Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that is classified as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, meaning that excessive consumption inhibits activity in the CNS, eventually resulting in slurred speech, impaired coordination, and delayed reaction time. As for alcohol’s impact on the brain, it’s a drug that degrades a person’s ability to reason and distorts his or her judgment.
Although alcohol is classified as a depressant for its action in the CNS, effects of drinking may initially feel stimulating, and for this reason, it is frequently used as a social lubricant. This effect is likely due to alcohol’s ability to boost dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain responsible for feelings of euphoria, well-being, and reward
After a few drinks, however, the person begins experiencing alcohol’s potent depressant effects, which can rapidly spiral out of control, causing memory loss, vomiting, pain desensitization, and the inability to walk or talk in a manner that even comes close to normal.
This CNS depression can continue to the point of unconsciousness, coma, and even death. Indeed, around 2,200 people die each year in the U.S. from complications related to severe alcohol poisoning.
Alcohol is a drug that also wreaks havoc on the health and lives of people in other ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol consumption led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year in the U.S. from 2006-2010, shortening the lifespans of those who died by an average of 30 years.
The Definition of a Drug
Webster’s Dictionary defines a “drug” as “something, often an illegal substance that causes addiction, habituation, or a marked change in consciousness.” Alcohol is a depressant like sedatives and benzodiazepines. Other drug classes include stimulants (e.g., cocaine and methamphetamine), hallucinogens (e.g., LSD and psilocybin mushrooms), and painkillers/opiates (heroin, Oxycodone, and Vicodin).
What type of drug is alcohol you may ask? Alcohol is often thought of differently than other drugs, partially because in most regions around the world, it’s legal, as opposed to say, heroin, cocaine, and meth. But alcohol, just as other known drugs, is an intoxicant – and one that is clearly just as dangerous as those aforementioned.
In fact, one could easily argue that alcohol is even more harmful than many other illicit substances, such as marijuana, LSD, and mushrooms. Furthermore, its legality and culturally-accepted status make it especially insidious and destructive.
How Is Alcohol Made?
Ethyl alcohol, or just ethanol, is the main ingredient found in beer, wine, and liquor that causes the intoxicating effects felt by those who consume them. Alcohol is produced through a process of fermentation from yeasts and sugars.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “A standard drink equals 0.6 ounces of pure ethanol, or 12 ounces of beer; 8 ounces of malt liquor; 5 ounces of wine; or 1.5 ounces (a “shot”) of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey).”
Fermented drinks contain anywhere from 2% to 20% alcohol. Distilled drinks, or liquor, contain around 40-50% or more of alcohol.
The usual alcohol content for each kind of drink is:
Hard cider 4–8%
Rum 40% or more
Brandy 40% or more
How Does Alcohol Impact the Body?
Following consumption, some alcohol absorbs into the bloodstream via the stomach (about 20%) and the rest from the small intestine (about 80%) until it reaches the brain and begins depressing the central nervous system.
As the body starts to metabolize alcohol in the liver, the organ gradually becomes unable to keep up because it can process only so much at a time. When a person is drinking steadily or excessively, this produces a high alcohol concentration in the blood that then circulates throughout the body and results in intoxication.
Eventually, the depressant effects of alcohol can completely overwhelm the body, hindering a person’s ability to think clearly, move with coordination, or, in severe cases, remain conscious.
Short-term effects of alcohol may include the following:
- Impaired judgment and loss of inhibition
- Slurred speech
- Loss of balance/coordination
- Alcohol poisoning
- Nausea and vomiting
- Delirium Tremens (DTs)
Long-term effects of alcohol may include the following:
- Brain damage
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Increased risk of several types of cancer
So again, what kind of drug is alcohol? It is a depressant drug. Alcohol can alter your reality just like any other drug and get you into the same amount of danger as any other drug. Alcoholism is a widespread disease that affects millions of Americans and can be devastating to a person’s life and family. If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol addiction, help is available. Our center offers comprehensive, evidence-based treatment that includes behavioral therapy, individual and group counseling, complementary therapeutic activities, and more.
Our treatment center employs compassionate medical professionals with expertise in addiction and mental health. They are trained to provide clients with the skills they need to achieve abstinence and sustain long-term sobriety and wellness.
Contact us as soon as possible to learn more about our alcohol treatment options and receive the help and support you need to embark on your recovery journey!