Last Updated on December 14, 2023 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Way back when you were in high school health class, the teacher told you all about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. He or she probably told you some things that were true and some things that were false, but there’s a good chance that you were at least told about the differences between the different categories of inebriants such as stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, and so on. But chances also are that you weren’t really listening or paying attention. And, even if you were listening, there’s a lot of stuff you learned in high school that, by now, you probably forgot.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that today, you might find yourself asking, “Is alcohol a depressant or a stimulant?” Anyone who drinks alcohol or that spends time around people who do knows that it actually has the qualities of both of those categories. So – then – is alcohol a stimulant or depressant? Read on to find out.

What Do We Know About Stimulants and Depressants?

Alcohol is a stimulant: true or false? To find the answer to this question, we first must think about what we know about stimulants and depressants. The main difference between these two types of drugs is the very basic things that they do to the human body. Stimulants speed up the body and brain by acting on the central nervous system. Alternatively, depressant drugs do the opposite. Depressants also act on the central nervous system, but they instead slow down bodily function and cognitive processes.

What Is a Stimulant?

Stimulants also referred to as “uppers,” increase activity in the brain. As a result, they are often used to improve awareness and alertness.

Common stimulants include:

  • Caffeine: Caffeine is found in coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and other everyday beverages and foods and is one of the most widely used psychoactive drugs in the world.
  • Cocaine: Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug that can be snorted through the nose, rubbed onto the gums, or injected into the bloodstream. It works quickly and delivers a high that often lasts up to one hour.
  • Nicotine: Nicotine simultaneously acts as a stimulant and sedative. It releases adrenaline that stimulates the body. At the same time, nicotine releases the brain chemical dopamine, resulting in a pleasurable feeling.
  • Methamphetamine: Methamphetamine is a potent stimulant available in several forms, including speed and crystal meth. It helps release dopamine, serotonin, and other brain neurotransmitters, leading to increased alertness and energy.
  • Adderall: Adderall is a prescription medication used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In some instances, Adderall is also used to treat sleep disorders.

Stimulants are among the most frequently abused drugs in the United States. They can cause a wide range of short- and long-term side effects, too.

Stimulant Side Effects

Common stimulant side effects include:

  • Increased blood pressure and/or heart rate
  • High body temperature
  • Muscle tremors
  • Agitation
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Weight loss

Ongoing stimulant abuse increases a person’s risk of experiencing one or more of the following long-term health problems:

  • Seizures
  • Breathing issues
  • Stroke
  • Cerebral hemorrhage
  • Stroke
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Muscle deterioration

There are many psychological side effects associated with stimulant abuse, too. These side effects include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Depression

Over time, a person who constantly uses stimulants is prone to drug tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Stimulant tolerance occurs when a person regularly uses a stimulant. In this instance, an individual may need to increase the amount and frequency of stimulant use to obtain the same effects that he or she achieved in the past.

Following tolerance, an individual may become physically dependent on a stimulant. At this point, an individual may experience depression, low energy, and other stimulant withdrawal symptoms if he or she goes even a few hours without drugs.

Finally, stimulant addiction is characterized by the need to seek out stimulants, despite the fact that an individual understands the negative consequences associated with the drugs. If a person is struggling with stimulant addiction, this individual likely spends most of his or her time trying to acquire and use stimulants.

Why Do People Think Alcohol Is A Stimulant?

Based on the above description, many people might think that alcohol is a stimulant. After all, when people drink alcohol, they often get loud and boisterous. They may tell jokes and stories and talk a lot. They may pace around the room and even dance a bit. Some people might even be inclined to argue and start fights. It certainly seems like alcohol is a stimulant. But is it?

Stimulant Effects of Alcohol

Can alcohol be a stimulant? There is a good reason why it sometimes seems that it can. When people start drinking alcohol at the beginning of a party, that’s when the party really gets going. People start relaxing and enjoying themselves and become interested in talking to strangers. Everyone is having a good time.

Does alcohol give you energy? Alcohol signal your brain to release dopamine it often seems like alcohol does give people energy. It can be stimulating and energizing in that sense. You may be tired after a long day of work, but after a post-workday beer or glass of wine, you’re ready to cook dinner and get some things done around the house. A drink can wake you up a bit when you most need the boost.

And, what happens to inhibitions when a person drinks? Drinking tends to lower people’s inhibitions and can give them confidence that they otherwise might not have. Many people feel that drinking makes them more fun to be around. It certainly can stimulate conversation and actions.

All of these stimulating effects must mean that alcohol is a stimulant, right?

Wrong! Alcohol is a depressant.

What Is a Depressant?

Depressants, also referred to as “downers,” impact the central nervous system. They block messages from the brain’s nerve receptors and inhibit brain activity and awareness.

Depressants are sometimes used to treat symptoms associated with various disorders, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Seizures

In addition to alcohol, barbiturates and benzodiazepines are among the most common depressant drugs.

Alcohol impacts a person’s ability to think clearly and act rationally. Some people consume alcohol in the hopes of becoming more alert and feeling energized, but excess alcohol consumption typically leads to loss of coordination and control.

Barbiturates are classified as sedative-hypnotics. They are generally injected into the veins or taken in a pill form and, like alcohol, are frequently considered “brain relaxers.”

Benzodiazepines are often used to treat anxiety and insomnia. They trigger a tranquilizing chemical in the brain and when mixed with alcohol, can be fatal.

Depressant Side Effects

Common depressant side effects include:

  • Impaired coordination
  • Slower reaction times
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired memory
  • Reduced blood pressure and/or heart rate
  • Depressed breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Euphoria
  • Seizures
  • Mood swings
  • Sleepiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness

Why Is Alcohol Considered a Depressant?

The thing about alcohol is that oftentimes, alcohol acts as a stimulant when it’s being consumed, but later on, it has the complete opposite effect. People crash hard from alcohol consumption, and alcohol and depression the next day go hand in hand for many. 

Most importantly, though, alcohol is a depressant because it works by slowing down the brain, which can result in impaired cognitive function. Also, alcohol is a sedative; it also has a sedative effect on the body and mind. 

At first, when people start drinking, they are often drawn to the stimulant effects. Alcohol can make people feel more comfortable in social situations and can make you feel looser and more relaxed. This is a feeling that everyone enjoys.

However, if someone continues to seek those effects over and over, they very well may eventually develop a dependency. Alcohol abuse can lead to addiction, and addiction can create and magnify anxiety. Soon, people addicted to drinking alcohol find that they are drinking less for the fun, stimulating effects that drew them to alcohol in the first place and instead start to drink for the sedative effects of alcohol to mask their anxiety. 

When someone is drinking to maintain a balance in his or her life and is drinking on very regular basis to achieve these goals, these are clear symptoms of alcoholism and are signs of a drinking problem

So, does alcohol depress the central nervous system? Absolutely. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This depressant effect can lead to dependency and alcoholism. Some people can drink for fun, but for others – it can ruin their lives.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

Alcohol addiction is a serious problem, and the longer it goes undiagnosed and untreated, the worse it becomes. If an individual understands the treatment options that are available, he or she can take steps to address an alcohol addiction.

In some instances, people choose rehabilitation programs to treat alcohol addiction. Some alcohol addicts use therapy to cope with their addictive behaviors and find ways to manage these behaviors as well.

Regardless of alcohol addiction treatment, it is paramount to begin a personalized treatment plan. Alcohol addiction affects a person’s body and mind, and the right treatment program is designed to help this individual achieve long-lasting addiction relief. Thus, the program is personalized to a patient and allows him or her to manage an alcohol addiction for years to come.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment with Clear Sky

Fortunately, if you or a loved one is addicted to alcohol, it’s possible to break the cycle and to break free from the addiction and get help. This change won’t happen overnight, but people do recover every day. In fact, today, it’s believed that more people recover from addiction than do not. If you or someone you care about needs to stop drinking, the ibogaine treatment center Clear Sky can help. Our detox is ancient yet innovative and has helped countless individuals make a new start.  Our staff is experienced and effective, our facility is beautiful and tropical, and we are standing by to answer your questions.  Please contact us today. 


How does alcohol act as a depressant on the central nervous system?

Alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system by inhibiting the activity of neurotransmitters, leading to slowed brain function, impaired judgment, and relaxed muscle coordination.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, true or false?

True. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant.

Alcohol is a hallucinogen, true or false?

False. Alcohol is not classified as a hallucinogen. It is a depressant.

Why does alcohol give you energy?

Alcohol may initially give a feeling of energy or stimulation due to its effect on the brain, causing the release of certain neurotransmitters like dopamine, which can enhance mood and increase sociability.