It’s common knowledge that alcohol affects your brain function, but you may wonder exactly how it works.
Some people think of alcohol as a stimulant that can increase your heart rate, give you energy, and decrease your inhibitions. However, this is not the whole story.
Alcohol has some initial stimulant effects, but it’s primarily a depressant — meaning it slows your body down.
How it affects you depends on your body chemistry, how much alcohol you ingest at once, and your alcohol tolerance.
This article reviews the effects of alcohol, both as a stimulant and a depressant.
Stimulants vs. depressants
Stimulants and depressants both affect your nervous system and brain function, although in opposite ways.
Stimulants excite your nervous system. They may increase your blood pressure and heart rate and give you more energy. In high doses, they can cause insomnia and make you jittery and impulsive (1Trusted Source).
Examples of stimulants include mild ones, such as caffeine, as well as much stronger prescription amphetamines or illicit drugs like cocaine.
On the other hand, depressants slow you down by decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure. They can help you feel relaxed and, on the extreme end, completely sedate you (2Trusted Source).
Benzodiazepines are one class of depressant drugs used to treat insomnia and anxiety, while prescription opiates are powerful products in this category.
Some compounds can have characteristics of both. Examples include nicotine, although it’s most frequently characterized as a stimulant, and alcohol, which is primarily a depressant but has some stimulant effects (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
You should not mix alcohol and stimulant or depressant drugs due to the risk of severe side effects.
Stimulants excite your nervous system and may boost your energy, while depressants slow down your nervous system and relax you. Some substances have both stimulant and depressant effects.