Is Alcohol A Drug by Classification?
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. This is due to the increased production of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. When someone consumes large quantities of alcohol, specifically more than the body is equipped to process, the result is depressant effects. Some of the many depressant effects from alcohol include:
- Delayed reaction time
- Cognitive impairments
- Slurred speech
- Unsteady gait
- Poor coordination or lack of motor skills
- Distorted perceptions
- Lessened inhibitions
- Distorted judgment
Although alcohol is clinically classified as a depressant, it also is proven to have stimulant effects depending on the amount and rate at which the alcohol is consumed. In small quantities, alcohol is more likely to result in stimulatory effects. These stimulatory effects are often the effects many people seek when they drink alcohol. Some of the stimulatory effects of alcohol include:
- Improvements in mood
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
When a person consumes larger quantities of alcohol, specifically more than the body is equipped to process, the drinker is more likely to experience the depressant effects of alcohol. Whether drinking beer, wine, or liquor, the amount used can drastically impact whether the user experiences depressant or stimulant effects.
According to a study conducted by Behavioral Neurobiology of Alcohol Addiction, there is a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, also referred to as alcoholism, in people who experience a greater stimulant response after consuming alcohol. Those who do not have a risk for alcohol dependence are more likely to experience a greater sedative response. Other genetic, environmental, and familial factors influence whether an individual will develop an alcohol use disorder, however, all of these factors may play a role in the development of alcoholism.
Is alcohol a drug? Why Is Alcohol Addictive?
Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease characterized by the uncontrollable seeking of alcohol, as well as drinking that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful personal or professional consequences. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), there are approximately 17.6 million people who suffer from alcohol use disorders or chronic alcohol abuse in the United States.
Alcohol is both physically and psychologically addictive. Regarding the physically addictive aspect, drinking alcohol stimulates the release of endorphins and dopamine, both of which produce euphoric sensations, such as feelings of pleasure. Studies conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggest that genetic factors also influence how the brain reacts to different people when they consume alcohol. This study suggests that some people’s brains release more euphoric chemicals in response to alcohol than others, making them more susceptible to developing an alcohol use disorder.
Many individuals who consume alcohol are not aware that alcohol can cause physical changes in the brain’s chemistry and functioning, which also plays a major role in the development of alcohol dependence. The brain’s reward and pleasure centers become overloaded when an individual consumes alcohol regularly, resulting in cravings to repeat their drinking habits and behaviors.
Despite one’s desire to cut down or quit drinking, alcohol can compromise one’s ability to make decisions, as well as impact one’s impulse control resulting in a compulsion to drink. This also makes relapse more likely when one attempts to quit drinking. What may begin as recreational alcohol use can quickly become abuse and can easily transition into an alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence.
Alcohol is psychologically addictive because it becomes a learned behavior that affects one’s thoughts and beliefs. Alcohol is also commonly used as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or other discomforting emotions and feelings. This coping mechanism can become a habit that may seem impossible to break. Fortunately, there are many alcohol treatment centers available that offer psychotherapy to help individuals find the motivation and hope to begin their recovery process.
Is alcohol a drug? Alcohol Withdrawal
When someone has an alcohol use disorder and suddenly quit drinking, or rapidly reduce the amount they consume, they will experience what is called alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), also known as withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol vary from psychological to physical and may include but are not limited to:
- Hand tremors, or “the shakes”
- Delirium Tremors
Attempting to quit using alcohol on your own, or “cold-turkey,” is strongly not advised due to the severity of discomfort and health risks. It is always best to enter a medically assisted, inpatient detox facility to detox as there is 24/7 medical support, along with clinical support, followed by inpatient treatment.
The Dangers of Alcohol
Is alcohol a drug? When used recreationally and in low doses, alcohol has less risk for problematic effects; however, in large quantities, especially when consumed in short periods, there are many risks to be aware of. An alcohol overdose also called alcohol poisoning, causes severe depressant effects on the Central Nervous System (CNS) which may result in various side effects, including:
- Inability to feel pain
- Slow or irregular breathing
- Respiratory depression
- Cold or clammy skin
- Blue-colored skin
These responses are reactions caused by regular, overconsumption of alcohol, usually in a short time. Chronic, long-term use of alcohol can also have health risks, such as:
- Fatty liver
- High blood pressure
- Throat, mouth, larynx, breast, liver, colorectal, or esophageal cancer.
- Thiamine or vitamin B deficiency
- Memory loss
- Difficulty learning
- Alcoholic Hepatitis
- Liver disease
- Liver fibrosis
Despite being aware of the consequences of alcoholism and long-term alcohol use, many individuals continue to drink, which is the nature of addiction.
Is alcohol a drug? Alcohol Is a Drug, but Help Is Available
If you have struggled with an alcohol use disorder or witnessed someone you love struggle with alcohol dependence, you know how powerful alcohol is as a drug. It may seem like reaching out for help can be challenging; however, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are many inpatient centers such as We Level Up California available to help you or your loved one overcome their addiction to alcohol and begin the road to recovery.
Trying to quit on your own is dangerous and has a high risk of relapse due to the various discomforting symptoms. Ultimately, both physical and psychological addictive factors come into play when overcoming addiction, making it ever so important to reach out for professional help. Contact a treatment provider today for treatment options that can lead to a life without addiction.
Symptoms of Alcoholism
As stated by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, these are the signs to be aware of in terms of this condition:
- Appearing intoxicated more regularly
- Appearing tired, unwell or irritable
- An inability to say no to alcohol
- Becoming secretive or dishonest
- Drinking more, or longer than one intended
- Wanting to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but haven’t been able to do so
- Spending a lot of time drinking, being sick or getting over the aftereffects
- Experiencing craving, a strong need, or urge to drink
- Founding that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interferes with taking care of your home or family, job troubles or school problems
- Continuing drinking even though it was causing trouble with family or friends
- Giving up or cutting back on activities that are important or interesting to you, in order to drink
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)
- Continuing to drink even though it was making you feel depressed, anxious, or adding to another health problem, or after having had a memory blackout
- Having to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want. Or finding that your usual number of drinks have much less effect than before
- Finding that when the effects of alcohol are wearing off, you have withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating.
Treatment for Alcoholism
When it comes to Alcoholism treatment, it is normal to think of 12-step programs or 28-day inpatient rehab, but it becomes difficult to think of more options of treatment for this condition. There are a variety of treatment methods currently available. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are three types of treatment:
- Behavioral Treatments for alcoholism: are aimed at changing drinking behavior through counseling. They are led by health professionals and supported by studies showing they can be beneficial.
- Medications for alcoholism: Three medications are currently approved in the United States to help people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse. They are prescribed by a primary care physician or other health professional and may be used alone or in combination with counseling.
- Peer-Support Groups for alcoholism: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs provide peer support for people quitting or cutting back on their drinking. Combined with treatment led by health professionals, mutual-support groups can offer a valuable added layer of support. Due to the anonymous nature of mutual-support groups, it is difficult for researchers to determine their success rates compared with those led by health professionals.
Reclaim Your Life From Alcoholism
Is alcohol a drug? Yes, 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. Alcoholism is a serious disease that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from alcoholism with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.
 Morse RM, Flavin DK. The Definition of Alcoholism. JAMA. 1992;268(8):1012–1014.