Is Alcohol Considered A Drug: Effects & Addiction Rates

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If you’re wondering if alcohol is considered a drug, you’re not alone. When people list drugs they know, they usually start with heroin, cannabis, or meth. It’s easy to forget that alcohol, the most popular and globally legalized mood-altering substance, is a central nervous system depressant. This puts it under the same category as cannabis, heroin, and benzodiazepines.

This article explains why alcohol is a drug, how it compares to other substances, and if substances need to be addictive and have side effects to be considered a drug.

Is Alcohol A Drug?

Yes, alcohol is a drug, but not a controlled substance. However, the US federal government regulates its production, distribution, and sale through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Which is why liquor licenses exist and the production of any spirits (moonshine) without a license is illegal.

Most people don’t consider alcohol a drug because of one simple statement when referring to substances: “drugs and alcohol.” This misleading statement implies that alcohol is not a drug itself, and due to its popularity and legality, its become the norm for almost every restaurant, grocery store, and gas station to carry wine, liquor, beer, or alcoholic seltzers and mixers. Alcohol has also been marketed and added to typical non-alcoholic drinks like slushies, teas, and kombucha.

The abundance of alcoholic drinks can cause people to forget it’s a psychotropic and addictive central nervous system depressant that slows down your brain activity, similar to Ambien, Xanax, and Valium.

Note: Alcohol is actually illegal in several countries including: states in India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.

es, alcohol is a drug, but not a controlled substance.

Compared To Other Addictive Substances

Compared to other addictive substances, alcohol can become a coping mechanism when an individual’s mental health is struggling. Alcohol is also the third leading preventable death in the United States, causing almost 100,000 deaths each year. Even though it’s addictive, people tend to use mood-altering substances to make mild and infrequent anxiety and stress disappear. However, this subconscious link between feeling negative emotions or wanting to improve your mood and drinking alcohol can lead to dependency. Soon, your original coping mechanisms for stress relief or mood-boosting activities can be replaced with drinking or incorporating alcohol into an event.

Abusing alcohol or using it every time you feel negative emotions can quickly lead to addiction and, worst of all, withdrawal symptoms. If you notice yourself experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit or cut back on alcohol, chances are you developed a dependency, similar to how dependencies develop with nicotine, caffeine, and opioids.

Alcohol Addiction Rates Vs Opioids & Benzos

Take a free alcohol use disorder assessment here.

No, substances don't need to be addictive to be drugs.

Do Substances Need To Be Addictive To Be “Drugs?”

No, substances don’t need to be addictive to be drugs. The American Psychiatric Association classifies drugs as any substance, excluding food, that affects or influences motor, sensory, cognitive, and other bodily functions. Many people can have one or two alcoholic drinks without feeling driven toward consuming more. While others can crave the taste of alcohol and become irritable until they satisfy this seemingly uncontrollable urge. Other substances can cause this as well, including caffeine. If your daily morning coffee isn’t available, you’ll most likely feel irritable and off without your regular caffeine intake.

Although alcohol can mellow you out or comes in tasty cocktails or fancy labels, it’s not the ethanol that’s addictive. It’s the reasons why individuals are drawn to it that form the addiction. If all alcohol tasted like the most potent moonshine, chances are people would be less tempted to drink it often. But, since it can taste good and lower inhibitions, it becomes an easily available coping mechanism, especially for unrecognized mental health disorders. Once the cycle of feeling negative is combined with alcohol, a dangerous dependence is unlocked.

Read more: Is Shaking After Drinking Normal?

But most addictive substances, including alcohol, have uncomfortable short and long-term side effects, especially if abused for a long time.

Do Substances Have To Have Side Effects To Be “Drugs?”

No, substances like alcohol don’t have to have side effects to be drugs. Some individuals have high alcohol tolerance, while others can feel buzzed or sick within a few sips. Side effects range from person to person, consistent with how substance use disorders develop.

But most addictive substances, including alcohol, have uncomfortable short and long-term side effects, especially if abused for a long time. Some side effects diminish and don’t permanently affect your body, while others can last much longer, leaving behind physical and mental scars.

Short-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Impaired judgment and thinking
  • Lowered inhibition
  • Slurred speech and drowsiness
  • Loss of balance and disorientation
  • Blackouts and alcohol poisoning
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Delirium Tremens (hallucinations, seizures, psychosis)

Long-term effects of alcohol include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Brain damage and brain cell death
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver disease
  • Sexually related disorders such as erectile dysfunction
  • Stomach (gastric), pancreatic, prostate, oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, skin, liver, colon, rectum, and breast cancer

Read more: How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Contact Launch Centers For Alcohol Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse and wants professional and compassionate help, contact Launch Centers in Los Angeles, CA. Our alcohol addiction treatment program is the perfect place for individuals to heal and recover from the damaging effects of alcohol. Most clients who look into drug rehab aren’t sure what program or therapy methods work for them. Our admissions agents are prepared to answer any questions, including how our programs work, what therapies we offer, and the insurances we accept.

About Our Founder

Jose Hernandez, for over a decade, has been involved in alcohol and addiction recovery helping people succeed in overcoming substance abuse and regaining control of their lives. He has experience in all aspects of the recovery world, from facilitating entry into treatment as an intervention specialist to counseling and case management at rehabilitation facilities. Jose has worked one-on-one with individuals as a sober companion and with groups as a resident counselor at addiction treatment centers and is certified by the California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC) to practice as a substance abuse counselor.

Through his professional experiences in crisis intervention, drug and alcohol detoxification, substance abuse counseling, and relapse prevention, Jose has developed a unique plan for case management that bridges the gap between a person’s painful past of substance abuse and a future of sobriety.

At Riviera Recovery, a sober living facility with multiple locations, clients continue their transition from the supportive environment of a treatment center to living well and happily in the “real” world. The program he designed at Riviera Recovery personalizes treatment plans that enable clients, including those with a single or dual-diagnosed mental health disorder, to embrace a satisfying life.

His greatest endeavor has been establishing LAUNCH, a Los Angeles-based life skills intensive outpatient program for young adults. LAUNCH works with recovering men and women to establish personal vocational and educational goals and develop the tools to successfully meet them. His mission is to ensure that no one stands alone in his or her recovery.

Meet Our Clinical Team

staff member drug alcohol treatment los angeles

Jess Beck, LCSW

Clinical Director

treatment team los angeles ca

Eric Chaghouri, MD


chloe kruskol los angeles rehab team

Chloe Kruskol, LCSW

Family Program Manager

Our Testimonials

Clients and Professionals Share Their Experience

  • HO

    Launch provided care on multiple levels. The highly skilled therapist coupled with the focus on purpose and long-term goals refocused my recovery from what previous treatment centers pushed onto me. I went from believing that I needed years of treatment to believing I needed years happiness and success. I began to focus on what I wanted to accomplish with my life. I came to realize all the things my addiction and mental illness had taken from me, and I used my future goals as a reason to never pick up again. Due to the passion that Launch instilled in me, I have pursued my future with excitement and dedication.

  • Nicole

    This place changed my life! I’ve had good laughs, good cries, shared a lot of heart to heart moments and grew a loving bond with everyone at Launch Centers. I will always be grateful!!! I really do miss it time to time. I highly recommend Launch Centers!

  • Joey

    The staff and clinicians are amazing and make you feel right at home from the second you walk in the door. I would absolutely recommend this place for a family member or close friend.

  • Ben

    This treatment facility has changed my life. I have always struggled with my mental health and this young adult program provided me with the necessary skills to launch to adulthood. I commend anyone who struggles with mental health or substance use (which was not me) to try this program out. It will change your life.

  • Conner

    Launch Centers Treatment was a major help to me. The therapists and staff genuinely cared about me and truly helped me to make a plan for my future. My personal therapists helped me to discover where some of my deeper issues came from. All of the staff worked tirelessly with me to talk through my issues, or just about life, and offered realistic solutions to my current problems and situation. All of the staff went above and beyond and advocated relentlessly for me. I am very grateful that I was able to have such a wonderful experience with Launch.

  • Adam

    In no uncertain terms Launch Centers changed my life. The staff at Launch are professional, knowledgable and relatable. They keep the format diverse and interesting which kept me engaged in the process. The greatest thing we can do in life is seek to improve ourselves. Launch gave me a skill set I consider to be invaluable in the journey of becoming the best version of myself. I would implore anybody considering Launch to step outside their comfort zone and go, you will not regret it.


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