Is Alcohol a Drug?

alcohol a drug

Alcohol affects how you feel and how you function. You may feel energized and excited at first but then become sleepy and even disoriented. Drinking excessive amounts or for extended periods of time can be seriously detrimental to your health. With so many different effects on your mind and body, is alcohol a drug?

A Long History

The effects of alcohol have been known for a very long time. Attempts to regulate the consumption of the drink also have a long history. For the past 300 years, the word alcohol has been synonymous with “spirituous liquids.’ Before that, codes limiting the consumption of the beverage date back to 1700 BC.

Among the four types of alcohol, ethyl or ethanol is the type used to produce alcoholic beverages. Ethanol is the intoxicating agent found in wine, beer, and liquor. It is produced by fermenting yeasts, starches, and sugars. Consuming any of the other three, methyl, propyl, and butyl, can result in blindness and death, even if taken in small doses.

Today, just over half an ounce of pure alcohol is the equivalent to one drink. This amount can be found in a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of 80-proof liquor.

How the Body Processes Alcohol

Alcohol is a drug known primarily as a central nervous system depressant. It lowers an individual’s cognitive and physical capacities, even in small amounts. The substance elevates the neurotransmitter known as GABA and reduces nerve signals along the pathway.

As it passes through the body, 90% is metabolized in the liver. The liver can only metabolize a small amount of the substance at one time, so the excess alcohol is left to circulate throughout the body.

An enzyme converts the alcohol to a toxin known as acetaldehyde which is then metabolized to eventually become carbon dioxide and water. Along the way, alcohol affects every organ in the body. It is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine as it makes its way into the bloodstream.

The amount an individual consumes directly impacts the intensity of the alcohol’s effects. Using alcohol with other central nervous system depressants such as benzodiazepines or opioids can have dangerous effects on the mind and the body.

Stimulant and Depressant

Although alcohol is a depressant drug, it can have an initial stimulant effect. When consumed in lower doses, it increases an individual’s heart rate as well as the sense of impulsiveness and aggression as it causes a surge in dopamine levels.

Once the stimulant effects wear off, the alcohol will slow down the central nervous system, decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, and mental clarity in the individual who continues to drink. Someone who consumes large amounts of alcohol will have slower reaction times and begin to feel sedated and disoriented. Higher doses can then suppress the production of dopamine, making a person feel listless and sad.

Dangers of the Drug

Like most other drugs, consuming too much alcohol can be harmful. An individual does not have to be dependent or addicted for the alcohol to have negative effects on their health. If they binge drink, defined as having five or more drinks within two to three hours for men, the results can be serious. Heavy drinking, defined as 15 or more drinks a week for men, can also have harmful, even devastating, consequences.

Excessive alcohol consumption leads to over 95,000 deaths each year in the US. It can also increase the risk for injuries, violence, family problems, and accidents, especially from operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Long-term health issues are also a consequence of excessive consumption of the drug, including cancer, heart disease, liver disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Alcohol consumption can also impact mental health, increasing anxiety and depression. The central nervous system depressant can alter an individual’s thoughts and judgment, impacting their decision-making capabilities. Sleep quality is also worsened with alcohol consumption, which can make it more difficult to deal with stress.

Gender-Specific Alcohol Addiction Treatment

When you have developed an alcohol addiction and want to stop drinking, we are here for you. Detox and supervised withdrawal will help you safely process the mental and physical symptoms so you can move forward with a healthy recovery. If you are struggling with substance abuse or mental illness, please contact PACE Recovery Center to learn more about our programs and services. We offer gender-specific treatment for men who have a desire to turn their life around. Recovery is possible, and we can help.