01 Jun Is Alcohol a Depressant?
Many people drink alcohol because it makes them feel free and less inhibited. Although alcohol can put you in a partying mood, it’s actually a depressant. It can dampen your mood, slow down your central nervous system and alter your brain chemistry.
Is Alcohol a Depressant?
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This means that it slows down your brain and neural activity. When you consume a depressant, your body doesn’t communicate with itself as quickly as it normally does. Therefore, everything slows down, including your respiration, heart rate and reaction time.
Alcohol’s depressant action is responsible for the slurred speech and unsteady gait that often accompany intoxication. Overconsumption of alcohol can slow down your central nervous system so much that it results in coma or death.
Many people don’t realize that alcohol is classified as a depressant because it acts as a stimulant initially. When your buzz comes on, you may feel a little bit loose and energized. As you increase your alcohol intake, though, you will usually begin to experience its depressant effects. Some people drink to feel this relaxation.
Drinking slowly is more likely to bring on depressant effects than drinking quickly. When you consume alcohol rapidly, you’re more likely to feel the stimulating effects of alcohol. The depressant effects may start to come on as the buzz wears off.
How Does a Depressant Affect the Body and Mind?
Drinking alcohol increase the effects of GABA, which is a brain chemical that promotes sedation and relaxation. GABA is also a mood enhancer, which is why you might feel good when you take your first few drinks.
When the depressant reaches your brain, it also enhances levels of other feel-good neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and dopamine. After your first few drinks, you may feel excited and vivacious.
The mood enhancement feels rewarding. It may make you want to drink more to maintain the effects.
But as you keep drinking, alcohol’s depressant effects kick in. Your vital signs slow down. Your brain becomes foggy. You have trouble making rational decisions.
This happens acutely when you’re intoxicated. But problems with your central nervous system can develop over time with long-term alcohol use.
Eventually, your body gets used to its slowed-down state that is brought on by the depressant. In fact, you may not feel normal when you’re not drinking. This is one way in which a depressant can become habit-forming.
If you have been drinking regularly for some time and want to quit, you may not be able to do so cold turkey. Without the depressant in your system, your body will rebound. Your respiration and heart rate may increase as your body tries to balance itself out. Quitting a depressant all at once can be dangerous and even life-threatening.
Can Using a Depressant Make You Depressed?
If you have a mood disorder, such as depression, it can be tempting to use alcohol as a way to escape from or numb your pain. It may feel as though it helps in the short term. However, continuing to drink can exacerbate your mood disorder.
Alcohol is a depressant. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that using it will make you feel sad or down, it can lead to mood swings and trouble regulating your emotions.
Normally, your body has its own system of checks and balances that help your central nervous system stay balanced. Your own neurotransmitters react to environmental, physical, emotional and psychological experiences. Your body is almost always trying to achieve homeostasis.
When you introduce a depressant into your system, you alter the way that your brain chemicals work. This is a temporary change. However, when you drink regularly, the effects are likely to stick around.
If you already struggle with depression, anxiety or mood swings, using a depressant can make it worse because it doesn’t allow your body to manage its own chemicals. Moreover, you might already have a chemical imbalance, which can be exacerbated by alcohol use.
If you don’t have a mood disorder, drinking regularly or excessively can bring one on. Sometimes, doctors aren’t sure if a mood disorder led to an alcohol use problem or vice versa.
Some people who are depressed self-medicate by drinking. But drinking excessively can also make you more likely to be depressed. About 33 percent of people who suffer from major depression also have an alcohol use disorder. Women who have been clinically depressed are twice as likely to begin drinking heavily as females who haven’t been depressed.
Plus, when you drink frequently, you may be more likely to make poor decisions than you would if you were sober. Financial issues, job loss, breakups, social problems and family issues can stem from your drinking. These life events can also make you feel depressed.
Alcohol Use and Other Mood Disorders
Alcoholism is linked to several mood disorders. People who are addicted to alcohol are at a greater risk of bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
Have you ever felt irritable, fatigued and anxious after a night of heavy drinking? Those may be mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. If you drink more frequently or more heavily, those symptoms might be exacerbated when you stop drinking.
If you have a mood disorder, drinking alcohol may make it difficult to manage. The dopamine surge that you get at the beginning of a night of drinking releases lots of rewarding chemicals in your brain. When the substance is no longer in your body, you might experience a significant downward mood shift.
Plus, many people with mood disorders have symptoms such as panic attacks or a rapid heart rate. When you drink, these symptoms can go away. But when the depressant wears off, your heart rate could spike, which could trigger fear, distress and panic.
Moreover, alcohol can interact negatively with antidepressants and anxiety medication. If you combine it with benzodiazepines, which are often prescribed for anxiety, you augment the depressant effects of both drugs. You’re also more likely to overdose from the alcohol or the medication.
Drinking alcohol while you’re on antidepressants can make the side effects of the medication worse. It can also cause extreme tiredness and hypertensions. For some people, drinking while on antidepressants increases symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Even if you’re not taking medication for a mood disorder, consuming alcohol may intensify your symptom. For people with bipolar disorder, alcohol can heighten manic symptoms. Because mania often feels good, these people might be more likely to continue drinking and stay out of touch with reality.
If you suffer from a psychological disorder, using alcohol is not a healthy way to manage your mental health. Treating the mental illness as well as the alcohol use disorder is the best approach to finding balance.
Working with experienced professionals can get you on the road to recovery. At New Method Wellness, we offer addiction treatment that addresses your mind, body and spirit. We can help you manage your depression, anxiety, mood disorder, alcoholism or other dual diagnosis while finding healthy ways to cope with your emotions and live your best life.