is alcohol a stimulant

In the United States alone, approximately 29.5 million people over 12 had alcohol use disorder (AUD), and 894,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 also had AUD within the past year.

Understanding how alcohol affects your body can help you in supporting yourself or a loved one with drinking issues. Learning the answers to questions like “Is alcohol a stimulant” is your first step. This will lead the way in explaining what happens to your body when you drink.

Keep reading this guide to learn everything you need to know about alcohol and its stimulant effects. You’ll also learn more about finding an alcohol treatment program.

Stimulants vs. Depressants

First, you must understand the differences between stimulants and depressants and how they affect your body. The major differences between the two include:


Stimulants and depressants impact your brain function and central nervous system in different ways.

Stimulants make your nervous system excitable. They can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and energy levels. If you take too many stimulants at once, it can make you feel jittery and anxious. You may also have trouble sleeping normally.

This is because stimulants impact your brain’s dopamine neurotransmitter system. They do this by increasing the levels of free dopamine in your brain. Since dopamine is a “pleasure chemical,” it gives you feelings of pleasure and increased energy.

For this reason, stimulants can be addictive since people will chase these feelings of pleasure by using more stimulants.

If you overuse stimulants, you can experience various symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Dizziness

Some stimulants like coffee are mild, but stronger stimulants include drugs like cocaine. Prescription amphetamines like Adderall for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also stimulants.


Depressants have the opposite effect of stimulants. Depressants slow down your nervous system as well as your heart rate and blood pressure. They also have a relaxing effect, leading to a calm mood and muscle relaxation.

Since depressants slow down your brain activity, you can feel uncoordinated and sleepy. You may also have difficulty concentrating and moments of confusion.

If you take too many depressants, you can have side effects like:

  • Blurry vision
  • Severe confusion
  • Speech problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness

The most common types of depressant medications include barbiturates and benzodiazepines. These types of depressants are commonly prescribed to treat conditions like panic disorder, anxiety, stress, and insomnia.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

Alcohol is a depressant, but also has some stimulant effects, especially in smaller doses. Initially, drinking gives you a rush of dopamine, causing you to feel energized and stimulated.

You may also have an increased heart rate and more aggressive behaviors.

As your blood alcohol level increases, the stimulant effects are replaced by depressant effects. It’s at this point that alcohol starts to slow down your central nervous system. You’ll experience symptoms like a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and mental clarity.

These depressant alcohol effects can eventually cause you to become disoriented and sleepy if you continue to drink. It’s also common to feel sadness and apathy. Depressant effects worsen with large amounts of alcohol and can become powerful, depressing your respiratory system, leading to death.

Overall, it’s essential to remember that alcohol effects vary for each person. Various factors influence the effects you feel, which include:

  • Weight
  • Sex
  • Body chemistry
  • How much you’ve eaten
  • Alcohol tolerance

In addition, some people might feel more stimulating effects from drinking than others. At the same time, other people experience more depressant effects.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Next, it’s essential to learn how the stimulant and depressant effects of alcohol impact you long-term and how they make alcohol addictive.

Alcohol use disorder also referred to as alcoholism or alcohol addiction, is a medical condition that involves frequent, heavy drinking. This drinking continues even when it begins to cause huge problems with family, careers, and health.

AUD is actually a disease of the brain and requires psychological and medical treatments to control it.

You can have mild, moderate, or severe alcohol use disorder. It can also develop quickly or over a period of long-term alcohol use.

Stages of AUD

You can also experience different stages of AUD. The first stage is an at-risk stage. You may drink socially often or drink to relieve feelings of stress.

If it continues, it can progress to early alcohol use disorder. At this stage, you may have frequent blackouts and drink in secret. You also tend to think of alcohol a lot.

Once you reach mid-stage alcohol use disorder, your drinking is out of control, causing family and work problems. It also impacts your financial, mental, and physical health. You may also have abnormal lab tests that indicate organ damage, such as your liver.

Finally, end-stage alcohol use disorder occurs when drinking becomes the main focus of your life. You choose alcohol over everything from food, health, and intimacy, to a job. At this stage, most people also have further health complications like organ damage, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Alcohol and Your Brain

Alcohol impacts your brain in a variety of ways. First, it interferes with your brain’s communication pathways, affecting how your brain works. The initial stimulant effects cause your brain to release more dopamine, so you feel more relaxed and confident.

Alcohol’s depressant effects also cloud judgment and lower inhibitions. This can lead to people engaging in risky behaviors like driving drunk.

Also, drinking large amounts at one time can affect the area of your brain that regulates balance. This causes people to stumble and stagger while walking. It also causes blackouts and accidents.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Heavy alcohol use, even for a few weeks to months, can leave you with serious symptoms if you try to cut back or stop drinking. These symptoms are known as alcohol withdrawal.

Remember, alcohol has both stimulant and depressant effects. Over time, your central nervous system adjusts to having alcohol in your body consistently. Due to this, your body has to adjust to keep your brain more awake so you can function.

Ultimately your brain stays in this excitable state even when your alcohol level suddenly drops.

In addition, since alcohol affects the dopamine neurotransmitters in your brain, you can have a temporary lack of dopamine. This makes you feel sad, hopeless, and low in energy.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

The severity of withdrawal symptoms can be milder or more serious, depending on how much and how long you’ve been drinking. Symptoms begin within 6 to 8 hours after you stop drinking and can include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Shaky hands
  • Sweating

Around 12 to 18 hours after your last drink, symptoms can intensify. You can experience severe problems like seizures and hallucinations.

Some people can have delirium tremens (DTs), which is a severe type of withdrawal that causes symptoms like seizures, tremors, and severe high blood pressure. Delirium tremens can be life-threatening if not treated properly.

Since alcohol is a depressant, it slows your nervous system and brain. When you suddenly stop drinking after you’ve been drinking for a long time, your nervous system can’t adjust. You end up overstimulated, which increases your risk for DTs.

Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Alcohol abuse treatment in Tucson is a safe solution for anybody struggling with alcohol addiction. Alcohol treatment can help you manage the stimulant and depressant effects of alcohol.

Remember you aren’t alone, and learning about your treatment options will help you see there is help available.

There are multiple steps to alcohol treatment which include:

Medical Detox

The first step to alcohol treatment involves detoxing since stopping alcohol abruptly can cause serious symptoms. Detox allows you to safely withdraw from alcohol without experiencing severe symptoms.

For alcohol withdrawal, you’ll take medications that help you with life-threatening symptoms like seizures and heart palpitations. You’ll also receive medications to help with anxiety and tremors as well as IV fluids to keep you hydrated.

You’ll get a custom treatment plan and receive 24/7 medical care and support. Detox typically lasts between 2 and 10 days but can last longer depending on your symptoms.

Treatment Programs

At America’s Rehab Campuses, there are different programs you can enroll in.

Inpatient residential treatment allows you to live at the facility during treatment as you recover. You’ll have a range of therapies and activities that include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Meditation
  • AA meetings
  • Exercise
  • Nutritious meals
  • Therapeutic activities

Partial hospitalization programs are for anybody that doesn’t need 24-hour support and monitoring. You’ll typically attend treatment five days a week for six hours daily. You’ll also have behavioral therapies, AA meetings, and other therapies.

Finally, intensive outpatient programs are a more flexible type of recovery program. They’re structured around your education, work, and family life. This program is ideal for anyone needing traditional support and flexibility.

Find the Right Alcohol Treatment Program for Your Needs

Knowing the answer to the question “Is alcohol a stimulant,” will help you better understand how alcohol can impact your mind and body.

Now it’s time to take the next steps by finding an alcohol treatment program that meets your needs. America’s Rehab Campuses (ARC) is a fully licensed treatment facility in Tucson and Phoenix, AZ that takes a multidimensional approach to substance use.

We address substance use, behavioral health disorders, and the spiritual, emotional, and mental aspects of your well-being during treatment. We have various treatment programs like medical detox, inpatient rehab, and intensive outpatient programs. We also have partial hospitalization and outpatient rehab program options.

Make sure to contact us today to learn more about our treatment programs.