Can alcohol technically be classified as a drug? Typically, when we think of drugs we think of illicit ones like cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin. However, drugs don’t necessarily need to be illicit to fall into that category. Nicotine, cough syrup, and prescription drugs are all legal substances that most adults can acquire. With that in mind, is it completely out of the question to label alcohol a “drug”? No, it isn’t. In this article, we’re going to be taking a deeper look into alcohol, the addictive nature of the substance, and why it is can be considered a drug. Alcohol treatment center Arizona assists hundreds of alcoholics a year get sober.

What is Alcohol?

We’re all pretty familiar with what alcohol is, but let’s talk about the science behind alcohol. Alcohol is technically classified as a Central Nervous System depressant (CNS). What this means is that the substance slows down the central nervous system, which controls most of the body and mind. The brain, the main part of the central nervous system, is responsible for our thoughts, how we interpret things around us, and our body’s movements. Alcohol, since it slows this system down, impairs a person’s ability to perform these actions in a normal or otherwise suitable manner. Brain function, neural activity, and other vital organ functions are some of the major areas affected by alcohol consumption. Here are some other side-effects that alcohol can cause:

  • Overly talkative
  • Overly confident
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Euphoria
  • Delayed reaction time
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Speech is slurred
  • Poor motor skills
  • Distorted perceptions
  • Lessened inhibitions
  • Lack of good judgment
  • State of sedation

One of the most significant effects not mentioned above is addiction/dependence. Alcohol, if consumed enough, can result in serious addiction. If a person experiences the stimulant effects of alcohol enough, they can quickly find themselves entangled in an inescapable web of alcohol addiction. There are of course many other factors that play into the development of addiction, but this is by far one of the most significant. Drugs are substances that have some sort of physiological effect when ingested, just like alcohol. Alcohol can be both physically and psychologically addictive, in which case we can classify the substance as a drug.

Facts About Alcohol Abuse

To better understand just how addictive this drug can be, let’s lay out some cold, hard facts for you:

  • In the U.S. alone, there are over 17.6 million people who are actively suffering or have suffered from chronic alcohol abuse disorders.
  • In 2018, one national survey showed that 86% of adults 18 years or older had drunk once in their life, 70% had drunk in the last year, and 55% had drunk in the past month. 26% of these people said they had engaged in binge drinking in the past month.
  • Frequent alcohol abuse can result in both physical and psychological dependence. Physical dependence is determined by the number of endorphins and dopamine released during consumption. These two things are what are most closely associated with the feeling of pleasure. The more this happens, the more physically dependent a person becomes.
  • This substance directly affects the brain’s reward system, which tells us which activities are good or bad for us. The more endorphins and dopamine released during alcohol consumption, the more rewarded the brain feels. This creates the psychological dependence we see through alcohol abuse. 
  • Alcohol is frequently abused by people trying to cope with mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, or depression. When a person starts to heavily rely on alcohol as a means of coping with these discomforting emotions/feelings, they develop a psychological dependency, believing alcohol is the only thing that can make them feel better. It becomes a learned behavior, similar to how we may eat food when we are feeling upset.
  • Frequent alcohol consumption can result is dependence which in turn creates withdrawal when someone abstains from habitual use. If someone willingly or unwillingly abstains from alcohol consumption and they have developed a dependence, they will surely experience something called withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms typically look like hand tremors, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, depression, insomnia, seizures, delirium.
  • The short-term effects of alcohol abuse can have some serious consequences. The effects are as follows: Unconsciousness, inability to feel pain, irregular breathing, vomiting, cold/clammy skin, and even death.
  • If a person continues to habitually use this substance, they could wind up causing long-term health issues for themselves. Some of the most significant health problems that alcohol abuse can cause are as follows: Memory loss, inability to learn, Hepatitis, liver disease, fatty liver, high blood pressure, multiple different types of cancer, stroke, and vitamin B deficiency.

It’s clear to see just how prevalent and dangerous alcohol abuse can be. Though many of these facts point towards alcohol being a drug, many people fail to consider it as such. Alcohol has become such a normal thing in our society that people would feel shameful to admit that they partake in the consumption of a drug. It’s hard for someone to admit that sort of thing, so it’s easier to just say alcohol is a beverage. However, alcohol is addictive just like any drug out there.

This substance has become the 3rd leading cause of death in our country, coming in behind tobacco and poor diet. The fact that alcohol claims more than 88,000 lives per year should be alarming to people. What we need to do is work towards a society that is not shadowed in a stigma. We often see addiction as a shameful thing, but we shouldn’t view it as that. When we shroud addiction in shame, we make it harder for people to find the help they need. No one wants to admit something they believe to be shameful, so we should not reinforce the idea that addiction is shameful. When we end this stigma, we can better help the people who are in need of it. 

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.