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Is Alcohol a Drug?

What constitutes a drug? Is alcohol a drug? Find out answers to those questions and more in this comprehensive article.

Is Alcohol a Drug: Introduction

What comes to mind when you hear the word “drug?” Often, when people think of drugs, the images that come to mind are those of illegal substances like cocaine or heroin.

We rarely consider that substances ingrained in our social practices and customs could also be drugs. One such substance is alcohol.

Is alcohol a drug?
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What to Expect from This Article

In this article, we’ll delve deep into the question, “Is alcohol a drug?” We’ll compare alcohol with other substances classified as drugs.

We’ll highlight some potential health risks of consuming alcohol and its impact on mental and physical well-being. You’ll also discover how Ripple Ranch can help you heal from alcohol addiction.

Before we answer the question, “Is alcohol a drug?”, let’s look at what a drug is:

What is a Drug?

A drug is often any substance that, when ingested, alters the body’s normal functioning or physiological state.
This alteration can occur in various ways, including:1 
  • Changes in perception and mood
  • Consciousness and cognition alteration
  • Behavioral changes

What are Drugs Used For?

Drugs can be used for their therapeutic effects in reducing symptoms and treating illnesses. But, they can also be used for their psychoactive effects, which can alter mental processes.
Drugs encompass a wide range of substances, including, but not limited to:
  • Prescription medications
  • Over-the-counter remedies
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Illegal substances like heroin or cocaine

How are Drugs Classified?

Drugs are classified based on their:
  • Intended use
  • Potential for misuse
  • Mode of action
  • Effect on the body’s physiological or psychological functions
This classification helps regulate, legislate, and understand the context in which these substances can be used, misused, or abused.

Is Alcohol a Drug?

Given the broad definition of a drug, alcohol indeed qualifies as a drug. Ethanol, the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, is a central nervous system depressant. It alters various mental processes and bodily functions through its action on the nervous system.
Although legal in many societies and often consumed for social, cultural, or traditional purposes, alcohol affects the body in several ways that are similar to other substances.
When comparing alcohol to other substances classified as drugs, several similarities and differences come into focus, including:

Legality and Social Perception

Unlike many controlled substances, alcohol is legally available in most countries for adults. Its use is also socially accepted and encouraged in many cultures, contrasting with the societal view on illegal drugs. This acceptance can sometimes overshadow the potential risks associated with its consumption.

Psychoactive Effects

Like many psychoactive drugs, alcohol can alter moods, emotions, and perceptions. Substances like stimulants (cocaine) increase alertness and energy. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant that slows down brain activity. This can lead to relaxation but also impaired judgment and coordination.

Medical Use

Some drugs, particularly prescription medications, are used for therapeutic purposes. Because of this, they are strictly controlled and administered under medical supervision.
Contrastly, alcohol is often not used for medicinal purposes (with a few exceptions). It is not subject to the same usage guidelines, though its consumption recommendations exist.

Potential for Abuse and Addiction

Alcohol shares the potential for abuse, addiction, and withdrawal with various illegal and prescription drugs. But, its accessibility and social acceptability can sometimes lead to a downplaying of its addictive nature.

Is Alcohol a Drug: Potential Health Risks of Consuming Alcohol

Having answered the question, “Is alcohol a drug?”, it’s important to mention that the consumption of alcohol can have a myriad of effects on both physical and mental health.
Moderate alcohol consumption might be harmless or even beneficial for some people. But, excessive or chronic alcohol use poses significant health risks. Here are some of the potential health risks associated with consuming alcohol:2 

Liver Damage

This is one of the most well-known health risks of excessive alcohol consumption. The liver is responsible for detoxifying and eliminating alcohol from the blood.
But, over time, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to conditions like:
  • Inflammation
  • Fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Fibrosis
  • Severe scarring (cirrhosis)
This can impair the liver’s function and even lead to liver failure.

Cardiovascular Problems

Some studies suggest moderate alcohol consumption might have a protective effect on the heart. But, excessive drinking can have the opposite effect.
It can lead to:
  • High blood pressure 
  • Cardiomyopathy (deterioration of the heart muscle’s function)
  • Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) 
  • An increased risk of stroke
These conditions arise due to the stress alcohol places on the heart and the body’s blood vessels.


The pancreas helps regulate insulin and the response to glucose in the body. Heavy drinking can lead to pancreatitis, a painful and potentially dangerous inflammation of the pancreas. This can, in turn, disrupt its function and significantly impact digestive processes.


Chronic alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer. This includes cancer of the:
  • Mouth
  • Throat
  • Esophagus
  • Liver
  • Colon
  • Breast
The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.

Immune System Dysfunction

Excessive alcohol intake can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections. This is because alcohol disrupts the immune pathway in complex ways. Thus, it interferes with the body’s ability to defend against illness.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Alcohol can irritate and erode the stomach’s mucosal lining. This then leads to inflammation (gastritis) and potentially bleeding. It also increases the risk of peptic ulcers—sores in the stomach lining or small intestine.

Bone Degradation

Chronic alcohol consumption can interfere with the production of new bone. This leads to thinning bones and an increased risk of fractures.
Alcohol’s interference with nutrient absorption and hormone production critical for bone health is mainly responsible for this.3 

Mental Health Issues

Alcohol affects mental health significantly. Some people use alcohol to relieve anxiety or depression temporarily. But, in the long term, alcohol abuse can substantially exacerbate these conditions.

It’s also associated with an increased risk of suicide. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) often co-occurs with other mental health disorders. This includes conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This leads to the creation of a cycle that can be challenging to break.

Reproductive Health Issues

Alcohol can negatively impact reproductive health. In males, chronic alcohol use can lead to erectile dysfunction and reduced testosterone levels. This affects libido and sexual performance.
In females, it can cause disruptions in the menstrual cycle and fertility issues. If consumed during pregnancy, it can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, characterized by brain damage and growth problems in the baby.

Is Alcohol a Drug: At What Point Does Alcohol Consumption Become Addiction?

People who ask “is alcohol a drug?” may also ask questions surrounding when alcohol consumption becomes an addiction. Are you worried you’re drinking too much alcohol?
If you are, then here are some signs that point to if your drinking is already becoming an addiction:

Increased Tolerance

One of the first signs of developing an addiction is an increased tolerance for alcohol. This means someone might find they need to consume more alcohol to achieve the same effects they previously felt with smaller amounts. It’s one of the body’s physical adaptations to a consistent influx of alcohol.4 

Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms

If someone feels withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol effect wears off, it’s a significant indicator of addiction.
These can include:
  • Anxiety
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Severe symptoms like seizures and hallucinations
These symptoms occur because the person’s body is accustomed to a certain level of alcohol.

Inability to Reduce or Control Alcohol Use

Another indicator of a loss of control over one’s alcohol use is being unable to control consumption. In these cases, someone might try to cut back on drinking but find that they’re unable to. They may also end up drinking more or longer than intended. This is a classic indication of a developing addiction.

Neglecting Responsibilities and Activities

Another signal that alcohol consumption is becoming a problem is neglecting responsibilities. Someone may skip out on activities they once enjoyed. They might start neglecting responsibilities at home, school, or work due to drinking.

Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences

This is one of the most telling signs of addiction. When someone continues to drink even though their alcohol use is causing apparent problems in their life, they’re likely already addicted.


This includes engaging in risky behaviors while drinking. Examples include:
  • Driving under the influence
  • Operating machinery
  • Unsafe sexual conduct
  • Using alcohol in physically hazardous situations
This indicates impaired judgment related to addiction.

Relationship Issues

If someone’s drinking causes problems in their relationships, but they continue to drink regardless, it’s a sign of addiction. These issues can be arguments with one’s partner or family members about their drinking habits or losing friendships.

Escalation in Difficult Situations

Some people drink more often during stressful periods. If someone is unable to cope with difficult situations without the use of alcohol, it could be a sign of addiction.


Denial is common with addiction. In these instances, a person may find themselves downplaying the negative consequences of their drinking or lying about their consumption.

Is Alcohol a Drug: How Does It Interact With Other Drugs?

The interaction between alcohol and other substances, particularly prescription medications, can be hazardous. In some cases, it can even be life-threatening.
These interactions may enhance the effects of both substances or lead to unexpected side effects. They could compromise the effectiveness of medications.
Here are some examples of how alcohol can interact with various types of substances:

Alcohol and Opioids/Narcotics

Combining alcohol with opioids like morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone is dangerous. Both substances depress the central nervous system and down functions like breathing and heart rate. When combined, they can significantly increase the risk of respiratory failure or overdose.

Alcohol and Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are often prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. They, like alcohol, are central nervous system depressants. When used together, the depressive effects can be amplified.

This can lead to:
  • Memory problems
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed or difficulty breathing
  • Profound sedation 
  • Coma

Alcohol and Antidepressants

The interaction between alcohol and antidepressants (like SSRIs and SNRIs) can be unpredictable. Alcohol itself can worsen depression and anxiety symptoms, and combining it with antidepressants can amplify these effects.
There can be increased side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired coordination. In some cases, the combination can disrupt the effectiveness of the antidepressant therapy.

Alcohol and Stimulants

Combining alcohol with stimulants (e.g. Adderall, Ritalin) presents another set of dangers. Stimulants can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, leading people to consume larger quantities than they normally would. This increases the risk of alcohol poisoning, heart problems, and behavioral issues.
Conversely, when the stimulant wears off, the effects of alcohol can hit the person hard, leading to severe intoxication.

Alcohol and Antihistamines

These medications are often used for allergies or common cold symptoms. Mixing them with alcohol can enhance side effects such as drowsiness and dizziness. It can also increase the risk of overdose due to added sedative effects.
Is Alcohol a Drug?

How Does Ripple Ranch Help With Alcohol Addiction?

Navigating the journey from alcohol addiction to sobriety is never a one-size-fits-all path. It requires a comprehensive, personalized approach that addresses the physical dependency and improves overall health.
If you find yourself asking questions like “is alcohol a drug?” or “how can I receive help for my alcohol use disorder?”, know that Ripple Ranch is here to help.

What We Offer

At Ripple Ranch, we recognize this intricate challenge and rise to meet it with an array of specialized services and holistic therapies designed to foster deep, lasting recovery.
Some examples of therapies we offer include:
Recovery is not just about abstaining from alcohol; it’s about healing from the inside out. At Ripple Ranch, the journey to sobriety is a transformative experience that nurtures the body, mind, and spirit.

Contact Ripple Ranch Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, reach out today. Embrace the change you deserve and discover the path to a healthier, happier, and sober life with Ripple Ranch.

The road to recovery is just a call away.