Well, we’ve all been there. That moment when everything’s running smoothly, people are dancing, laughing, the Margaritas are flowing…then suddenly someone loses it. They have a classic “tequila’s made me crazy” moment. And just like that, you’re in full-on damage control, baby-sitting if you will. You’re basically trying to get an adult to drink water while hiding their keys. They’re either standing on a table crying about polar bears, undressing in public, convincing themselves they’re fully capable of teaching someone a lesson that’s twice their size, or face slapping a friend in a cathedral (personal experience). Granted, I was talking during the ceremony, but I’ll leave out the rest of the details.
Regardless, they’re definitely not acting like someone that’s slowing down anytime soon. Antics like these have given tequila the reputation that it’s not like other spirits, that it’s an “upper.” The liquor seems to give people so much energy. So is tequila a stimulant or is it a depressant? Well if you want answers, you’ve come to the right place.
Tequila is a distilled spirit made from the blue agave plant. The spirit’s made in the midwestern region of Mexico where it’s of major economic and cultural importance. Although tequila is not the national drink of Mexico, Mezcal is. It’s still very popular in Mexico and around the world because of its unique and sophisticated taste. As a result, and lucky for us, it’s used in some of the most popular cocktails in the world including the Classic Margarita, the Tequila Sunrise, and the Paloma.
Is Tequila A Stimulant?
No, not in the traditional sense. The stimulating effect tequila has on the body only amounts to a depression of self-control. Alcohol reduces the brain’s ability to critically think, exercise good judgment, and generally makes us feel uninhibited. Furthermore, the euphoric feeling alcohol provides is a form of positive reinforcement, incentivizing (stimulating) a person to continue a specific behavior(s). So once you start “feeling good,” you’re more likely to want to keep drinking. Also, placebo has a big influence on how people perceive intoxication. If you believe tequila wakes you up and gives you energy, it’s more likely to be seen as true. I mean, you’re not the one watching yourself stumble down the hallway.
Is Tequila a Depressant?
A “depressant” refers to any drug that affects neurotransmission and slows brain activity. These drugs include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cannabis, opiates, and by FAR the most popular: ethanol. Ethanol is the consumable alcohol in every alcoholic beverage we drink. It’s the chemical that “lifts our spirits” after we enjoy a cocktail or two. But even though drinking ethanol can make you feel upbeat at first, it’s actually a central nervous system depressant. Tequila contains 38-55% ethanol depending on type and brand. So yes, tequila is a depressant.
How Tequila’s Metabolized
When you drink alcohol, a small amount is absorbed into the bloodstream right away by oral capillaries (very small blood vessels that carry blood to and from less accessible parts of the body – think fingertips, toes, or in this case, the walls of your mouth). When it arrives in the stomach it immediately begins to be metabolized. As alcohol’s further digested it moves into the small intestine where it’s rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. From there it’s transported to all parts of your body including the brain. Alcohol’s distribution throughout the body depends on the water content of each respective tissue. On an empty stomach, the entire process (from the first sip to the brain) can take less than 15 minutes.
The effects Tequila has on your brain
When tequila’s happy dose of alcohol arrives at the brain it’s greeted with fanfare, at least by you. The drug immediately begins to affect the neurons and their receptors in the brain. Neurons are the “worker bees” of the brain. They’re responsible for sending information and signals throughout your brain. The information they send controls almost every process in your body. Alcohol has an inhibitory effect on these neurons, meaning it blocks and inhibits their receptors causing a sedating effect.
This sedation (i.e. depression) of brain function leads to some big chemical changes in the body, like the increased release of dopamine and serotonin (happy chemicals) and decreased glutamate activity. Glutamate is a very important chemical that nerve cells use to talk to each other, sorta speak, and the brain needs to function properly. So you can imagine, if your brain has more chemicals that make you feel happy and less of what it needs to communicate with itself, it’s not going to work at 100%.
These chemical changes in the brain have a big impact on behavior and mood. Some of these changes are well-known like memory loss, loss of balance/physical coordination, poor decision-making (i.e. high-risk activities), impulse control, increased aggression, etc. However, the consequences of tequila drinking certainly aren’t as clear. I mean you could either have a blast on the beach or impulse buy a life-like inflatable elephant costume on Amazon, accidentally call your current significant other by your ex’s name, and/or (and most terrifying) make a bundle of joy with a stranger.
The point being, tequila’s a great addition to any party when drank responsibly. But keep in mind, tequila’s a depressant that can have a big impact on your mind, body, and the way you act. So only drink a few, drink some water, call a Lyft, and live to fight another day. And before I forget, if you met them at a bar…they’re probably not the “one.” Cheers!
National Institutes of Health Publication: Alcohol and Neurotransmitter Interactions
U.S. News & World Report: Is Alcohol a Depressant?
National Library of Medicine: Communication Networks in the Brain
If you’re ready for a good time…and a responsible one. Check out our tequila cocktail recipes!