to lead to added issues. For example, a lack of perception and coordination may lead to a physical accident or fall. Or, the dehydrating effects of alcohol, for example, may lead to migraine, stomach issues, or liver issues.

woman showing symptoms of regular heroin use

The most dangerous side effect of alcohol is alcohol poisoning, or alcohol poisoning related death. Alcohol’s depressant effects also contribute to the dangers of drinking and driving or drinking while pregnant.

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Is Tequila a Stimulant?

Many myths and misunderstanding surround alcohol consumption. A common myth is that alcohol acts as a stimulant. A second common myth to follow is that certain alcoholic beverages will act as more of a stimulant than others. In Ontario, common types of alcohol seen on liquor store shelves include tequila, vodka, whiskey or rye, rum, wine, beer, and coolers. Each type of alcohol is categorized based on the ingredients and manufacturing process. Many common types of alcohol are created from the fermentation of natural ingredients like grapes (wine), barley or hops (beer), potatoes (vodka), or other grains (whiskey and rye).

No matter how these types of drinks are manufactured, the result is an alcoholic drink which will have the same overall effects as any other drink containing alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant because of it’s overall slowing down of central nervous system processes. And all of the above-listed drinks fall under that depressant category.

Tequila is one type of alcoholic drink which is often incorrectly referred to as a stimulant drink. It is associated with positive celebrations and parties, dancing, and happiness. But with tequila’s main ingredient still being ethanol, it will have the same depressant effects as any other ethanol-based drink. Tequila, in a small or low dose, might have a short-term energizing effect, or euphoric effect. However, this will be followed by the usual depressant effects of tequila, rye, wine, beer, etc.

All of these drinks have the equal potential for alcohol misuse and alcohol addiction. As these are drinks and drugs which are widely accepted for social and recreational use, it is important to understand the signs of alcohol addiction.

How to Tell If You’re Addicted to Alcohol

Alcohol use disorder is a serious condition which may develop over a short period of time, or over years over alcohol dependency. The causes of developing alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction will vary, and could include a number of physiological, psychological, and societal factors or influences. If you are concerned that you or someone you care about may be addicted to alcohol, there are signs and symptoms to be aware of in helping understand alcohol addiction. Someone with alcohol addition may:

  • Not be able to fight the urges or cravings to drink alcohol
  • Drink to cope with stress
  • Not be able to control how much they drink
  • Have negative thoughts while they’re not drinking
  • Discontinue the activities, hobbies, or social outings they once enjoyed
  • Lie about how much they’ve had to drink

These signs may be coupled with physical and visible signs of alcohol addiction as well, which may include:

  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Changes in skin tone
  • Consistently dilated or large pupils
  • Show signs of physical alcohol withdrawals

Alcohol withdrawal includes its own set of unpleasant symptoms like anxiety, tremors, an inability to sleep, or nausea and vomiting.

Recovering from alcohol addiction takes bravery, time, and patience. The hardest part about any recovery journey is asking for help and starting the process. There are supports for alcohol addiction in Ontario that are aimed at managing withdrawals, facing any underlying mental health concerns, and providing individuals with personalized programs aimed at getting the individual on their first step to recovery.


Find Support at GreeneStone

GreeneStone Centre for Recovery is here to help. We are a premier residential treatment facility in Ontario’s beautiful and serene Muskoka region. GreeneStone staff are dedicated to working closely with you or your loved one to create a successful and long-lasting recovery.

We are a recovery centre which honours diversity and inclusion and extend this belief to our recovery programs. Along with medically supervised alcohol detox programs, our Ontario Centre for Recovery provides many other ways to start a successful journey to recovery.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your journey, contact GreeneStone Centre for Recovery to discuss the best options for care.

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