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Is Alcohol Considered A Drug? Absolutely.

Written by Melissa Carmona

& Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

Medically Reviewed

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This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

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Last Updated - 2/17/2022

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Updated 02/17/2022

People are quick to identify substances like heroin or cocaine as drugs, but alcohol can also be a dangerous drug when it’s misused, and can easily lead to addiction.

When most people think of drugs, they tend to think of things like cocaine, marijuana and heroin. Alcohol does not often come to mind when thinking about drugs, but alcohol is absolutely a drug.

A drug is defined as “a substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.” Alcohol fits this description perfectly, having an obvious physiological effect when it is used. Alcohol affects the body by increasing the action of a neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA works to calm the body and suppress the nervous system. When alcohol is used, these effects are increased.

Too much alcohol can cause negative and potentially dangerous effects as the body’s nervous system is suppressed beyond what is safe. A large overdose of alcohol can even cause someone to lapse into a coma or die.

Alcohol is part of the thread of our modern society, and it may be a core part of many social interactions. Unfortunately, alcohol’s widespread acceptance by society does not make it any safer. It can lure people into a false sense of confidence and make them believe it is safer than it actually is.

What Kind Of Drug Is Alcohol?

Technically, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This means that it decreases and suppresses the nerves in the brain. This can create the feeling of calm, relaxation and decreased stress that some people experience with alcohol use. It can also lead to confused thinking due to your brain function slowing, as well as decreased coordination, slurred speech and decreased inhibition.

In addition to its neurological effects, alcohol also causes chemical changes in the brain. Alcohol stimulates the release of endorphins — chemicals that cause pleasure. These chemicals are released naturally throughout a normal day in response to good things that the brain wants to reinforce. This can be many things, from completing a difficult task to eating sweet food, to watching a sunset or even having intercourse.

When endorphins are artificially released by alcohol, they can create a stronger feeling of pleasure than is naturally experienced. For some people, this feeling can be so good they are driven to drink with increasing frequency and larger amounts. As alcohol use is continued and increased, the brain will actually rewire itself to seek out alcohol, leading to addiction.

Alcohol addiction is referred to as an alcohol use disorder. This type of disorder is a disease that causes you to be unable to stop using alcohol even though it causes negative consequences in your life. Those who struggle with alcohol use disorder often require alcohol detoxification, followed by inpatient treatment.

Why Is Alcohol Dangerous?

Alcohol can be dangerous in many ways. It causes stress on parts of the body that would not normally experience this stress. The liver, especially, can be susceptible to damage by alcohol use. Alcohol can also easily lead to injuries. When you drink alcohol, both your coordination and judgment are impaired. This makes you more likely to do something potentially harmful while simultaneously reducing your ability to do it safely. This combination can be particularly dangerous.

Dangers to the Body

There are several dangers that alcohol can create for the body. Alcohol-related liver problems are a significant issue, with up to 15% of people with an alcohol use disorder having liver failure. Alcohol can also lead to high blood pressure problems and can increase your risk of having a stroke. Long-term alcohol use also has a detrimental effect on your kidneys, leading to the possible need for a kidney transplant or dialysis.

Other long-term effects of alcohol use include:

  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Heart disease
  • Increased risk of certain cancers
  • Anemia (decreased red blood cells)
  • Ulcers in the stomach, esophagus or intestine
  • Infertility
  • Muscular dysfunction

Dangers to the Mind

Alcohol can lead to several negative psychological effects. Continuous alcohol use, especially heavy use, can literally rewire the brain to seek more alcohol, causing addiction. Addiction can lead to poor social relationships and poor performance at work or school, affecting your perspective on life.

Alcohol may also be used by some people to cope with the difficulties or stressors of life. This can make it harder to cope without alcohol and can decrease the mind’s reliance and ability to respond to normal stress. Long-term alcohol use can lead to nervous system problems that affect people’s memory, coordination, and other functions controlled by the brain.

How Much Alcohol In A Standard Drink

A “standard drink” is the term used to help people understand how much alcohol is in their drink. The concentration of alcohol varies between each type of alcoholic beverage. A standard drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. A standard drink in different types of alcohol beverages would generally be:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 8–9 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (gin, rum, whisky, vodka, etc.)

While these guidelines are a good rule of thumb, the actual amount of alcohol for each drink can vary, and you will need to read the label of each specific beverage to understand how much alcohol is present in what you’re drinking.

How Big Of A Drug Problem Is Alcohol in Florida?

Statistics show that 18.2% of all adults in Florida drink alcohol excessively — almost one in five people. Only 8.3% of people in Florida reported using other recreational drugs, showing that alcohol use is over twice as prevalent as all other drugs combined.

Alcohol is an even bigger problem with those who are underage. Statistics show that over 21% of adolescents aged 12–20 in Florida reported on a survey that they had used alcohol in the last month.

Getting Help For Alcohol Abuse

If you or a loved one is struggling with their alcohol use, The Recovery Village at Baptist Health is ready to help. Reach out to our helpful representatives to discuss treatment options that can suit your needs and get you started on an alcohol-free life.


Is alcohol a stimulant or upper?

Alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant. While alcohol may have some effects that seem related to stimulants, such as decreased inhibition, these effects in alcohol are related to the depressant effect that alcohol has on the central nervous system.

Is alcohol a psychoactive drug?

Psychoactive drugs are drugs that affect the mind, creating changes in behavior, mood and thoughts. Alcohol certainly fits this description and is a psychoactive drug.

Is alcohol a controlled substance?

Technically, alcohol is not a controlled substance but is a regulated one. Controlled substances fall under a law called the Controlled Substances Act, and alcohol is not one of these substances. However, the sale and manufacture of alcohol are regulated, and sale is restricted by age in all states.

Is alcohol a poison?

Alcohol is poisonous and toxic at high doses. Because of this, many people consider alcohol to be a type of poison, sometimes referred to as a mild poison.

Why is alcohol legal?

The negative health effects of alcohol actually created a movement for alcohol to be made illegal, and alcohol was illegal in the United States from 1920-1933, a period called the Prohibition. This restriction was lifted, and alcohol continues to be legal today, although it is still regulated.

Is alcohol a gateway drug?

Alcohol use has been shown to be a precipitating factor in the use of other drugs, and delaying or abstaining from alcohol use has been shown to help reduce the use of illegal drugs.

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