bottles of alcohol

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

bottles of alcohol

Although it’s not commonly thought of as a drug, alcohol is one of the most frequently abused drugs in the U.S.1 Like other drugs, alcohol can be classified chemically, based on its effects on the human body. Knowing a drug’s chemical classification can help users be more aware of how the substance may affect their health and well-being immediately after use and in the future.

In this blog, we’ll answer the common question, “Is alcohol a depressant?” and provide additional information about alcohol abuse and the risks associated with it. Is Alcohol a Depressant?
Alcohol is technically classified as a depressant drug, but its physical effects depend on the amount that is consumed and how quickly. In low quantities, it can act as a stimulant, increasing talkativeness and energy, but when alcohol is consumed in high doses, it can cause sluggishness, drowsiness, slurred speech, and lack of coordination.

What is Alcohol?

Ethanol, better known as alcohol, is a substance that is formed when yeast ferments the sugars in food.3 Various types of alcoholic beverages can be made with different foods, such as grapes (wine), malted barley (beer), apples (cider), potatoes (vodka), etc. Depending on the beverage, an alcoholic drink can contain anywhere from 2 percent to 60 percent (or more) of alcohol.

Alcohol can also be found in many household items like mouthwash, hand sanitizer, perfume/cologne, and windshield wiper fluid, among many others.4,5

Alcohol is a drug that acts as a stimulant in low doses but depresses the central nervous system when it is consumed in high doses. In extremely high doses or when combined with other drugs, it can be lethal. The symptoms of alcohol consumption vary depending on a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) but a BAC higher than >400 mg/dL can severely depress or stop a person’s breathing, cause a coma, or even result in death.

Although it is possible to consume alcohol responsibly and enjoy it without getting drunk or developing an addiction, many people abuse it.

What is a Depressant?

A depressant is a type of drug that slows brain activity and provides a calming and sedating effect. Alcohol is classified as a depressant because when it is consumed in large doses, it can slow vital functions, cause slurred speech, disturbed perceptions, slowed reaction time, and a general lack of coordination.2 Other depressant drugs may include illegal drugs like heroin or cannabis, as well as prescription medications for anxiety and sleep disorders.

Side Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse has many negative side effects that may be experienced immediately after consuming it or years down the road. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines excessive alcohol consumption as:

  • Binge drinking (a pattern of drinking that consists of 4 to 5+ drinks within a two-hour period)
  • Heavy drinking (8 to 15+ drinks per week)
  • Any alcohol use among individuals under the age of 21
  • Any alcohol use among pregnant women6

The immediate negative side effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Flushed skin
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Impaired vision and hearing
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Problems concentrating
  • Slowed brain activity
  • Drowsiness
  • Mood swings
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Reduced body temperature
  • Dilated pupils
  • Trouble walking
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Slow, irregular, or shallow breathing7

Some of the short-term health risks of excessive alcohol use include:

  • Physical injuries
  • Violent behavior
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • STDs
  • Unplanned pregnancies
  • Miscarriage and stillbirth (among pregnant women)8

Some of the long-term health risks of excessive alcohol use include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Stroke
  • Cancer (mouth, breast, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon)
  • Memory problems and learning difficulties
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Family/relationship problems
  • Unemployment
  • Physical dependence
  • Alcohol use disorder (alcohol addiction)9

To prevent these harmful side effects and health problems, people should either drink responsibly or choose not to drink at all.

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Other Commonly Abused Depressants

Alcohol is not the only type of depressant drug that people misuse. There are several other types of depressant drugs that are frequently abused, including illegal drugs and prescription drugs. Here is a list of other commonly abused depressants in the U.S.:

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and often requires professional treatment to overcome. If you or a loved one is struggling with chronic alcohol abuse, a medically-assisted alcohol detox program can safely treat and manage symptoms of alcohol withdrawal while also providing individual and group counseling services to prepare you for entry into a residential or outpatient alcohol rehab program.

Inpatient alcohol detox is not only safer and more comfortable but it also greatly reduces your risk for relapse. Treatment staff will provide recommendations for ongoing treatment in residential or outpatient rehab and will even facilitate the enrollment process so you don’t have to worry about finding a rehab center after detox.

More than 15 million Americans suffer from alcohol addiction and about 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year.11 Don’t become another statistic. Instead, reclaim your life from addiction and start living a healthy, happy, and sober life. Call (888) 429-1692 to speak with an admissions representative at Nova Recovery Center to start your treatment today.


  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  2. https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/alcohol.html
  3. https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/6-shocking-non-alcoholic-items-that-secretly-contain-alcohol/
  4. http://www.safebee.com/home/5-products-your-house-contain-alcohol
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#moderate
  6. http://www2.courtinfo.ca.gov/stopteendui/teens/resources/substances/alcohol/short-and-long-term-effects.cfm
  7. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
  8. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
  9. https://www.dea.gov/taxonomy/term/316
  10. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

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