Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Published On: May 3, 2023

Whilst scientists are still undecided on the cause of addictions, most agree that addiction has the ability to affect anyone. Psychological factors, as well as genetics, could play a role in someone developing an addiction.

When it comes to alcohol, there are several factors that could increase the risk of an addiction developing, including, but not limited to; binge drinking, history of trauma, drinking from a young age, and suffering from multiple mental health issues.

Understanding that alcohol addiction is a disease and is considered a mental health disorder because of the lasting physical effects can be difficult due to its availability and legality.

It physically affects the brain’s chemistry and causes lasting damage, but it’s difficult to always recognise the symptoms early due to drinking culture here in the UK(1).

As many people are casually drinking, it can be difficult to single out people who may have a significant problem, and they can often slip under the radar of their peers.

Eventually though, the symptoms will build up, and eventually the following can be noticed:

  • Drinking at inappropriate times, such as early mornings, or non-drinking social gatherings.
  • Consuming more and more alcohol to feel the same effects
  • Hiding your drinking habits from friends and family.
  • Choosing new drinking pals over long terms friends
  • More lethargic and feeling down more often.

How alcohol affects our brain chemistry


Our brains operate properly when the chemicals and processes are perfectly balanced. Alcohol is classed as a depressant substance, meaning it can change the balance of the chemicals within the brain.

This can affect our actions, thoughts and feelings, sometimes with long term mental health complications.

Alcohol affects our brain by disrupting the chemical messages being sent to the neurotransmitters, which are chemical receptors that send signals from one nerve to another throughout the brain.

The feeling of relaxation that can come from alcohol is an example of this at work. When alcohol reaches the neurotransmitters, it causes the brain to function differently.

It can make you feel less anxiousand more confident. This is the part of the brain associated with inhibition not receiving the correct signals from the neurotransmitters.

The more alcohol that is consumed, the more this impacts the effect on the signals being sent. Regardless of the mood you’re in, it’s possible that negative feelings can quickly take over, which can affect your mental health (2).

Quite often, these negative feelings show themselves in the forms of aggression, anxiety and depression.

Alcohol and anxiety


As mentioned above, alcohol can make you feel less anxious, but this feeling won’t last forever. This feeling is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, causing your neuroreceptors to transmit incorrect signals throughout the brain.

These effects wear off quickly though and relying on alcohol to mask your anxiety can lead to further issues.

By using alcohol to mask anxiety, it can lead quickly to alcohol abuse; the more alcohol you drink, the more you have to drink to feel the same effects. In the mid-long term, this can lead to alcohol dependency.

The more alcohol we drink, the more likely the feelings of anxiety and depression are to worsen. As soon as the morning after, those already struggling with anxiety can see the negative effects.

Drinking doesn’t always help to reduce anxiety due to the chemical imbalance; something that may normally be seen as acceptable could trigger someone with an anxious predisposition to interpret it as threatening. This can cause further issues, as alcohol will affect the brain’s reasoning ability.

There are many ways to reduce anxiety without using alcohol, from simple breathing techniques to meditation and yoga. Talking to a friend or family member about how you are feeling can also help.

So, what is a Depressant?

Alcohol addiction

Despite the name, depressant substances don’t directly make you emotionally depressed. The term Depressant refers to the classification of drugs that depress or inhibit the Central Nervous System (CNS).

Depressants slow down and impair the activity within the brain by blocking messages being sent from the neurotransmitters. This causes a change in a person’s perceptions, emotions, movements, judgements and senses.

Users of depressants become more vulnerable to multiple health risks, including accidental injuries and even death. The more of a substance that is consumed, the greater the risk of this happening.

As you consume more, the brain becomes further affected by the depressant, to the point movement and judgment can be severely impaired.

How Depressants Affect the Mind and Body


Depressants, including alcohol, impact the brain in different ways. The substance itself connects to several different neurotransmitters within the brain, having a range of effects.

One transmitter it affects causes feelings of calmness and sedation, as well as also depressing the CNS, which causes your heart rate and breathing to slow.

Another transmitter that is inhibited results in memory loss and further impairment of brain functions. In addition to these two transmitters, alcohol also releases dopamine.

The more of the substance that is consumed, however, the more the effects will start to develop. As you continue drinking, more alcohol will enter the system. further impairing judgment, whilst also starting to affect vision, balance, alertness, reaction time, and generally dulling down your senses.

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Cosmopolitan cocktail on a napkin

Whilst Alcohol is used by many to make them feel better and have a good time, it is classified as a depressant substance. As alcohol inhibits the CNS, it slows down normal brain function, causing impairment in both mental and physical activities.

Because of this, alcohol affects one’s ability to make rational decisions, which has reportedly led to people making decisions whilst intoxicated that they would not do whilst sober.

In larger doses, alcohol can severely impact the individual’s brain chemistry, causing them to get emotional, violent, or potentially injure themselves or others due to lack of coordination.

In serious cases, and with excessive consumption, alcohol can cause vomiting, drowsiness, and unconsciousness, and there is a risk of life-threatening injuries and death.

Depressant Effects of Alcohol

Man putting hand to the camera in 'no' or 'stop' gesture

As alcohol is a depressant, it will slow down your CNS, which can cause you to react slower to things, and lose motor control, causing you to slur your words.

It is known to cause your heart rate to slow down whilst also decreasing blood pressure.

There are further depressant effects of alcohol, and each has varying degrees depending on how much alcohol is consumed:

  • Lowered inhibition can lead you to do things or agree to things that normally would not happen. This can put you and your peers in dangerous situations or regret the morning after.
  • Disorientation could cause you to trip and fall, leading to breakages or worse. It could also mean you are unaware of your surroundings and may accidentally bump into others also under the influence, leading to feelings of aggression.
  • Drowsiness can start to come into play after the consumption of large quantities of alcohol. Whilst some may find it funny when a friend falls asleep in a bar or at a party, this can lead to deadly consequences if you fall asleep in the wrong place, or in the wrong weather.
  • Sedation, which coincides with drowsiness, can put you in risky situations, as you will be unable to react to your surroundings. Coupled with drowsiness, this can lead to an advantage being taken of you.
  • A decrease in coordination can cause slips and falls, as well as a perception of ability. You may think you can achieve certain tasks, but on attempting them, without coordination, you could injure yourself or others.

Side Effects of Alcohol And Other Depressants

Table of smiling people clinking alcoholic beverages

Whilst alcohol is the most common depressant available, there are others available as medication within the UK. The most popular of these are Benzodiazepines, with the most common of these substances being Valium.

These substances can be prescribed to help with a variety of ailments, including severe back pain, insomnia, and postoperative.

People use depressants for a variety of reasons but continue to use them due to the short-lived relaxing effect these substances create. Abuse of these substances can lead to both long-term and short-term effects, with some of these being long-lasting.

The negative effect of these substances outweighs the positives ideas surrounding them:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression
  • Unconsciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Slowed breathing
  • Nausea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Risk to life

Something often skipped over is the non-physical effects of these substances. Many substance abusers start to experience problems in all aspects of their life, from employment, friends and family relationships, and financial difficulty.

The effects of alcohol and other depressants can also put those close to you at risk, due to the activities you undertake whilst under the influence. Some alcoholics don’t think drinking affects their driving, and will get behind the wheel, putting themselves and other road users at risk.

Further risk-taking activities could include physical altercations and unprotected sex.

Drinking & depression: a vicious cycle

anxious 3

Heavy and regular drinking are both associated with symptoms of depression, but it’s still undecided about cause and effect. It’s unclear whether or not drinking alcohol can cause depression or symptoms of it.

As alcohol affects the CNS, some of the receptors that are affected help to regulate your mood.

Studies have shown links between heavy drinking and depression following this, and that reducing or stopping drinking altogether can help to improve your mood (3).

Some of the non-physical effects of alcohol abuse can also affect your mood. As relationships start to break down, or your work becomes affected, the feeling of depression can be further elevated.

To tackle depression, many people are prescribed antidepressants. It is very important that these are not mixed with alcohol, as they have opposing effects. Many common antidepressants can increase the risk of relapse to drinking in those trying to abstain or cut down.

As with depressants, antidepressants should be used with caution, and only as prescribed by your doctor.

Getting help if you’re worried about your drinking

12 step

The advice from the government is that adults shouldn’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. This equates to roughly six average-strength pints of beer, or the same number of 175ml glasses of wine.

If you find that you are regularly drinking these amounts, it is recommended to spread this over more than 3 days. If you are worried that your drinking is starting to affect your personal life or mental health, there are many options available to you.

If you have a support circle, reach out to them for support. Family and friends can be a good place to start, even if it’s just to have someone to talk to (4).

Ways to help yourself

One of the best ways to cut down on your drinking is to avoid situations in which you would normally drink. For example, if you normally meet your friends at the pub, suggest alternative activities such as the cinema, taking up a new skill/sport, or taking a new evening class.

If you need support in changing your drinking or becoming more mindful about it, Club Soda can be a great place to start, with free online seminars and many tools to help.

Changing habits can be a difficult task and talking to people you can trust can help solidify your plans, whilst also helping you to achieve them. They can help to keep you motivated through difficult times, whilst encouraging you along the journey.

The NHS website has lots of tools to help cut down on your alcohol consumption, with organisations listed that can provide further help.

Getting support

It might feel like a difficult option but talking to your local GP can be a great place to seek help. They will have heard from many before in a similar situation to you and will want to offer help.

Your GP can check your physical health as well as put you in touch with the local support networks available, such as drug and alcohol services run by the NHS.

If you are physically dependent on alcohol, then stopping drinking suddenly could be harmful. Your GP can give you advice on the best way to help you do this safely and provide medication if needed.

Your GP may discover that you also have a mental health problem, in which case they may give you a “dual diagnosis”. This means that rather than the drug and alcohol services taking charge, you should be looked after by the mental health services.

At Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we understand that every individual will require different levels and types of assistance.

This can range from a chat over the phone with one of our friendly and professional team members to the beginning of the admittance process to a dedicated rehabilitation centre.

To speak to someone today about taking the next step, give Rehab 4 Alcoholism a call on 0800 111 4108 where our addiction support hotline is available 24/7.


[1] Mind: How drugs and alcohol can affect your mental health:

[2] Drinkaware: Alcohol and mental health:

[3] Sullivan LE, Fiellin DA, O’Connor PG. The prevalence and impact of alcohol problems in major depression: a systematic review. The American Journal of Medicine. 2005 Apr 1;118(4):330-41.

[4] Mental Health Foundation: Alcohol and mental health:

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