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Is Alcohol a Depressant?


Alcohol has been a fixture of our society since its discovery by ancient cultures, with the earliest evidence of alcohol dating back 7,000 years. But because alcohol is often associated with celebrations or used to “de-stress,” some people are still confused about its real effects on the human body. For example, is alcohol a depressant?

What Is a Depressant?

Being classified as a “depressant” doesn’t imply that a substance will make you sad. Rather, depressants are substances that reduce stimulation in your brain, slowing down the messages that travel through your nervous system. This can include cognitive messages within your own thoughts or sensory messages, such as feeling pain or noticing a sound.

Because depressants disrupt the efficient transmission of these messages, they can impact your coordination and concentration. With your neural impulses slowed down by a depressant substance, your body and mind struggle to keep up with ideas and instructions.

In addition to these hallmark effects, depressants have also been popularized for recreational use due to their ability to make you feel relaxed and uninhibited.

Some examples of depressant drugs include:

  • Benzodiazapenes (such as Valium, Klonopin, Xanax, and Halcion)
  • Cannabis
  • Opioids (such as morphine or heroin)

How Alcohol Affects Your Brain Chemistry

When it comes to the performance of your brain, drinking alcohol enhances the effects of a neurotransmitter called GABA. This slows down brain activity and your neural network. For some people, this immediately creates a sedative effect, impacting areas of the brain that control motor functions and cognition. For others, who are more resistant to alcohol’s sedative qualities, this may first appear as mild relaxation or loss of inhibitions.

So — Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Though individuals can experience the effects of alcohol quite differently, with some feeling stimulated at first before sedation takes hold, alcohol is classified as a depressant.

Potential Consequences of Alcohol Use

In the short term, alcohol can immediately cause issues with memory, judgment, slurred speech, and coordination, as well as inflicting sleep disturbances. Drinking too much alcohol too quickly can also lead to alcohol poisoning, which may cause respiratory failure, coma, or even death. Seek help immediately if you see these signs of alcohol poisoning:

  • Pronounced mental confusion
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure
  • Trouble breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Dulled reflexes (including the gag reflex)

However, short-term effects are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential consequences of alcohol use. Long-term or chronic alcohol use can also contribute to many serious health conditions.

Liver Disease

The liver is responsible for filtering and processing toxins in the human body, which means it is a key player in the detoxification of any alcohol you drink. However, excess alcohol consumption can quickly cause severe damage to this organ, even triggering Alcohol-Related Liver Disease (ARLD).

Unfortunately, ARLD doesn’t display any noticeable symptoms until significant damage has already occurred. At this point, you may notice signs such as:

  • ​​feeling constantly or regularly sick

By this point, the liver may already be in a dire state. In regard to early diagnosis of liver damage, it may be uncovered in the process of other medical testing. Or, if you or a loved one drinks in a manner that could be considered excessive, let your doctor know so they can regularly monitor your liver health and identify warning signs before irreparable damage is done.

Brain Damage

Studies have linked excessive or long-term alcohol use to damaged brain function, which may result in a permanent impairment if left untreated. This brain damage may present itself in the form of conditions like dementia, learning or memory problems, or mental disorders.

Alcohol-Related Death

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, alcohol contributes to around 95,000 deaths in the US annually. Many of these deaths are related to health issues, but many others are also due to circumstances exacerbated by alcohol consumption. This can include anything from accidents — such as falls, drownings, or motor vehicle collisions — to alcohol-fueled violence and homicide.

Alcohol and Mental Health Issues

Often, alcohol dependence co-occurs with other preexisting mental health issues, such as schizophrenia or depression. Even among those who do not have a diagnosed mental health condition, alcohol is frequently used as an emotional crutch to dull painful feelings. However, this type of self-medication can actually make things worse.

For one thing, people who become reliant on alcohol to relax and avoid stressful feelings may find themselves drinking more and more as their body and brain build up a tolerance to alcohol’s effects. Not only is this dangerous for their health, but it can worsen their mental and emotional state when not drinking alcohol.

And even when under the influence, feelings of anxiety can still occur. Because alcohol can impair judgment and mental faculties, it can lead you to misinterpret a situation and more easily fall prone to anger, stress, or other emotional disturbance. In addition, anxiety can be worsened during a hangover, a phenomenon which some refer to as “hanxiety” or “the fear.”

Address Alcohol Use with Countrywide Testing

If you believe that a friend or loved one is struggling with alcohol, Countrywide Testing can help. Our tests provide confirmation so you can recognize alcohol use and get your loved ones the support they need.

Countrywide Testing is an online retailer providing you with easy access to drug tests and pharmacogenetic testing. We offer an array of products for testing at home, individuals staying clean after rehab, workplace testing, healthcare emergencies, and law enforcement purposes. These include multiple options for alcohol screening.

Our test kits are convenient, affordable, and ship to you quickly. Plus, our lab is accredited by SAMHSA, so you can rest assured your test results are handled in accordance with the highest industry standards.

Want more information on how Countrywide can support a journey toward rehabilitation from alcohol abuse? Just contact our team today.