Is Alcohol Considered A Drug?
After a long day of working hard and being productive, many of us greatly look forward to unwinding at home with our drink of choice. Sometimes, relaxing with a few beers or glasses of wine after work is something that helps us get through the day — but is it the only thing getting you through your workday? Are you constantly thinking about washing the day away with a couple of drinks? If the thought of drinking is always on your mind, your relationship with alcohol may not be as healthy and balanced as you think. Drinking alcohol in moderation is entirely normal, but when there’s an established and repeated pattern of behavior with this mind-altering substance, that’s when room for concern settles in.
Alcohol is widely available to the public in many different varieties and potencies. However, you would be surprised to learn that even though alcohol is accessible to anyone — except for a few legal restrictions on age — this popular substance is a classified drug. It is possible to become addicted to alcohol. In fact, over 88,000 people in the United States die from alcohol-related causes each year. Alcoholism is a dangerous road to travel down, which is why it’s so important to limit your consumption of this powerful substance — or avoid it altogether.
What is Alcohol? Is It A Drug?
Alcohol is the prime and active ingredient in drinks like beer, wine, and spirits. Also known as ethyl alcohol, this substance is made through a fermentation process that combines yeast, sugar from grains, fruits, and vegetables.
The production of alcohol goes back thousands of years, as evidence of alcohol was once discovered in a beer jug that dated back to 10,000 B.C. Researchers even located ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics from 4,000 B.C. that told stories of the pleasures of drinking and camaraderie. During these times, drinking was viewed as a leisure activity, and while that still remains true today, alcohol consumption has, unfortunately, taken a grim turn.
Now, alcohol has been labeled a drug and classified as a depressant due to the effect it has on the central nervous system (CNS). When consumed largely, alcohol slows down one’s brain and bodily functions. While alcohol is classified as a depressant, its consumption affects everyone differently. For example, some people consume alcohol for its stimulant effect, which occurs after the first few drinks. This provides individuals with an energetic boost that makes them feel loose and lively. However, after too many drinks, the depressant effects settle in, and individuals start feeling groggy, dizzy, and no longer in control.
The Variance of Alcohol Content in Different Types of Drinks
Alcohol comes in a wide assortment of beverages — meeting the individual tastes and preferences of consumers. Depending on the variety, alcoholic beverages have different levels of alcohol content. Examples of high content alcohol include:
- Moonshine – 100% alcohol content
- Liqueurs – up to 60%
- Vodka – up to 50%
- Whiskey – up to 50%
- Tequila – up to 40%
- Rum – up to 40%
While lower alcohol content can be found in the following beverages:
- Wine – up to 20%
- Wine coolers – 4% or higher
- Hard seltzer – 4% or higher
- Ciders – 4% or higher
- Beer – 2% or higher (some beers exceed 10%)
The alcohol content in beverages is defined in percentages in order to help manufacturers, retail, bartenders, and consumers gain a better understanding of how much alcohol is in one serving, as well as its potency.
Is Alcohol A Drug? The Effects of Alcohol
The effects of alcohol present themselves differently in each person, but it’s these effects that drive people to seek it out and consume more. It gives us a craving that, sometimes, we can’t resist. However, giving into these cravings will only set us down a dangerous path where dependence and addiction are waiting.
As mentioned before, although alcohol is a classified depressant, it also possesses some stimulant-like qualities. How the side effects present themselves in someone all depends on the amount and rate at which alcoholic beverages are consumed. Smaller quantities tend to result in stimulatory effects like talkativeness, heightened confidence, improvement in mood, and euphoria. However, if a person consumes more alcohol than their body can process, they are likely to experience more depressant effects.
Additionally, the effects one experiences when drinking can also shed some light on their susceptibility to developing an addiction to alcohol. In fact, a study by the Behavioral Neurobiology of Alcohol Addiction shows that those who have a greater stimulant response after drinking alcohol are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism. Of course, it’s important to mention that other factors such as genetics, environment, and familial components play a vital role in one’s predisposition to alcohol abuse.
Mental, Physical, and Social Side Effects of Alcohol
Outside the realm of stimulant and depressant effects, alcohol comes with a wide range of side effects that alter how the mind and body function. At first glance, some of these side effects seem virtually innocuous. However, alcohol can cause a number of symptoms that can cause harm to the consumer, and if they aren’t careful, the people around them as well. Alcohol impacts the body from the moment you finish your first drink. The most common and immediate side effect of alcohol consumption is the feeling of being intoxicated. Other short-term effects of alcohol include:
- A sense of calm or relaxation
- Impaired motor skills
- Lack of coordination
- Impaired thinking
- Slurred speech
- Reduced heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing
- Changes in mood
- Difficulty Urinating
Over time, excessive drinking can cause more than just a few short-lived side effects — it can take a significant toll on your physical and mental health. Importantly, it can result in severe damage to the brain, heart, and liver. Alcohol can interfere with the brain’s communication pathways and inhibits its normal functions. In extreme cases, it can even cause strokes. Excessive alcohol use can also cause damage to the heart by causing irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), high blood pressure, and the stretching of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy). Lastly, heavy drinking has the ability to compromise one’s liver function. With repeated abuse, the liver will grow inflamed, which can result in diseases like alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver disease, fibrosis, and cirrhosis (scarring on the liver). Other severe physical and mental side effect of alcohol abuse includes:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Loss of sex drive
- Permanent brain damage
- Liver failure
- Heart disease
- Permanent nerve damage
- Worsening of mental disorders (if they are already present)
- Suicidal thoughts/tendencies
More often than not, the social side effects of alcohol abuse can get lost in the commotion of all the physical and mental symptoms this dangerous substance can cause. Socially, alcohol abuse can result in the following:
- Relationship strain
- Indirect harm to others (i.e., drunk driving accidents)
- Loss of job
- Loss of friends
- Loss of home
- Financial strain
- Loss of driving privileges
- Arrest and imprisonment
Mental Illness and Alcoholism
As mentioned earlier, alcohol abuse can cause significant damage to the brain and cause a variety of mental health disorders. If an individual is already struggling with mental health issues before their downfall to alcoholism, their symptoms will worsen, and their alcohol abuse will progress. More often than not, individuals who struggle with a mental health disorder are more like to develop problems of substance abuse and vice versa. This is especially true if help is not sought out for either one of these illnesses.
Unfortunately, there are many mental health disorders that can co-occur with alcoholism. Some include:
- Antisocial Personality Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Social Phobia
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Sleep Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
Please note, alcoholism can affect these mental illnesses in different ways. How alcoholism intensifies mental health symptoms is based primarily on the severity of the disorder and how long the individual has been living with it. Typically, the symptoms of alcoholism mixed with the symptoms of mental illness feed off of each other — making both problems far worse and difficult to overcome without specialized treatment.
Alcohol Abuse Leads to Addiction
The wide availability of alcohol makes it an easy and affordable drug of choice for many. And unlike other drugs, you don’t need a prescription for it, and you don’t have to be stealthy in purchasing it. Bystanders don’t think twice when they see someone purchase alcoholic beverages. Therefore, those who are struggling with this addiction can easily fly under the radar.
Unfortunately, alcohol addiction in America is far more prevalent than many think. In fact, there are approximately 17.6 million people who suffer from alcohol use disorders or chronic alcohol abuse throughout the United States — according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). As the stressors of modern-day life continue, this number only increases in each passing year.
Additionally, many individuals don’t always understand the severity of long-term alcohol abuse or the drastic effects it can have on their brains. Frequent alcohol consumption can actually change the brain’s chemistry, causing the reward and pleasure centers to become overloaded and overstimulated. This results in the brain’s need to continue this stimulation, which makes individuals constantly crave alcohol — commencing the beginning of a long battle with alcohol addiction.
It’s important to remember that alcohol is psychologically addictive because of the brain’s role in all of it. The continuous cravings for alcohol are learned behaviors that have completely taken control of one’s ability to function as a normal human being.
Since many use alcohol as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, sadness, or in times of turmoil, the transition from coping to dependency to addiction often goes unnoticed. It’s very easy to fall unknowingly into the trap of alcoholism — but it’s also very hard to get out of. If you frequently consume alcohol but aren’t quite sure if your drinking habits are an immediate problem, ask yourself the following:
- Do you crave alcohol every day and struggle to go long periods without it?
- Do you drink all day and all night?
- Is it hard to enjoy social events without having more than a couple of drinks first?
- Are you frequently spending large sums of money purchasing alcohol?
- Do you become violent and abusive towards your loved ones after a few drinks?
- Do you prefer to drink alone?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it may be ideal to do some more self-reflecting on your relationship to alcohol. Alcoholism can happen to anyone, so if you find that you’re struggling with this common affliction, please know that you are not alone. Alcohol addiction is very treatable, and there are countless resources out there to help you build a better life for yourself. All you have to do is take a leap of faith and reach out for help.
Reaching Out for Help for Alcoholism
Reaching out for help for your addiction to alcohol may seem challenging and overwhelming, but it’s worth every ounce of courage you have to do so. Once you admit your problem and seek help, alcohol’s grip on your life starts to slip. Slowly, you’ll begin to notice that you’re regaining control again, and soon, you’ll be ready to create a better and brighter future for yourself.
Once you’ve made the first and hardest step towards recovery, you’ll need to do some research and locate a treatment facility that specializes in alcohol addiction. Depending on your specific needs, you’ll have the option to choose from two types of treatment facilities: inpatient and outpatient.
Inpatient treatment facilities are always recommended since they provide patients with a full suite of amenities and offer comprehensive detox programs. This means you can attend the facility right away and begin your detox from alcohol. Once you’re enrolled in the facility, you will be required to live there — sometimes with a roommate — until you have completed the program. Differing from inpatient programs, outpatient treatment centers allow their patients to work the program while maintaining their normal routine. Patients will be required to attend daily meetings and work on their recovery and will most likely have to detox from alcohol in a hospital or other facility.
Regaining Control of Your Life Again
Recovery is a gift that should never be underestimated. Most importantly, it’s something that you should never be ashamed of. Addiction can happen to anyone, and you shouldn’t feel like you’ve failed just because you fell victim to a powerful substance. What’s important is that you recognized your problem and had the courage to speak up. It takes a strong and willful mind to know that there is something better out there for you, and that’s something you should be proud of.
It’s a long and tough battle to sobriety after years of alcohol abuse, and some days will be harder than others. Hopefully, in those difficult moments, you can find peace knowing that you have the tools and support to keep down the path of sobriety.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, call the professionals at Find Addiction Rehabs. Our team members are available 24/7 to take your call and provide you with the resources you need to find the right treatment center. Give us a call today for more information.