Is Alcohol a Drug? Why Do They Consider Alcohol a Drug?

When we talk about addiction, we often use phrases such as “alcohol and drugs” like they are separate entities. However, any substance that affects the body and brain can technically be called a drug, such as alcohol. Why is alcohol considered a drug?

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Many are under the impression that alcoholism is a “low-level” type of addiction because they think it’s not as damaging as other addictions. They would be surprised to discover that alcohol is considered a drug, especially when we think about its components and effects on the body.

Is Alcohol Considered a Drug?

First, it is essential to define what a drug is. A drug is any substance, except for food and water, that brings physiological effects in the body. These substances can alter brain functions as well, which in turn allows the body to respond in  different ways. There are three main classifications of drugs:

  • Legal drugs: These are the drugs sold in stores, pharmacies, or provided in hospitals and clinics. Many are regulated by the government and sold in official health sections and outlets. Legal drugs can both be over-the-counter or doctor-prescribed. Without a prescription, people cannot legally obtain some drugs.
  • Illegal drugs: These are substances created in hidden facilities. The goal of illegal drugs is to mimic the components of the legal ones or to modify the chemical makeup of known substances to achieve a stronger effect. Illegal drugs are sold on the street or even within organized crime groups.
  • Illicit drugs: These are legal drugs that were obtained, used, and sold illegally. Examples of which are drugs obtained through fake prescriptions or those stolen from health facilities.

By these definitions, alcohol fits the description of legal drugs because they affect the brain in a certain way. Additionally, alcohol is readily available in stores and many commercial facilities.

However, they are often separated from drugs because of the many reasons why people drink alcohol. Drugs are usually taken to battle an ailment, but alcohol has several cultural and social purposes as well. This is also why alcohol isn’t on the DEA’s list.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has a specific list titled “Drugs of Abuse”. Although alcohol has a high potential for abuse, it is not included on the list because of its widespread commercial and economic value as well. According to Allied Market Research, the alcoholic beverages industry was  worth $1,439 billion globally in 2017. History records also show that the prohibition of alcohol led to increased crime rates involving the smuggling of alcoholic beverages, which caused an eventual modification and renewal of the policies involving alcohol use.

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Why Do People Drink Alcohol?

As previously mentioned, the main reason why alcohol is often not listed as a drug is because of the purpose of why they are taken. The use of alcohol dates back to ancient civilizations, but the reasons why people drink still remain the same:

Cultural reasons

In some countries, drinking alcohol is deeply embedded in their culture. One known example is Germany and their celebration of “Oktoberfest”. Oktoberfest is a 2-week beer festival where Germans would come and drink to their heart’s content, accompanied by music, games, food, and other recreational activities.

Social reasons

In the modern world, most people drink alcohol for this very reason. Restaurants offer alcoholic beverages because people from all walks of life engage in social drinking. Whether it’s with family, friends, or workmates, social drinking is considered a time to let loose, enjoy, and cap off the busy work week. Since alcohol affects the way we think, people seem more extroverted and confident when they have a glass or two. This is also the reason why bars and clubs have alcohol–to break down the tension of social gatherings.

Personal reasons

Aside from having social influences, some individuals also deal with personal issues that lead them to drink alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it is used by some people to calm their nerves while dealing with the stresses of life. Other reasons include mental health struggles, relationship problems, and other stress-inducing issues specific to the individual.

How Many People Drink Alcohol?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 85.6% of the American population ages 18 and above have drunk alcohol at least once in their life. That being said, a whopping 70% drank over the past year, while 55% drank alcohol in the past month.

The trend shows that the majority of the population seems to drink alcohol at least occasionally, and from that majority are those who drink it regularly. Other interesting statistics about America’s drinking habits include the following:

  • 25.8% of the population admitted to engaging in binge drinking in the past month.
  • 6.3% admitted to heavy alcohol use.
  • 14.4 million adults in the US are diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
  • Only 7.2% of those diagnosed with AUD received treatment in the past year.

These facts and figures show that drinking alcohol appears “typical”, which doesn’t help individuals who are prone to developing problematic habits. Although some can have a taste of alcohol and never get addicted, there are many predisposed individuals who end up suffering from alcohol abuse eventually.

What Is Considered Standard Drinking?

Often, people think that the amount of alcoholic beverages one can tolerate without being drunk is considered standard drinking. However, this simplistic rule of thumb may be problematic for some because they end up having alcohol tolerance. This means that they need larger amounts of alcohol over time in order to achieve the same effect.

In NIAAA, there are specific guidelines that people can follow on the standard amounts per alcoholic beverage. It is important to know that the standard serving is dependent on the type of drink, and also the alcoholic content of each beverage.

Here are some of the guidelines for the most common drinks:

  • 12 fl oz of regular beer
  • 8-9 fl oz of malt liquor
  • 5 fl oz of table wine
  • 3-4 fl oz of fortified wine
  • 2-3 fl oz of cordial, liqueur, or aperitif
  • 1.5 fl oz of brandy or cognac
  • 1.5 fl oz of 80-proof distilled spirits

These measurements are based on the average of 0.6 fl oz of pure alcohol per serving. According to the guidelines, this is a standard amount that can help lessen the likelihood of binge drinking and problematic drinking episodes.

Risks Associated With Alcohol Use

As alcohol is considered a drug, there are risks involved in using them frequently. Health problems and interference in daily responsibilities are one of the most common risks in problematic alcohol use.

Heavy alcohol use results in more and intensified risks such as those mentioned above. If you want to avoid these problems, it is best to nip the issue at the bud by stopping alcohol addiction once and for all. These problems include:

  • Acute intoxication
  • Withdrawal problems
  • Amnesia
  • Degeneration of the nervous system
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Fatty liver
  • Pancreatitis
  • Mental and behavioral problems
  • Inability to perform daily tasks
  • Loss of interest in previous hobbies
  • Relationship problems
  • Violence and aggression towards others
  • Financial troubles
  • Poor hygiene
  • Run-ins with law enforcement

Alcohol Is a Drug: No Excuses

If you notice signs of alcohol addiction in yourself or a loved one, it is easy to beat around the bush and dismiss the notion that alcohol isn’t “hard drugs”. However, based on the true definition of what a drug really is, alcohol, is by far the most commonly used and abused drug of all. Nevertheless, it is possible to recover from addiction with the right treatment approaches in alcohol abuse.


  1. – “What are drugs?”.
  2. – “Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze”.
  3. – “Oktoberfest”.
  4. – “The Science of Alcohol: From Making Your More Confident to Warming You Up, Expert Reveals All”.
  5. – “Is Alcohol A Depressant?”.
  6. – “Alcohol Facts and Statistics”.
  7. – “The Risks Associated With Alcohol Use and Alcoholism”.
  8. – “Drugs of Abuse”.
  9. – “Alcoholic beverages Market Share and Size”.
  10. – “Prohibition”.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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