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Alcohol and Mental Health

Is Alcohol a Depressant?

June 14, 2023
6 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 14, 2023
6 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 14, 2023
6 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 14, 2023
6 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 14, 2023
6 min read

We don't typically consider alcohol to be depressing because it makes us laugh, dance, and converse with strangers. But alcohol is also sometimes referred to as a depressant. What gives, then? Let's take a closer look at alcohol's cunning dual nature.

Immediate effects

Alcohol, despite giving us a brief buzz, depresses the central nervous system, slowing down brain activity and interfering with brain cell communication.

At the same time, though, alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine in the reward centers of the brain. That's the component that makes us feel cozy, friendly, and at ease. Don't let this fool you. Alcohol tends to reveal its true colors as we drink more of it.

Alcohol begins to impede brain function as it moves through the bloodstream. Reaction times slow down, thinking becomes fuzzy, and remembering things becomes difficult. If you binge drink, you could possibly become unconscious. Alcohol is classified as a "depressant" because of these undesirable effects.

The Rebound

Alcohol can have a negative impact on your mental health in addition to slowing down your physical reactions and brain processes. You know those low moods and feelings of sadness that creep in after a night of heavy drinking? That's alcohol-induced depression kicking in.

The brain prefers to maintain balance, which is one of the reasons why this happens. After alcohol floods the system with dopamine, it releases the protein dynorphin to counteract and balance things out. Dynorphin binds to opioid receptors in the brain and is primarily linked with controlling pain responses and keeping the proper level of of excitement. In other words, it regulates how your body reacts to pain and how excited your brain becomes.  

As it turns out, chronic alcohol consumption can actually increase the production of dynorphin, and excessive dynorphin can contribute to feelings of dysphoria and depression. Further, prolonged alcohol use raises dynorphin levels in the body, which can exacerbate negative emotional states, and high levels of dynorphin can lessen the effects of dopamine.

The Downward Spiral

Regularly misusing alcohol can further disrupt the chemical equilibrium in the brain, altering mood, behavior, and emotions over the long run. It can even reduce our level of serotonin, the chemical that regulates our mood, resulting in increased feelings of depression and anxiety. Talk about a party pooper, right?

These unfavorable emotional states are exacerbated by the surge in dynorphin, which can lead to detrimental behaviors like drinking more alcohol to treat despair.

Filling the Void

Ultimately, the only way to overcome alcohol's depressive effects is to reevaluate its role in our lives. Consider it an experiment: What would happen if you tried to limit your drinking to social occasions or give up alcohol for a few days each week? Don't keep it a secret, either. Tell your loved ones about your goals. They’ll support you every step of the way!

If you're used to using alcohol to relax or cope with stress, stopping or cutting back can leave a void. That's why it's a good idea to find alternative coping strategies.

Have you ever gone for a brisk walk or run in the park? Being active is a great way to improve your mood. Or how about some meditation or mindfulness? Both can lower your stress. A passion like reading, drawing, or even gardening might even become be your main focus.

Don't be too hard on yourself if giving up or cutting back is difficult for you. It's completely acceptable to have expert assistance. And don't forget about support groups; nothing beats getting to know others who are on a similar journey!

Wrapping Up

Despite being a common choice for unwinding and socializing, it’s clear that alcohol may have serious negative consequences on our bodies and minds. So the next time you go for a drink, keep in mind that it's acceptable to sip slowly or even to abstain — in a spirit of curiosity and expanding your options. After all, your well-being is worth it!

Reclaim Your Well-Being With Reframe!

Looking to ditch the booze and the depression that comes with it? Well, you're in the right spot. At Reframe, we believe in kindness and helping folks like you unlock their true potential. As a member, you'll receive engaging daily readings and activities and gain access to a 24/7 anonymous chat forum.

Additionally, you’ll have access to a plethora of tools to help you along your growth and transformation journey. We even have monthly challenges to motivate you and foster more connection with other Reframe members. Our team is always here to help. We can even connect you with professional counselors on private Zoom sessions, if you wish.

Are you ready to take a giant leap toward a healthier, more resilient your? With 2.1 million downloads and counting, we're steadily redefining what it means to be alcohol-free or sober curious. Check out the Reframe app and sign up for a 7-day free trial today. We're eager for you to join our amazing community!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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