Effects of Alcohol

The Stimulating and Depressing Effects of Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant. This means it inhibits the function of your central nervous system (i.e., your brain). As you consume alcohol in low to moderate amounts and as your BAC is rising and under .06, you will likely experience stimulating effects of alcohol (increases in arousal, energy, and confidence). This is due to the combination of increased amount of sugar from alcohol as well as the fact that alcohol initially depresses those parts of the brain that are responsible for inhibition. However, as your BAC surpasses .06 (or your BAC begins to fall), you begin to experience the depressant effects of alcohol (fatigue, “slowing down”, lack of coordination). In hopes of avoiding the depressing effects and regaining the initial stimulating effects of alcohol, you may be tempted to drink more. Unfortunately, this is the worst thing that you can do. The more alcohol you consume and, subsequently, the higher your BAC, the more you will experience the depressing effects of alcohol.

The depressing and negative effects of alcohol can be minimized by drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol (below .06 BAC). Note that tolerance, although thought to be a positive characteristic by some, is actually hampering your experience while you drink. Not only does tolerance make drinking more expensive in terms of calories and money, but tolerance also limits the initial stimulating effects from alcohol and causes the depressing effects to be lower than usual.

The faster you drink and the more you drink, the less you will experience mild stimulating effects, and the more you will feel depressed.

Adapted from the BASICS program. Dimeff, L. A., Baer, J. S., Kivlahan, D. & Marlatt, G. A. (1999). Brief Alcohol Screening & Intervention for College Students Basics: A Harm Reduction Approach. New York, Guilford Publications. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not substitute consultation with a trained professional.