Alcohol is classified as a CNS (central nervous system) depressant, meaning it slows brain and body functioning and neurological activity. Drinking alcohol can significantly alter a person’s mood, behavior, and cognitive function. For many individuals, alcohol consumption is used as a means of relaxing or social lubricant. However, the overall effects of excessive alcohol use and hangovers can contribute to anxiety and exacerbate stress.
Alcohol can depress the CNS so much that it results in impaired speech, unsteady movement, distorted perceptions, and an inability to react promptly. Concerning cognition, alcohol reduces an individual’s ability to think rationally, diminishes inhibitions, and impairs judgment. When an individual drinks too much alcohol in an episode, they can depress their CNS to the extent that it causes respiratory failure, coma, or even death.
Alcohol use can provide both stimulating and sedative effects. Although technically categorized as a depressant, the amount of alcohol consumed and a person’s unique reaction determines the type of effect they will experience. Many people drink for the initial stimulant effect and also to reduce social inhibitions.
However, if an individual consumes more than their brain and body can handle, they will begin to experience alcohol’s sedative effects, such as cognitive impairment. In addition, some people drink primarily for alcohol’s sedative effects, such as for anxiety reduction or to put them to sleep.
Some research has suggested that most people initially drink alcohol to experience stimulation and associated positive effects. Still, after becoming dependent or developing a dependence, they continue drinking, primarily to avoid the anxiety associated with withdrawal effects. Drinking slowly is likely to result in sedative effects, while drinking rapidly may increase alcohol’s stimulating effects.
Some experts believe that persons who don’t respond to alcohol’s sedating effects as strongly as others are at an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This is because they drink more to compensate for the fact that they don’t immediately feel anything, increasing their chances of experiencing adverse side effects.
Alcohol poisoning can result in even more severe depressant effects, including an inability to feel pain, toxicity, unconsciousness, slowed and irregular breathing, cold, clammy, and blue skin (cyanosis), and death. These reactions largely depend on how much and how rapidly a person consumes alcohol.
How Depressants Impact the Brain and Body
Alcohol impacts the brain in many ways. It attaches to the receptors for gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurochemical responsible for inducing feelings of calmness and sedation. CNS depression causes impairments in breathing and heart rate.
Alcohol also inhibits glutamate, sometimes leading to memory loss and other impaired brain functionality. In addition to affecting GABA and glutamine, alcohol releases dopamine, a neurochemical responsible for pleasurable feelings and reward. This can prompt some individuals to drink even more in an attempt to increase the good feelings that dopamine produces.
However, as alcohol is continually consumed, more depressant effects will ultimately develop. As a person continues to drink and more and more alcohol enters the system, it impairs judgment, vision, and alertness, dulls the senses, impairs concentration, and reduces reaction time.
Interactions of Alcohol With Other CNS Depressants
Many other depressant drugs exist alongside alcohol. They are sometimes referred to as “downers” because they have tranquilizing effects. Some are regularly prescribed medications that treat anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and sleep disorders. The most common depressants include Ativan, Klonopin, Librium, Valium, and Xanax.
Abusing depressant drugs with alcohol can result in both short-term and long-term effects, some of which can be permanent or life-threatening. While many people use depressants due to the relaxing effects that these substances temporarily produce, the severity of the adverse effects typically far outweighs any positive outcomes.
Side effects of depressant abuse include the following:
- Low blood pressure
- Slowed heart rate
- Slurred speech
- Impaired motor functioning
- Slowed breathing
There are several non-physical effects of depressant abuse as well. Many depressant abusers experience issues with finances, employment, friends, and family. Also, alcohol-induced effects can easily put others at risk of serious harm, such as driving under the influence and engaging in unprotected sex or physical altercations.
Getting Treatment for Alcoholism
Just Believe Recovery Center offers specialized addiction treatment programs in both residential and intensive outpatient formats. Therapeutic services and activities featured include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Peer group support
- Relapse prevention techniques
- Substance abuse education
- Health and wellness education
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning
- Alumni events