Drug and alcohol addiction are often discussed separately. However, both drugs and alcohol are addictive substances that negatively impact the lives of millions of Americans each year. So, is alcohol a drug?
Is Alcohol Considered a Drug?
In short, yes, alcohol is a drug. One definition of the word drug listed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is “[a] substance (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body.” Since the intention of drinking alcohol is to affect the brain, alcohol is considered a drug.
Why Isn’t Alcohol Illegal if It’s a Drug?
Not all drugs are illegal. For one thing, there are several prescription and over-the-counter drugs that people use every day. However, alcohol has no medicinal purpose like these drugs and is only used recreationally, so why isn’t it illegal?
Other recreational drugs are legal in the United States, like nicotine and caffeine. In addition, although marijuana has some medicinal value, it is now legal in many states even if the person only uses it recreationally. These drugs, as well as alcohol, are all addictive, yet legal.
Therefore, a drug’s potential for abuse is not a factor in determining legality. Often, legality depends on cultural norms and attitudes about a particular substance.
What Makes Alcohol Addictive?
Like other recreational drugs, alcohol affects the way a person’s brain functions. Drinking alcohol causes the brain to release chemicals that make a person feel pleasure and euphoria. These chemicals also reduce pain and blunt negative feelings.
The brain chemicals released, called endorphins, help regulate a person’s mood and reinforce behaviors. The brain releases endorphins naturally when a person engages in specific behaviors, like exercise, eating, and having sex. Endorphins also function to relieve stress and pain.
But, drinking alcohol hijacks this natural chemical system. Alcohol floods the brain with endorphins artificially, and the more a person drinks, the more endorphins are released. So, the brain reinforces a person to engage in drinking alcohol again to release these chemicals.
However, the effects of alcohol wear off when a person drinks regularly. In other words, they develop a tolerance and need to drink more for the same effects. After that, the person could become dependent on alcohol to feel any pleasurable effects. At this point, they are at risk of developing an alcohol addiction.
What Are the Effects of Alcohol?
The effects of alcohol include the above-mentioned euphoria and reduction of negative feelings. Drinking alcohol can also lead to a lowering of inhibitions and a tendency to become reckless with a false sense of invulnerability. Alcohol also acts as a depressant drug and has sedative effects, such as relaxation and a reduction of tension.
Alcohol use has both short- and long-term effects on a person’s brain and bodily functions.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Use
In the short term, alcohol use primarily affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts. These effects include the following:
- Slurred speech
- Loss of coordination
- Lowered inhibitions
- Impaired judgment
- Risky behaviors
- Blacking out
- Nausea and vomiting
- Passing out
In addition, drinking in excess can lead to severe and dangerous short-term effects. These include alcohol poisoning and alcohol-induced psychosis.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Use
Drinking alcohol can affect a person’s health over the long term as well. These effects are much more prevalent among heavy drinkers, defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as:
- Men, who drink five or more alcoholic beverages on any day or 15 or more per week, and
- Women, who drink four or more alcoholic beverages on any day or 8 or more drinks per week
The long-term effects of alcohol use include the following:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Increased risk of stroke
- Liver disease
- Increased risk of developing certain cancers
- Digestive and esophageal issues
- Weakened immune system
- Poor memory, focus, and concentration
- Relationship problems and legal issues
- Job-related problems
Lastly, since alcohol affects the brain, a person could also develop a mental health disorder due to long-term alcohol addiction. The correlation between addiction and mental health disorders is why many treatment centers offer dual diagnosis treatment for both conditions.
Is Alcohol as Dangerous as Illegal Drugs?
Alcohol is as dangerous—if not more dangerous—than most illegal drugs. While societal attitudes about alcohol are more lax than other drugs, like heroin or meth, statistics highlight the dangers of alcohol addiction.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “Every year in the United States, more people die of alcohol-related causes than from opioids and other drugs.” In addition to alcohol-related deaths, the APA cites other dangers of alcohol use, including:
- Car accidents while under the influence
- Violence and aggressive behaviors
- Risky sexual activities
- Loss of employment
- Family problems
- Negative impact on children of alcoholics
Detoxing from alcohol can also be dangerous. Compared to other drugs, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are among the most difficult to manage. Withdrawal from severe alcohol addiction can lead to delirium tremens, which can be deadly.
However, professional detox centers and addiction rehab programs help those addicted to alcohol recover safely. Detox centers monitor a person’s withdrawal symptoms with medical and psychological support. After alcohol detox, clients can enter rehab to learn more about the underlying causes of addiction, how to prevent relapse, and how to thrive in addiction recovery.
Find Alcohol Addiction Treatment Today
Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs, despite its legal status. Alcohol addiction can lead to several short- and long-term physical, mental, and emotional health problems. Our alcohol addiction treatment program can help you begin long-term recovery from alcohol addiction.
Contact Tampa Bay Recovery Center today to begin alcohol addiction treatment.