What Type of Drug Is Alcohol? Classification & Impact


Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that depresses the central nervous system.
  • It enhances GABA neurotransmitter function and inhibits stimulating neurotransmitters.
  • Alcohol absorption occurs quickly through the stomach and small intestines.
  • Long-term alcohol misuse can lead to serious health issues like liver disease and cancer.

The 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in the United States released an estimate of 137.4 million alcohol users aged 12 years and older.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol holds the potential for misuse, which makes many people wonder if alcohol is a drug.

Alcohol is classified as a psychoactive drug that affects the mind, impacts mental processes, and influences behavior, mood, and experiences.

It can induce euphoria and relaxation. It’s also a drug that depresses the central nervous system, known as a depressant.

Here’s how alcohol affects the body and brain, as well as the dangers that arise when you abuse alcohol.

Is Alcohol a Controlled Substance?

Alcohol is currently not a controlled substance according to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

That said, the federal government regulates and controls alcohol manufacturing, distribution, and retail, similarly to other drugs that require strict oversight.

What Is Considered an Alcoholic Drink?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers beverages to be alcoholic if the alcohol concentration exceeds 0.5 percent of the total volume of the beverage.

The inebriating effects of alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine are due to ethyl alcohol (ethanol) which is the active ingredient in alcohol.

The natural process of fermentation gives rise to ethanol. The yeast in the absence of oxygen consumes the sugar present in the fruit and grain sources.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

When you drink alcohol, 20% of it is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly through the lining of the stomach, and the remaining 80% is absorbed through the small intestines.

Subsequently, it’s mobilized throughout the body, including the brain.

It slows down the activity of the brain and the spinal cord, resulting in relaxation, sedation, and reduction of the restraint exerted over behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.

This happens through two mechanisms:

  • Enhancing (boosting) the function of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter, which suppresses nerve cell activity.
  • Inhibiting the activity and effectiveness of neurotransmitters that stimulate nerve cell action.

The liver bears the responsibility for alcohol metabolism.

Liver enzymes break down alcohol (ethanol) into acetaldehyde which is a toxic substance further broken down into acetate.

Excessive accumulation of acetate can have lots of health risks, such as putting stress on the liver and the brain, and may lead to toxicity.

Alcohol-related health problems depend on many factors, such as:

  • Amount and frequency of drinking alcohol in comparison with the person’s weight
  • Age: younger and older individuals are more susceptible to age-related damage to their organs
  • Gender: typically, women exhibit a decreased tolerance to alcohol
  • Pre-existing health conditions: such as increased blood pressure
  • Social and environmental factors: socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and awareness of alcohol’s effects can all impact health problems arising from alcohol misuse.

Short-Term Alcohol Effects:

When you drink alcohol, you might experience some immediate side effects, such as:

  • Impaired visual perception
  • Altered capability of decision-making
  • Mumbled incoherent speech
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Alcohol poisoning  
  • Blackouts and short-term memory loss

Long-Term Alcohol Effects:

Long-term alcohol misuse can lead to:

  • Increased Blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and strokes
  • Too much alcohol consumption, even for a few days, leads to the buildup of fats in the liver and can cause alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) and cirrhosis
  • Chronic alcohol abuse weakens the body’s immune system
  • High risk for several types of cancer, such as esophageal cancer
  • The positive reinforcement and negative feedback when you stop drinking can lead to alcohol dependence and alcohol addiction, which is a chronic disease
  • Heavy drinking can trigger preexisting mental health issues in genetically susceptible individuals, such as depression and alcohol use disorder

What Happens When You Stop Drinking?

When you stop drinking, you start to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms that can be mild or severe, depending on the extent of alcohol abuse and number of years of consumption.

Therefore, withdrawal should be supervised by a trained treatment provider to assist you in managing alcohol addiction.

You can get alcohol use treatment easily and professionally online.

Get The Help You Need From the Comfort of Your Home

Alcohol use is widely socially acceptable, but it is still an addictive substance.

Even in the face of the negative consequences of excessive alcohol use, breaking the cycle of overconsuming alcohol remains an uphill battle.

If you or a loved one need assistance in managing alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder, book an appointment today to start your recovery journey.


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