Why Is Alcohol Considered a Drug? - Sunshine Behavioral Health (2023)

Why Is Alcohol Considered a Drug? - Sunshine Behavioral Health (1)


Angeline Gormley

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Many are under the impression that alcoholism is a “low-level” type of addiction because they think it’s not as damaging as other addictions. They would be surprised to discover that alcohol is considered a drug, especially when we think about its components and effects on the body.

Is Alcohol Considered a Drug?

First, it is essential to define what a drug is. A drug is any substance, except for food and water, that brings physiological effects in the body. These substances can alter brain functions as well, which in turn allows the body to respond in different ways. There are three main classifications of drugs:

  • Legal drugs: These are the drugs sold in stores, pharmacies, or provided in hospitals and clinics. Many are regulated by the government and sold in official health sections and outlets. Legal drugs can both be over-the-counter or doctor-prescribed. Without a prescription, people cannot legally obtain some drugs.
  • Illegal drugs: These are substances created in hidden facilities. The goal of illegal drugs is to mimic the components of the legal ones or to modify the chemical makeup of known substances to achieve a stronger effect. Illegal drugs are sold on the street or even within organized crime groups.
  • Illicit drugs: These are legal drugs that were obtained, used, and sold illegally. Examples of which are drugs obtained through fake prescriptions or those stolen from health facilities.

By these definitions, alcohol fits the description of legal drugs because they affect the brain in a certain way. Additionally, alcohol is readily available in stores and many commercial facilities.

However, they are often separated from drugs because of the many reasons why people drink alcohol. Drugs are usually taken to battle an ailment, but alcohol has several cultural and social purposes as well. This is also why alcohol isn’t on the DEA’s list.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has a specific list titled “Drugs of Abuse”. Although alcohol has a high potential for abuse, it is not included on the list because of its widespread commercial and economic value as well. According to Allied Market Research, the alcoholic beverages industry was worth $1,439 billion globally in 2017. History records also show that the prohibition of alcohol led to increased crime rates involving the smuggling of alcoholic beverages, which caused an eventual modification and renewal of the policies involving alcohol use.

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Why Do People Drink Alcohol?

As previously mentioned, the main reason why alcohol is often not listed as a drug is because of the purpose of why they are taken. The use of alcohol dates back to ancient civilizations, but the reasons why people drink still remain the same:

Cultural reasons

In some countries, drinking alcohol is deeply embedded in their culture. One known example is Germany and their celebration of “Oktoberfest”. Oktoberfest is a 2-week beer festival where Germans would come and drink to their heart’s content, accompanied by music, games, food, and other recreational activities.

Social reasons

In the modern world, most people drink alcohol for this very reason. Restaurants offer alcoholic beverages because people from all walks of life engage in social drinking. Whether it’s with family, friends, or workmates, social drinking is considered a time to let loose, enjoy, and cap off the busy work week. Since alcohol affects the way we think, people seem more extroverted and confident when they have a glass or two. This is also the reason why bars and clubs have alcohol–to break down the tension of social gatherings.

Personal reasons

Aside from having social influences, some individuals also deal with personal issues that lead them to drink alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it is used by some people to calm their nerves while dealing with the stresses of life. Other reasons include mental health struggles, relationship problems, and other stress-inducing issues specific to the individual.

How Many People Drink Alcohol?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 85.6% of the American population ages 18 and above have drunk alcohol at least once in their life. That being said, a whopping 70% drank over the past year, while 55% drank alcohol in the past month.

The trend shows that the majority of the population seems to drink alcohol at least occasionally, and from that majority are those who drink it regularly. Other interesting statistics about America’s drinking habits include the following:

  • 25.8% of the population admitted to engaging in binge drinking in the past month.
  • 6.3% admitted to heavy alcohol use.
  • 14.4 million adults in the US are diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
  • Only 7.2% of those diagnosed with AUD received treatment in the past year.

These facts and figures show that drinking alcohol appears “typical”, which doesn’t help individuals who are prone to developing problematic habits. Although some can have a taste of alcohol and never get addicted, there are many predisposed individuals who end up suffering from alcohol abuse eventually.

What Is Considered Standard Drinking?

Often, people think that the amount of alcoholic beverages one can tolerate without being drunk is considered standard drinking. However, this simplistic rule of thumb may be problematic for some because they end up having alcohol tolerance. This means that they need larger amounts of alcohol over time in order to achieve the same effect.

In NIAAA, there are specific guidelines that people can follow on the standard amounts per alcoholic beverage. It is important to know that the standard serving is dependent on the type of drink, and also the alcoholic content of each beverage.

Here are some of the guidelines for the most common drinks:

  • 12 fl oz of regular beer
  • 8-9 fl oz of malt liquor
  • 5 fl oz of table wine
  • 3-4 fl oz of fortified wine
  • 2-3 fl oz of cordial, liqueur, or aperitif
  • 1.5 fl oz of brandy or cognac
  • 1.5 fl oz of 80-proof distilled spirits

These measurements are based on the average of 0.6 fl oz of pure alcohol per serving. According to the guidelines, this is a standard amount that can help lessen the likelihood of binge drinking and problematic drinking episodes.

Risks Associated With Alcohol Use

As alcohol is considered a drug, there are risks involved in using them frequently. Health problems and interference in daily responsibilities are one of the most common risks in problematic alcohol use.

Heavy alcohol use results in more and intensified risks such as those mentioned above. If you want to avoid these problems, it is best to nip the issue at the bud by stopping alcohol addiction once and for all. These problems include:

  • Acute intoxication
  • Withdrawal problems
  • Amnesia
  • Degeneration of the nervous system
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Fatty liver
  • Pancreatitis
  • Mental and behavioral problems
  • Inability to perform daily tasks
  • Loss of interest in previous hobbies
  • Relationship problems
  • Violence and aggression towards others
  • Financial troubles
  • Poor hygiene
  • Run-ins with law enforcement

Alcohol Is a Drug: No Excuses

If you notice signs of alcohol addiction in yourself or a loved one, it is easy to beat around the bush and dismiss the notion that alcohol isn’t “hard drugs”. However, based on the true definition of what a drug really is, alcohol, is by far the most commonly used and abused drug of all. Nevertheless, it is possible to recover from addiction with the right treatment approaches in alcohol abuse.


Why Is Alcohol Considered a Drug? - Sunshine Behavioral Health (2) Why Is Alcohol Considered a Drug? - Sunshine Behavioral Health (3)

  1. Health.gov.au – “What are drugs?”.
  2. Nationalgeographic.com – “Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze”.
  3. Brittanica.com – “Oktoberfest”.
  4. Dailymail.co.uk – “The Science of Alcohol: From Making Your More Confident to Warming You Up, Expert Reveals All”.
  5. Health.usnews.com – “Is Alcohol A Depressant?”.
  6. Niaaa.nih.gov – “Alcohol Facts and Statistics”.
  7. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “The Risks Associated With Alcohol Use and Alcoholism”.
  8. Dea.gov – “Drugs of Abuse”.
  9. Alliedmarketresearch.com – “Alcoholic beverages Market Share and Size”.
  10. History.com – “Prohibition”.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

Why Is Alcohol Considered a Drug? - Sunshine Behavioral Health (4)

A Message From Our CEO


Why is alcohol considered a drug quizlet? ›

Why is alcohol considered a drug? because it causes a change in a person's physical and emotional state. The physical and mental changes produced by drinking alcohol. Why is beer not safer than liquor?

Is alcohol classified as a drug True or false? ›

Alcohol is classified as a drug in the context of abuse. The alcohol contained in alcoholic beverages is called ethanol.

Is alcoholism a behavioral disorder? ›

Yes. Since 1956, the American Medical Association (AMA) has identified alcoholism as a disease characterized by compulsive decision-making, impulsive behavior and relapse.

What are some of the behavioral impacts of alcohol use? ›

Alcohol abuse can cause signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and antisocial behavior, both during intoxication and during withdrawal.

Why is alcohol considered a drug brainpop? ›

Alcohol slows down the central nervous system, creating a sedative, sleeplike effect. So alcohol is definitely a drug. It's a depressant. Depressants are drugs that slow your breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure to the point that you may stop breathing altogether.

Why is alcohol classified as a drug Chapter 15? ›

Alcohol is classified as a drug because it causes changes in a person's body or behavior. A teen may be sent to prison for drinking and driving. A zero-tolerance policy about underage drinking means that minors are punished for being caught with any amount of alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant.

How do you classify alcohol? ›

One way of classifying alcohols is based on which carbon atom is bonded to the hydroxyl group. If this carbon is primary (1°, bonded to only one other carbon atom), the compound is a primary alcohol. A secondary alcohol has the hydroxyl group on a secondary (2°) carbon atom, which is bonded to two other carbon atoms.

What classes of drugs are alcohol? ›

CNS depressants slow down the operations of the brain and the body. Examples of CNS depressants include alcohol, barbiturates, anti-anxiety tranquilizers (e.g., Valium, Librium, Xanax, Prozac, and Thorazine), GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), Rohypnol, and many other anti-depressants (e.g., Zoloft, Paxil).

How is something classified as a drug? ›

A drug is any chemical substance that causes a change in an organism's physiology or psychology when consumed. Drugs are typically distinguished from food and substances that provide nutritional support.

What type of behavior is drinking? ›

Ingestive behavior—feeding and drinking— is a complex process that involves a variety of psychological factors, neuronal mechanisms, metabolic processes, and gastrointestinal mechanisms that convey neural and humoral signals to the central nervous system (CNS).

Is alcohol use disorder a mental health problem? ›

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical and mental health condition, not a moral issue.

What is considered a behavioral addiction? ›

Behavioral addictions such as gambling, overeating, television compulsion, and internet addiction are similar to drug addiction except that the individual is not addicted to a substance, but he/she is addicted to the behavior or the feeling experienced by acting out the behavior.

What are two behavioral effects of alcohol? ›

Social and financial problems

Alcohol can reduce your inhibitions and lead you to behave in a way you normally wouldn't. You may commit a crime, behave in an antisocial way or do something embarrassing. Your behaviour could affect your friendships, your work and your family.

How alcohol affects the brain and behavior? ›

Alcohol interferes with the brain's communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes.

Which behavior is most likely to indicate alcohol use? ›

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Misuse
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior.
  • Aggressiveness.
  • Mood changes.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Poor social functioning.
  • Problems driving or operating machinery.
Apr 4, 2023

What is alcohol considered in psychology? ›

But alcohol is also classified as a depressant and can cause fatigue, restlessness, and depression. It may shift from stimulant to sedative in line with whether blood alcohol content is rising or falling. Given the power of alcohol on the brain, people who drink heavily may come to rely on it to regulate their mood.

What is addiction to alcohol known as? ›

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.

Is alcohol the same as substance abuse? ›

Substance use disorder (sometimes called substance abuse) happens when a person's use of certain drugs or other substances, including alcohol and tobacco, causes health problems or problems at work, school, or home.

Which chapter in the Bible talks about alcohol? ›

Galatians 5:19–21: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: ... drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." Ephesians 5:18: "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.

What is the basic information about alcohol? ›

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance with dependence-producing properties that has been widely used in many cultures for centuries. The harmful use of alcohol causes a high burden of disease and has significant social and economic consequences.

Is alcohol the second most widely abused drug among high school students? ›

High school students in the United States abuse alcohol more than any other drug. By the 12th grade, more than 2/3 of students have tried alcohol.

What is alcohol classified as quizlet? ›

alcohol is a depressant. A substance that is classified as a depressant slows an organisms activity. Alcohol has the same affects as general anesthesia and has been proved to lover inhibitions.

What are the 4 types of alcohol? ›

The four types of alcohol are ethyl, denatured, isopropyl and rubbing. The one that we know and love the best is ethyl alcohol, also called ethanol or grain alcohol. It's made by fermenting sugar and yeast, and is used in beer, wine, and liquor. Ethyl alcohol is also produced synthetically.

Is alcohol hard drugs? ›

Alcohol is a hard drug.

What are the other names for alcohol? ›

  • Booze.
  • Firewater.
  • Hooch.
  • Sauce.
  • Spirit.
  • Juice.
  • Poison.
  • Liquid courage.
Oct 25, 2022

Why alcohol is a depressant? ›

Alcohol is known as a psychotropic depressant because it slows down your central nervous system. When you drink alcohol, a complex process occurs in your brain that inhibits neurons by impacting their ability to transmit impulses.

How does FDA define a drug? ›

A substance (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body.

What are 3 ways drugs can be classified? ›

Drugs can be categorised by the way in which they affect our bodies:
  • depressants – slow down the function of the central nervous system.
  • hallucinogens – affect your senses and change the way you see, hear, taste, smell or feel things.
  • stimulants – speed up the function of the central nervous system.
Jun 21, 2021

What are the 5 classifications of drugs? ›

Here are the five main categories and some information about each:
  • Central nervous system depressants.
  • Central nervous system stimulants.
  • Opiates and Opiodes.
  • Hallucinogens.
  • Marijuana.

What are the 3 types of alcoholic? ›

Alcohols bind with other atoms to create secondary alcohols. These secondary alcohols are the three types of alcohol that humans use every day: methanol, isopropanol, and ethanol.

What happens when you drink alcohol everyday? ›

Daily alcohol use can cause fibrosis or scarring of the liver tissue. It can also cause alcoholic hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver. With long-term alcohol abuse, these conditions occur together and can eventually lead to liver failure.

Is alcoholism considered a disability? ›

Alcohol use disorder is an impairment, and if it substantially limits a major life activity (e.g., learning, concentrating, interacting with others, caring for oneself) it will constitute a disability.

What mental disorders are related to alcoholism? ›

By far, the most common mental health conditions that co-occur with AUD are depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma- and stress-related disorders, other substance use disorders, and sleep disorders.

Do true feelings come out when drunk? ›

Do true feelings come out when you're drunk? True feelings may come out when you're drunk, but this isn't necessarily true all the time. Instead, alcohol can make people make fake stories and react with emotions they don't feel.

What are the three behavioral addictions? ›

Some of the most common types of behavioral addictions are: Sex. Gambling. Internet.

What is the most common cause of addictive behavior? ›

Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can greatly affect a person's likelihood of drug use and addiction. Development. Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages in a person's life to affect addiction risk.

What are the six major characteristics of addictive behavior? ›

6 Personality Traits Linked to Addiction
  • Impulsivity. Impulsive people are often viewed as fun to be around due to their spontaneous nature, but this personality trait has a serious dark side. ...
  • Nonconformity. ...
  • Anxiety. ...
  • Low Tolerance for Stress. ...
  • Sensation Seeking. ...
  • Blame Shifting.
Sep 13, 2017

What are 5 effects of alcohol on the brain? ›

Difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory: Clearly, alcohol affects the brain. Some of these impairments are detectable after only one or two drinks and quickly resolve when drinking stops.

Does alcohol make anxiety worse? ›

Alcohol is a depressant. It slows down processes in your brain and central nervous system, and can initially make you feel less inhibited. In the short-term, you might feel more relaxed - but these effects wear off quickly. In fact, if you're experiencing anxiety, drinking alcohol could be making things worse.

Does alcohol increase anxiety? ›

Alcohol can induce panic because of its effects on GABA, a chemical that normally has a relaxing effect. Mild amounts of alcohol can stimulate GABA and cause feelings of relaxation, but heavy drinking can deplete GABA, causing increased tension and feelings of panic.

What are 3 ways alcohol affects behavior? ›

lowered inhibitions. interpersonal conflict. falls and accidents. altered behaviour – including risky or violent behaviour.

What is a risky behavior caused by alcohol? ›

Risky alcohol use increases the risk for developing long-standing diseases (such as heart disease and breast cancer), as well as injuries and violence (such as motor vehicle crashes, suicide, and homicide).

What behavioral changes happen when drinking? ›

Alcohol increases irritability and decreases inhibitions. With this combination, there is a chance you could be more mean or aggressive toward others. Alcohol clouds your judgment and leads to communication problems. This is especially true if the other person is also under the influence.

What is alcohol considered to be quizlet? ›

alcohol is a depressant. A substance that is classified as a depressant slows an organisms activity. Alcohol has the same affects as general anesthesia and has been proved to lover inhibitions.

What is alcohol defined as quizlet? ›

alcohol. a drug that is produced by a chemical reaction in fruits, vegetables, and grains. depressants. drugs that slow down the bodys functions and reactions. alternatives.

What is a drink of alcohol considered? ›

Each beverage portrayed above represents one standard drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent), defined in the United States as any beverage containing 0.6 fl oz or 14 grams of pure alcohol. The percentage of pure alcohol, expressed here as alcohol by volume (alc/vol), varies within and across beverage types.

How do you classify alcohol briefly? ›

Alcohols may be classified as primary, secondary, or tertiary, according to which carbon of the alkyl group is bonded to the hydroxyl group. Most alcohols are colourless liquids or solids at room temperature.

What was alcohol original definition? ›

“The cause of (and solution to) all life's problems” is derived from Arabic. But the word 'alcohol' originally referred to a method of manufacturing makeup, among other things. by Johanna Mayer, on October 2, 2018.

What is the definition of an alcoholic? ›

It describes a strong, often uncontrollable, desire to drink. Although it isn't a term that is used anymore as part of medical care, some people who are recovering from dependence still use the term 'alcoholic' to describe themselves. Alcoholism is also known as alcohol addiction, alcohol misuse or alcohol dependence.

What is the correct definition of alcohol abuse quizlet? ›

Alcohol Abuse. Drinking too much alcohol, drinking too often, or drinking at inappropriate times.

What are the main causes of alcohol addiction? ›

Social and environmental factors such as peer pressure and the easy availability of alcohol can play key roles. Poverty and physical or sexual abuse also increase the odds of developing alcohol dependence. Genetic factors make some people especially vulnerable to alcohol dependence.

How alcohol affects the brain? ›

Alcohol interferes with the brain's communication pathways and can affect the way the brain looks and works. Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes.

What are the four types of drinkers? ›

There are four types of drinker – which one are you?
  • Social drinking. To date, nearly all the research on drinking motives has been done on teens and young adults. ...
  • Drinking to conform. ...
  • Drinking for enhancement. ...
  • Drinking to cope.

What is the main difference between alcohol abuse and alcoholism? ›

Answer: In short, alcohol abuse is too much, too often and alcohol dependence is the inability to quit.

Is alcohol a drug or toxin? ›

Alcohol is a drug. It is classified as a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant, which means that drinking alcohol slows down brain functioning, neural activity, and further reduces the functioning of various vital functions in the body.


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