Alcohol is considered a drug.
By definition, a drug is any substance other than food that affects how the body functions. Alcohol is considered a depressant and it impacts how the human body functions with short- and long-term use, so it falls under the definition of a drug. Additionally, the World Health Organization states that alcohol is psychoactive and may cause various diseases and its use is associated with various health conditions.
Alcohol has been produced and consumed in many cultures throughout history, along with being regulated and deregulated by various governments. In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) maintains a record of all federally regulated drugs in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Alcohol is not included in the CSA even though it is dangerous. The 21st Amendment was enacted in 1933, which repealed alcohol prohibition and gave individual states regulatory authority over alcohol laws and policies instead of the federal government.
Some people may wonder why alcohol does not appear on the CSA list of controlled substances. Alcohol is not on this DEA list because its regulation falls under individual state authority and not federal authority.
What’s in a Drink?
Alcohol is a commonly used term for ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, which is a chemical compound commonly produced when small organisms like yeast break down sugar. This process is called fermentation. Some examples of fermentation are making wine from grape juice or brewing beer from mashed up grains. In the United States, a standard drink has 14 grams of alcohol. The actual amount of alcohol a drink contains varies based on the alcohol type.
Generally, 14 grams of pure alcohol equates to:
- 12 ounces of beer
- 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of spirits
Why Do People Drink?
People may drink alcohol for a number of reasons, including for socialization, relaxation, celebration, to help mental or physical pain and because of how it tastes. Alcohol decreases inhibitions and causes people to feel and act differently than they usually do, much like other drugs can.
Reasons People Drink
Alcohol can temporarily relieve stressful feelings due to its inhibitory effect on the body.
- Peer Pressure and Social Norms
Alcohol use can be influenced by peer pressure. Drinking can lower inhibitions and allow people to interact with each other more easily.
- To Relax or Have Fun
Alcohol usually causes a sense of relaxation, and sometimes a mild euphoric feeling which is enjoyable for many people.
- To Loosen Inhibitions
Alcohol may allow a consumer to feel like they are able to interact with others more easily, and may cause someone to feel more adventurous than usual.
- Past Experiences
In cases in which a person has enjoyed prior alcohol use, using alcohol again may be desirable to achieve the same relaxation, happiness or stress relief as before.
Prevalence of Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol use is common; in 2015, almost 87% of Americans ages 18 years or older reported using alcohol at some point during their lifetimes. Almost 27% of American adults said they had experienced binge drinking within the previous month, while 7% reported heavy alcohol use, which consists of binge drinking on at least five days, within the past month.
What Does Alcohol Do to the Body?
Alcohol use is associated with many risks. Each year, alcohol-related causes of death are observed in about 88,000 people in America. Alcohol use is ranked as the third-highest preventable cause of death in the United States, only behind tobacco use and poor diet and exercise habits.
A 2017 study linked alcohol use to seven types of cancer, including cancer of the oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast. It is probably related to other types of cancer as well. Cancers related to alcohol use in these body sites makes up almost 6% of cancer deaths observed worldwide. Worldwide, approximately 3 million deaths occur yearly from alcohol use. Alcohol contributes to over 200 diseases, conditions or injuries.
Although alcohol is a legal drug, it has many negative health effects and can lead to an alcohol use disorder. This type of disorder is a disease that causes someone to be unable to stop using alcohol even though it causes negative consequences in their life. Those who struggle with alcohol use disorder often require alcohol detoxification, followed by inpatient treatment.
Short-term effects of alcohol use include:
- Short-Term Effects of Alcohol
Impaired decision making
Blackouts or impaired memory
Decreased regulation of blood sugar
Long-term effects of alcohol use include:
- Long-Term Effects of Alcohol
Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
Increased risk of certain cancers
Anemia (decreased red blood cells)
Ulcers in the stomach, esophagus or intestine
Nervous system damage
Dangers of Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol abuse is linked to dangerous behaviors, like drunk driving, which can result in accidents, injuries, and death. Also, those with alcohol use disorders may experience serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms upon attempting to stop drinking. These symptoms may be life-threatening and usually require medical treatment. Seizures, tremors, hallucinations and even death may occur in cases of severe alcohol withdrawal, especially when someone has used alcohol heavily and for long periods.
Addressing Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder, is a somewhat common condition. However, treatment options are available, depending on individual situations. Some people with alcohol use disorder may require higher levels of care than others. Professional medical and psychological providers at accredited facilities provide the best chance of long-term recovery. Detoxification, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and other programs can help people reach their individual goals.
Key Points: Alcohol Is A Drug
Keep the following key points in mind regarding how alcohol is a drug:
- Key Points
Alcohol is a drug since it is a substance other than food that affects how the body functions
Alcohol use is common. It can lower people’s inhibitions and cause them to feel and act differently
Alcohol use is linked to about 88,000 deaths yearly in the United States
Alcohol use is associated with at least seven different types of cancer
Alcohol is not listed on the DEA’s controlled substance list due to the enactment of the 21st Amendment, which allows states to regulate alcohol policies rather than the federal government
Even though the federal government doesn’t regulate alcohol laws (individual states do), alcohol still meets the definition of a drug
Alcohol can cause physical and psychological problems, especially in those who use alcohol heavily and over long periods
If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol use, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment can help. Take the first step toward a sober future, call today.
Dictionary.com. “Drug.” Accessed September 6, 2019.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” August 2018. Accessed September 6, 2019.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What is a Standard Drink?” Accessed September 6, 2019.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Facts and Statistics” Accessed September 6, 2019.
Connor, Jennie. “Alcohol Consumption as a Cause of Cancer.” Addiction, February 2017. Accessed September 6, 2019.
The World Health Organization. “Alcohol.” September 21, 2018. Accessed September 6, 2019.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide.” 2017. Accessed September 6, 2019.
The National Constitution Center. “Amendment XXI: Repeal of Prohibition.” Accessed September 6, 2019.
Alba-Lois, Luisa; Segal-Kischinevzky, Claudia. “Yeast Fermentation and the Making of Beer and Wine.” Nature Education, 2010. Accessed September 23, 2019.
Pietrangelo, Ann; Holland, Kimberly. “The Effects of Alcohol on Your Body.” Healthline, June 9, 2017. Accessed September 23, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.