Depressants are substances that take a significant toll on mental and emotional health. Consuming them on a regular basis can be harmful to your mind and happiness, but is alcohol one of them?

Alcohol and the brain

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Most people consume alcohol in order to access its stimulating effects. The sensations of drunkenness, such as feeling energised, confident, and happy, are strongly associated with drinking, but the drug is primarily a depressant, so it can also have the opposite effects.

Depressants are a group of substances that inhibit the central nervous system (CNS). More specifically, they reduce the brain’s capacity to send messages throughout the body. In real-life terms, this affects an individual’s ability to think, judge things, and navigate the world.

When consumed on a regular or excessive basis, alcohol’s effects begin to take a toll on an individual’s mental health. The substance’s impact on the CNS means individuals cannot make rational decisions and their view of the world can become negatively skewed.

The depressant effects of alcohol

As the name suggests, being part of the depressant group of substances means alcohol can have several negative effects on an individual’s mental health. In addition, abusing it can also affect cognitive and emotional skills.

The side effects of alcohol as a depressant include:

In addition, individuals can experience some of the following physical effects:

  • Poor coordination and balance
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blurry vision
  • Headache
  • Slurred speech
  • Laboured breathing

How else alcohol can trigger depressive symptoms

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As well as the physical impact it has on the brain, alcohol can disrupt mental and emotional health in the way it affects an individual’s life.

Because heavy drinking can have a huge influence on an individual’s everyday routines – affecting their work life, study habits, and family schedules – symptoms of depression can be caused in different ways.

For example, it is common for those who abuse alcohol to experience tensions at work and within their family, as well as suffer from more injuries and legal issues. All of these factors can contribute to the development of depression, exacerbating alcohol’s physical effects [1].

Depression: its unique relationship with alcohol


While depressants are known to increase the risk of individuals developing depression in the ways outlined above, alcohol has a certain connection with the condition. The reason for this lies in one of the most well-known aspects of alcohol consumption: hangovers.

When individuals drink heavily, they experience negative effects the next day. Fatigue, headache, dehydration. But as well as the physical consequences of a heavy night out, individuals also experience guilt, illness, and nervousness.

As a result of this, those who consistently drink constantly feel these negative impacts. Feeling so low on such a regular basis can add up over time, contributing to a declining perception of the world and brittle emotional stability.

Anxiety: how does alcohol influence it?

Man sitting on bench holding his head in his hands

One of the most common mental health difficulties people face in the UK is anxiety, and the rates have only increased following the Covid-19 pandemic [2]. Alcohol interacts with anxiety disorder in a very specific way.

When individuals consume alcohol to the excessive extent that their CNS is continually being influenced by the substance, it can become accustomed to this state. If alcohol is taken away or not consumed, the CNS and brain can react in a rapid, aggressive way.

This reaction is recognisable as a huge rush of anxiety, which individuals can feel completely overwhelmed by. It not only works to increase their sense of panic and distress but also pushes them into more fervent and consistent alcohol use.

Alcohol as a depressant in the long-term

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With the CNS under such constant influence from alcohol, it is no surprise that sustained drinking can have long-term effects on an individual’s life.

As well as the short-term changes in mood and psychology, they can also experience the following throughout life:

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sleeping problems, sometimes developing into insomnia
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Chronic fatigue

Factors that influence alcohol’s impact as a depressant


Everyone has a different susceptibility to the effects of alcohol, and this also works in terms of the substance’s depressant impact.

There are a number of factors which dictate how likely someone’s CNS is influenced by alcohol, and understanding these can protect the vulnerable.

1. Age

Older people tend to feel the effects of alcohol more strongly, meaning they require less of it for their CNS to become impacted [3].

2. Genetics

Our biology plays a huge role in determining how our minds and bodies interact with alcohol. With certain genes being passed down to us, we might be more vulnerable to the depressant effects of alcohol due to changes in our CNS or our addictive habits.

3. Mental health

Prior to alcohol being taken at all, the state of our mental health can impact how we are going to react with the substance. Those who already live with psychological difficulties can find that alcohol makes their anxiety or depression worse.

4. Lifestyle and social network

When alcohol begins to influence the CNS, how an individual’s brain reacts and suffers can be mitigated or exacerbated by how they live their life. Those who live alone, have little social support from friends or family, or abuse other substances might suffer more.

5. Knowing how to remain in control

When you drink on a regular basis, the risk of alcohol dependence can linger over your activity. Especially if you are biologically at risk of struggling with alcohol and its depressant effects, there are a number of steps you can take to keep yourself in check.

6. Set limits and create plans

Prior to drinking, limit the impact alcohol can have on your brain by setting yourself boundaries. Prepare a plan which puts a cap on how much you plan to drink, or provides you with a limited budget so that you can only drink so much.

7. Inform a friend

If you are planning to drink with a close friend or family member, make them aware of your concerns. If they understand that alcohol works as a depressant and can seriously impact your mental health, they can keep an eye on you and limit your consumption.

8. Drop the strength

Alcoholic drinks vary considerably when it comes to their strength. To continue drinking but limit the substance’s impact on your brain chemistry, consume lower-concentration drinks.

9. Find healthy hobbies

If alcohol functions as a recreational or social activity for you and your social network, you can try and find alternative ways of having fun to reduce the amount you consume. Instead of drinking, occasionally play sports, have a walk, or go to an event with your friends.

How to know if you are drinking too much alcohol

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It is perfectly normal to feel concerned about how alcohol might be affecting your mood and mental well-being.

Even if you do not yet show signs of experiencing alcohol’s impact on the CNS, you might want to know whether your rate of consumption is increasing the risk.

Some of the most common signs of unhealthy drinking include:

  • Secretive behaviour If you lie about or attempt to cover up how much you are drinking, it might be an indication that you realise that it is happening too much.
  • Impacted professional life/studyingIf your drinking has started to decrease your productivity, affect your concentration, or lower your attendance, it means that alcohol is becoming the dominant focus in your life.
  • No reason neededIf you are drinking without social cause or on your own, you are likely consuming more alcohol than the average person.
  • Others have approached youEven if you can’t see it yourself, the expression of concern by others about your drinking is often the biggest indicator that your usage has reached an unhealthy level.
  • Not just for fun Although it is predominantly used as a recreational substance, those who abuse alcohol and are at the highest risk of its depressant effects are those who use it to self-medicate, either for a mental or physical health condition.
  • Failed attempts to cut downIf you have tried to reduce your alcohol consumption and failed, it might be a sign that your body and mind have already formed a dependency on it.

Getting the right support for alcohol abuse

Two men comforting another man in a group therapy session

As a depressant, alcohol can massively change a person’s life for the worse, disrupting their career and studies as well as harming their personal and family life. It’s essential, therefore, to know what support is available to help combat alcohol use disorder and reduce these impacts.

Support comes in the form of alcohol rehab, a process that consists of several different yet equally important stages of treatment.

Treating alcohol’s hold on the body

Drinking alcohol changes how the body and brain work. Chemical and hormonal processes are shifted to accommodate alcohol, and in terms of being a depressant, the substance slows systems down so that they function differently.

Over time, the body and brain become used to this influence and react negatively when alcohol is taken away. To treat this, a detox is required, seeing the substance gradually taken away so that an individual can safely become sober.

Alcohol detox is a particularly dangerous form of treatment because of the withdrawal it prompts. Withdrawing from alcohol is known to spark potentially fatal symptoms, so medical attention and Benzodiazepines are necessary precautions for sobriety.

Untangling alcohol from the mind

Alcohol’s status as a depressant means that its physical hold of an individual is not the only form of dependency that needs to be tackled when treating alcoholism.

Those who experience emotional lows when sober will have psychological cravings for alcohol too.

To reduce this demand, therapy is used. Sessions see individuals working with a therapist or a group of fellow recovering patients to identify why they feel a need to consume alcohol and work through these triggers.

Alcohol therapy often focuses on the effects of the substance as a depressant and helps individuals correct the negative worldview that it has caused them to experience.

Looking to an alcohol-free future

The final stage of treating alcohol use disorders involves preparing for life after rehab. It predominantly requires individuals to work with addiction specialists to identify ways in which they can minimise their risk of relapse.

This is usually done by preparing for how different triggers can be managed and their influences on behaviour negated.

Several techniques can be utilised, such as HALT which encourages individuals to consider if they are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired when they experience cravings.

Understanding alcohol: OK Rehab support

Understanding alcohol’s role as a depressant can be a distressing and confusing topic.

Identifying how the substance might be influencing your mental health can be a difficult thing to do, but you do not need to struggle alone.

Give OK Rehab a call on 0800 326 5559 and let our team answer all of your questions. If you are struggling with alcohol misuse, we can help guide you through your road to recovery and kickstart your journey to a more stable mental well-being!