When most people think of drugs, they think of illegal substances such as cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy. They might also consider legally prescribed medications like Tylenol, Xanax, Adderall, or Ambien. However, alcohol is also a drug that often requires an alcohol detox program when abused.
Most people don’t think of alcohol as a drug, but rather something similar to drugs in that it’s very intoxicating, addictive, and potentially dangerous. That’s why the phrase “drugs and alcohol” exists, even though alcohol is qualified as a drug.
Is Alcohol a Drug?
You don’t inject, snort, or smoke alcohol, nor is it available in any pill form. So it’s easy to see why most people don’t lump it into the same category as other common medications and illegal substances.
However, a drug is defined as something that causes addiction, a change in consciousness, and the creation of a habit. Often these drugs are illegal substances, but others are prescribed by doctors or are over-the-counter.
Alcohol is legal in the U.S. for anyone 21 and over. Plus, it is a substance that can cause addiction and causes a change in consciousness when consumed in large amounts. By this definition alone, alcohol is a drug.
Is Alcohol Addictive?
Most people who drink do so responsibly. When you and your coworkers grab drinks after work, you usually don’t have to worry about any of them getting blackout drunk or getting a hangover the next morning.
However, alcoholism is a disease and has very deadly consequences. One of the main reasons people drink alcohol isn’t because it tastes good, but because it helps lower inhibitions and makes people feel better. Many people will turn to beer and other drinks whenever they feel stressed, tired, or upset.
These common attitudes help breed stereotypes such as “the depressed drunk” or “the wine mom.” In both situations, people begin drinking to cope with the stresses of everyday life.
Unfortunately, relying on drinking to improve your mood can create a dependency on alcohol. Long-term alcohol abuse literally changes the brain.
Addiction and the Brain
Excessive drinking causes to release cortisol, which can permanently change how the body and brain interpret and react to stressful situations. For example, a heavy drinker might become more apprehensive compared to a sober person in the same position. Heavy drinking causes the brain to undergo allostasis – the process of shifting hormonal balances and setting new defaults.
Plus, cortisol affects the brain in learning and memory. Unfortunately, this means cortisol can “teach” the brain to become dependent on alcohol in stressful situations. When confronted with stressful situations, those with an alcohol use disorder will resort to binge drinking instead of a more productive and healthy coping activity.
Because it’s a drug, individuals in addiction recovery will face alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. Their brains have become so accustomed to using and abusing alcohol that abstinence will cause severe psychological and physical effects. However, detox programs are available to promote a safe and more comfortable detox experience.
Does Alcohol Change Consciousness?
Alcohol is classified as a central nervous depressant, which means that it slows down the brain’s response times. Alcohol causes the brain to release the “slowdown” chemical called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA inhibits neurotransmitter signals, resulting in:
- Delayed reaction times
- Slurred speech
- Poor cognitive functioning
- Impaired motor skills
- Reduced judgment
But alcohol also acts as a stimulant, which is why people love drinking it so much. Those who drink hope to feel its more fun effects such as:
- Lower inhibition
- Mood improvement
- Faster heart rate
- Increased confidence
Heavy drinkers also end up feeling alcohol’s negative biological effects, such as vomiting, skin flushing, and higher blood pressure.
Help Stop Alcoholism Today
Alcohol is a drug and, like any drug addiction, is entirely treatable. If you or someone you know is suffering from alcoholism, you should know you’re not alone. Contact us today and learn about our alcohol detox program by calling 866.341.0638. You should know that you can overcome the symptoms of an alcohol use disorder by following the proper steps.