Alcohol is a depressant

tolerance

A brain trick

Alcohol is classified as a depressant drug, but there’s more to it. Alcohol produces a stimulant effect in small amounts for most normal drinkers. Alcoholics, however, develop tolerance and are able to drink much more than the normal drinker, thus extending the stimulant effect. Regarding the multiple roles played the drug alcohol, this is from a Forbes article:

We hear many different things about how alcohol affects the brain and body, most notably that it is a depressant.  That’s only part of the story. Alcohol is a depressant, but it’s also an indirect stimulant, and plays a few other roles that might surprise you.

Alcohol directly affects brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters — the chemical messengers that transmit the signals throughout the body that control thought processes, behavior and emotion.  Alcohol affects both “excitatory” neurotransmitters and “inhibitory” neurotransmitters.

The more a person drinks the more the brain is tricked — first, the brain reacts to the increase in dopamine, a brain chemical that produces good feelings, then, at the same time, the more a person drinks the more the alternate, depressant effect takes over causing all the negative effects of alcohol, slurred speech, loss of balance, impaired judgment, loss of inhibitions, and a shut down of the central nervous system if enough alcohol is consumed.

Most people learn how to balance the competing effects of alcohol, therefore avoiding most of the negative effects of alcohol. The alcoholic, though, gradually increases tolerance, extending the feel-good, dopamine effect of alcohol, then gradually becomes psychologically and physically dependent on alcohol. The mean  trick with alcohol is that it eventually damages the liver and the alcoholic can’t extend the feel good period because the live is not breaking down alcohol properly. The alcoholic quickly reaches the negative effects but continues trying to capture the magic, then drinks just to feel “normal” for awhile, because going without alcohol is too painful. The physical withdrawals from alcohol get progressively worse for the alcoholic, thus the dilemma. Also from the Forbes article:

Over time, with more drinking, the dopamine effect diminishes until it’s almost nonexistent. But at this stage, a drinker is often “hooked” on the feeling of dopamine release in the reward center, even though they’re no longer getting it.  Once a compulsive need to go back again and again for that release is established, addiction takes hold.  The length of time it takes for this to happen is case-specific; some people have a genetic propensity for alcoholism and for them it will take very little time, while for others it may take several weeks or months.

It’s needless to say that that alcoholism is confusing and frustrating for a person who never intended to experience this terrible existence. Treatment is necessary as alcoholism progresses, and the sooner alcoholism is recognized and treated, the better for all concerned.