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Is Alcohol a Stimulant of a Depressant?
When we think about how alcohol makes us feel, we might first think about its relaxation effects. However, alcohol is not only desired for its depressant effects on the central nervous system. In fact, alcohol can be both a stimulant and a depressant.
Is Alcohol Ever Used as a Stimulant?
Contrary to the belief that alcohol is solely a depressant, alcohol also can produce stimulant effects. These include:
- Increased breathing rate.
- Increased heart rate.
- Increased energy.
- Increased confidence.
- Increased aggression.
Each person is affected by alcohol in a unique way because body chemistry differs so much. Some people may feel the stimulant properties more so than others. In most people, the stimulant effects are short-lived, which give way to the sedating effects with continued drinking.
One study reveals that there is a higher risk for alcoholism if the person has a reduced sedative response when they drink. This suggests that the risk is higher for those who have a more pronounced stimulatory response to alcohol. The authors posit that this is due to the fact that stimulant effects are more rewarding than relaxing effects.
Signs of Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
Whichever effects are driving the alcohol abuse, the end result can be devastating. With continued heavy drinking, the body builds up tolerance and requires even more of the substance. As this cycle carries on, an alcohol use disorder (AUD) often results.
So, what is an AUD and how do you know if you have one? Consider these criteria for AUD:
- Unable to limit drinking.
- Place drinking above all else. The world revolves around alcohol.
- Have memory blackouts.
- Have alcohol cravings.
- Hides alcohol or lies about how much they drink.
- Shirk family and work obligations; missing work due to hangovers.
- Keeps drinking despite the mounting consequences.
- Loss of impulse control; engage in high-risk behaviors, such as driving under the influence, unsafe sex, getting into fights.
- Sustains injuries due to drinking.
- Stops taking care of appearance or hygiene.
- Withdraws from social settings or events; give up hobbies.
- Increased tolerance to effects of alcohol leading to higher consumption.
- Attempts to reduce or stop drinking but cannot.
- Withdrawal symptoms emerge when the effects of alcohol wear off.
When the brain imprints the positive effects of drinking as something to be repeated, it begins to etch new pathways. The cravings for alcohol grow stronger and drinking becomes a compulsive action that can no longer be controlled. This is called alcohol addiction.
Consequences of Alcohol Abuse
What may start off as innocent partying or a daily beer after work can grow into an AUD in certain people. It is still not fully known why some people are able to abuse alcohol and never acquire an AUD, where others will.
Alcohol abuse can have a highly damaging effect on someone’s life. Some of the consequences of alcohol abuse, especially as it evolves into an AUD, include:
- Damage to relationships. Alcohol abuse can cause serious problems in someone’s primary relationships. The collateral damage of a drinking problem reaches into these relationships causing pain, disappointment, frustration, and fear. Divorce is often caused by someone’s alcohol abuse.
- Damage to career. When drinking takes the top spot in someone’s life, their career will begin to suffer. Not only does he or she become less productive, but they may miss work often due to having hangovers. They miss meetings, don’t complete projects on time, and let their colleagues down.
- Legal problems. Alcohol abuse is widely known to lead to legal issues. These may involve a DUI arrest(s). Legal issues may also involve domestic abuse or assault charges from a bar fight.
- Health problems. Alcohol is highly damaging to health, and can cause many health problems if drinking continues. People with AUD are at higher risk for many types of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and brain damage.
- Parenting issues. When a spouse can no longer fulfill their parenting roles they may find themselves in a court battle. This occurs when the alcoholic spouse neglects his or her duties as a parent or could cause the child harm.
- Money problems. Job loss, mounting legal fees, and the cost of alcohol all add up. This can lead to serious money problems. When money problems become a heavy burden, drinking escalates, so it becomes a vicious cycle.
- Mental health problems. Anxiety and depression, including increased suicide risk, are common in people with severe AUD. The growing negative effects of the AUD can overwhelm the person and cause mental health problems. In many cases, though, the mental health issue was present before the AUD. Drinking helped to numb the symptoms caused by the mental health disorder, and then led to addiction.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Use Disorder
- Detox. The detox process is the first step in recovery. During detox, a trained detox team will care for you. The team will manage the withdrawal symptoms and minimize pain and discomfort. Detox takes about 5-7 days to complete.
- Talk therapy. CBT and DBT are two approaches that are widely used in addiction treatment.
- Group therapy. A licensed clinician leads group sessions and provides recovery-related topics for the peers to discuss.
- Family therapy. Family-centered group sessions provide a safe space for family members to discuss family issues. Family members also learn how they can support their loved ones in recovery.
- 12-step program. The 12-step program can provide structure and guidance in early recovery and beyond.
- Education. The psycho-social aspect of treatment equips the person with new coping tools and recovery skills. Classes also teach about the science of addiction and how to prevent a relapse.
- Holistic. These include art therapy, yoga, mindfulness, massage, nutritional counseling, and outdoor exercise.
So, is alcohol a stimulant? Is it a depressant? What we have learned is that alcohol effects include both features. Either way, if an AUD has developed, it is time to seek help.
Journey Hillside Provides Evidence-Based Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder
Journey Hillside Tarzana offers the most up to date, evidence-based treatment approaches for helping clients overcome alcohol use disorder. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse or an AUD, Journey Hillside is here to help. Please reach out to us today at (877) 414-1024.