Understanding Alcohol Abuse

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Is Alcohol a Depressant or is Alcohol a Stimulant?

A common misconception about alcohol is that it is a stimulant. However, it is a depressant.

Because of its initial effects that include everything from extreme happiness to decreased inhibitions, many are prone to incorrectly assume that alcohol is a stimulant.

But, because of the sedation and drowsiness that follows this initial euphoria, alcohol falls under a depressant classification.

While users are apt to look at the short-term effects of classifying an addictive substance, we use the long-term effects to distinguish depressants from stimulants.

For example, alcohol can even cause extreme situations such as unconsciousness, coma, or even death when consumed in high concentrations.

Alcohol for Social Gatherings, Medicinal Cures, Cultural, and Religious Reasons

Our society has imbibed alcohol for centuries for everything from social gatherings, to medicinal cures, to cultural and religious reasons.

Therefore, most Americans believe they can use it responsibly — whether in a social or religious setting. Advertisements and media images often present alcohol as an upper – a way to enjoy a party or celebrate success.

Unfortunately, these conflicting messages and misinformation do not help users make responsible or informed decisions about alcohol use.

Because, as a depressant, if you drink alcohol to excess, you could exhibit social, legal, or other problems.

Am I Abusing Alcohol?

Because many do not know that alcohol is a depressant, it’s not only easy to misinterpret the effects of alcohol; it also makes it easier to abuse alcohol. That, coupled with the fact that alcohol is legal in the U.S. at the age of 21, it is vital to understand some of the signs of alcohol abuse and addiction to know if and how you should approach treatment.

It is also important to note that alcohol abuse is not equivalent to alcoholism. Abusing alcohol constitutes drinking to excess. Those struggling with alcoholism, on the other hand, will experience intense alcohol cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms. The factors that contribute to alcoholism vary, and they include genetic, environmental, or psychological factors.

If you have further questions on this distinction, or if you are concerned, you may have an alcohol problem, we encourage you to give us a call at Resurgence Behavioral Health.

What are Some Mental Health Disorders Related to Alcohol Use?

Many times, mental health disorders and alcohol abuse go hand-in-hand.

Some of the most common mental illnesses that accompany or cause alcohol abuse include depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Each mental illness will affect your alcoholism differently, depending on the longevity and severity of your disorder. That is why we will treat any mental illness you exhibit as we tackle your recovery from alcoholism.


Many drinkers may turn to alcohol to suppress their depression symptoms, also known as self-medicating. Unfortunately, since alcohol is a depressant, this can be very dangerous.

While almost immediately after you consume alcohol, you will likely experience a high, this will not last long because alcohol is a depressant. Over time, your body will begin to rely on drinking for that initial feeling of happiness, which can lead you into a cycle of alcohol dependence or addiction.

Because of alcohol’s depressive qualities, we don’t always suggest quitting alcohol  “cold turkey” or against medical advice. As alcohol is a depressant, this form of withdrawal can intensify depression symptoms, which greatly increases your risk of self-harm and suicide.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a manic-depressive illness that involves irregular mood swings, fluctuating from extreme highs to intense lows. Bipolar disorder is also not rare. Roughly six million people of all ages in the U.S. suffer from bipolar disorder.

If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you are at a higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder, such as alcoholism. We offer meditation for substance abuse treatment. Studies show that the symptoms of bipolar can become incredibly dangerous when you drink as alcohol is a depressant that exacerbates symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

One type of anxiety disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), involves uncontrollable obsessions that trigger repeated compulsions.

According to this article: “OCD frequently co-occurs with substance use disorders (SUDs). Individuals with co-occurring OCD and SUDs may have a greater level of impairment in overall psychosocial functioning than individuals with OCD but without a SUD.”

Many people think alcohol will help a person relax and escape their fears, but drinking worsens OCD symptoms. The depressive qualities of alcohol can cause a lifetime of permanent consequences for someone with OCD, including health complications and life-long emotional troubles.

Mental Health Disorders and Alcoholism: Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis involves a mental health disorder and a substance abuse problem that occurs simultaneously. For example, someone suffering from depression is more likely to drink alcohol because they believe it will stop feelings of irritability, tiredness, or helplessness. Unfortunately, with dual diagnosis, the depressive qualities that result from drinking alcohol often coexist with mental illness and make it worse. If left untreated, this combination of mental illness and alcohol dependency can intensify your depressive feelings, taking a toll on you and your loved ones.

If you struggle with alcohol abuse along with a mental illness, you may be ashamed to admit that you have a problem. You might view your problem as a personal shortcoming or a failure that you are embarrassed to open up about.

We understand that alcoholism and mental health conditions are sensitive subjects, but we are here to help. The sooner we recognize and treat the symptoms of dual diagnosis, the greater the chance for lifelong recovery.

How Will You Treat a Dual Diagnosis?

We know there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to treating a dual diagnosis. Because alcohol is a depressant that intensifies mental illness, we will utilize a comprehensive recovery plan to treat both disorders.

We encourage you to view our alcohol treatment page to learn more about how we treat alcohol addictions.

We will typically start your treatment plan with detox. Once detox is complete, you will be able to enter one of our inpatient or outpatient treatment programs to continue your recovery journey.

Picking the right course of treatment will be dependent on your understanding of alcohol abuse and its short-term and long-term effects. That’s why if you think you may have a problem with alcohol abuse or alcoholism, it’s of the utmost importance that you understand that alcohol is a depressant and learn more about the depressive effects it has.

The common misconception that alcohol is a stimulant can lead you down a spiral of depression because you are convinced that alcohol is energizing you or making you happy. We are here to educate you on this misconception.

After an instructional period, we will work with you or your loved one on a personalized treatment plan.

Addiction Treatment at Resurgence Behavioral Health

At Resurgence Behavioral Health in Orange County, CA, we are here to help and support through finding your truest self while leaving your most destructive self behind.

We understand what it takes to get you through your alcohol withdrawal and the emotional and psychological support you’ll need from us to become your best self.

Contact one of our addiction specialists today with any questions or concerns.