Alcohol a Depressant? Or is Alcohol a Stimulant? Find Out

Is alcohol a depressant or a stimulant? Discover the truth here.


I.   Depressant or Stimulant?

II.  Biphasic Effect

III. Different Beverages

IV.  Resources

Alcohol a Depressant or a Stimulant?

I. Alcohol a Depressant or a Stimulant?

Is alcohol a depressant? Or is it a stimulant? Most people find that drinking alcohol stimulates and enlivens them. It makes them happy and can give them a high. It makes gatherings and parties more fun. But they read that alcohol is a depressant. How can this be?

Although alcohol usually makes most people happy, it is also a depressant. But that doesn’t mean that alcohol depress our mood. It depresses or slows down our bodily functions such as heartbeat and breathing.

II. Biphasic Effect

People know that a couple of drinks make them feel good. So they assume that more and more drinks will make them feel even better. They’re wrong. Having a lot of drinks may make them feel worse. This is known as the biphasic (or two part) effect.

People generally feel happier as their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises to about .05. That’s the first phase or part. But if their BAC rises above that, the risk of negative effects increases. That’s the second phase. So it’s clearly smart to stop during the first phase and not progress into the second part. That’s when the risk of hangovers and other problems increases.

For more, see How Alcohol Effects Us.

III. Different Beverages

alcohol a depressant
Is alcohol a depressant or is it a stimulant?

There’s no evidence that different alcoholic beverages cause different moods. But there’s strong evidence that our expectations effect how we react to alcohol. If we think that Champagne makes people flirt, we tend to flirt. If we think that beer makes people act silly, we tend to act silly. And so on.

The famous psychologist Alan Marlatt proved this over 50 years ago. People who falsely think they are drinking alcohol tende to act intoxicated. Those who falsely think they are not drinking alcohol tend to act sober. Many other researchers have shown this over and over again.

So, is alcohol a depressant or is it a stimulant? In reality it is usually both.

IV. Resources

    • Know of facts that should be added? If so, please contact hansondj [at sign] potsdam [dot] edu /. And thank you for your help!