Is alcohol a drug? What kind of drug is it?

One of the most commonly asked questions regarding alcohol abuse and addiction is whether or not alcohol is actually a drug. Simply put, the right answer is "yes." Alcoholic products and beverages are a form of ethyl alcohol, which is a clear, flammable liquid and classified as a psychoactive drug. Psychoactive drugs bring about changes in mood and behavior. Alcohol also meets the criteria of a drug since physical dependence can develop from years of regular use. The intoxicating, mood altering effect from consuming alcohol is a proven, well-documented fact.

More specifically, alcohol is considered a depressant, and has the same soporific and intoxicating effects as any other depressive substance. Alcohol slows down the brain's functions and can also cause feelings of anxiety, aggression and anger. These feelings can often manifest as violent behavior and poor decision-making.

What other negative effects can alcohol produce?

One of the major effects of alcohol is a drastic reduction of the user’s reflexes. This is often characterized by a slow, delayed and confused feeling that drastically inhibits response time, lucidity, and the ability to make well-informed choices. It also translates to the diminishing of motor skills, logic and the ability to properly function.

Why all the controversy over whether alcohol is a drug?

The fact that alcohol is regulated, but still legal for a large percentage of the population often puts it in a more benign light. Many regard "drugs" as specifically illegal substances that you smoke, snort, inject or inhale. The inability to reconcile alcohol as a drug also stems from its traditional place in all kinds of social situations, from simple gatherings of friends to religious ceremonies. People can go their whole lives chronically medicating themselves with alcohol to alleviate the depression brought on by things like the death of a loved one or the deterioration of a romantic relationship. Alcohol has, unfortunately, become such an integral part of our culture that many have a hard time viewing it for what it is – an addictive drug that, if not properly managed, can cause both physical and psychological damage to the user and those around them.

Who is most at risk for alcohol addiction?

The short answer is anyone who can’t properly manage their alcohol consumption. However, research shows that some people are more genetically predisposed to alcoholism than others. Others who are vulnerable include underage drinkers, as adolescents are neither mentally nor physically mature enough to handle the effects of alcohol. Binge drinkers are also at risk, as that habit tends to result in the rapid development of a physical tolerance to alcohol’s effects, which often leads to further abuse and even full-blown dependency. Alcoholism can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status.

What do I do if I think I have an alcohol problem?

Consult your physician and be honest about your drinking habits. There are also numerous self-diagnostic mechanisms, such as our alcoholism test, that can help you determine your vulnerability to alcoholism.

I've learned I'm an alcoholic, now what?

Get help! Have a loved one help you research options to ascertain what treatment might work best for your individual circumstances. Representatives here at the National Alcoholism Center can also help you sift through the choices to get you the help you need right away.

Can I die from alcoholism?

Alcohol-related fatalities claim millions of people all over the world each year. Aside from the immediate health risks such as liver failure, heart disease or alcohol poisoning, alcohol’s interference with the user’s sense of judgment can lead to anything from automotive fatalities to violent criminal behavior.

How do I know treatment will work?

Relapse rates suggest that there is no "guaranteed cure" for alcoholism. However, if patients are proactive and positive about their recovery and enter a quality treatment program, then they will be able to successfully manage their alcoholism. Patients can improve their chances of post-treatment sobriety by developing coping and resistance methods to avoid the temptation to relapse. There are numerous support groups that help recovering alcoholics stay clean.

Is it ever OK to drink?

Not when you're a recovering alcoholic! People who experience years of sobriety often wind up derailing their progress by convincing themselves they can just have one drink. If you feel yourself start to diverge from your recovery, or if you ever relapse, you should attend support group meetings or consider further treatment.


Contact the National Alcoholism Center anytime toll-free at (888) 515-7704 or through our online form for our recommendations of the best alcohol treatment centers for you or your loved one!

Alcoholism treatment should never be attempted in your home or without medical supervision at a professional licensed treatment facility.