Defining Alcohol as a Drug

by | Aug 9, 2016 | Addiction | 2 comments

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We’ve seen similar pictures where the bottle was replaced by a needle. So how do drugs and alcohol compare? (Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock)

We’ve seen similar pictures where the bottle was replaced by a needle. So how do drugs and alcohol compare? (Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock)

We often make reference to drugs and alcohol, but many say that alcohol is a drug in and of itself. Certainly it shares many properties with drugs in general, even if it isn’t generally treated the same way under the law. But there are some who absolutely abhor the notion of alcohol as a drug. There may be various reasons for this, including those who do not want to associate alcoholism with drug addiction. To them, drugs pose a greater stigma. They use the fact that they did not engage in drug abuse to fuel their pride, because at least their substance of choice was legal.

Given that humility provides the spiritual essence of recovery, we must do away with this sort of prideful thinking. Alcohol may be legal, but it is no less a drug than any other substance we might abuse.

At the end of this article, we also intend to spend some time talking about drug addiction. Many recovering drug addicts believe that alcohol is safe. This is especially true of those who did not drink much during their addiction. We will examine this subject, based on what we have seen in our own patients. Those who truly care about sobriety should not sacrifice it for the sake of trying something new or to prove that they are immune to a substance’s effects. Alcoholics and drug addicts alike will often find that liquor can lead down a treacherous path.

Alcohol as an Unscheduled Narcotic

Much like other drugs, alcohol can have dangerous effects on our lives. (Peerayot/Shutterstock)

Much like other drugs, alcohol can have dangerous effects on our lives. (Peerayot/Shutterstock)

Liquor does not constitute a controlled substance as defined by the Drug Enforcement Agency. That said, it is legally regulated under the Controlled Substances/Alcohol Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category. This regulation generally pertains to drivers of commercial motor vehicles. In other words, you can’t drink and drive. (Hopefully, you didn’t need us to tell you that.) The point is that, while regulated, alcohol is not considered a narcotic as far as the law is concerned. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other definitions under which alcohol might qualify.

The etymology of the word “narcotic” has Greek origins and stems from the word meaning “sleep,” and narcotics generally include symptoms such as sleep or drowsiness. When we think of a narcotic by this definition, our minds may go instantly to opioid medications and other prescription drugs such as Ambien (which, interestingly enough, is also not classified as a narcotic). But in large doses, alcohol certainly may cause us to fall asleep or pass out. And that’s not its only drug-like property by far.

Alcohol only acts upon the central nervous system as a depressant when used in heavy doses. In smaller amounts, alcohol may actually act as a stimulant. Alcohol also contains psychoactive properties, which is why it changes our perception so vastly when used. The more we abuse it, the more these psychoactive properties may affect our way of thinking. We may even experience some of these effects the morning after we have engaged in heavy drinking. Anyone who has suffered a particularly severe hangover can attest that their mental and physical capabilities were anything but normal. See how long alcohol stays in a person’s system here. Some may find that their hangovers even carry into the late evening, although this is not exceedingly common and requires an especially heavy run of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol may not be a narcotic in the legal sense of the word, but it can definitely be dangerous to those with addictive tendencies. Such people will find that alcohol hurt them in astounding ways. Many of these will be outlined below. In the meantime, know this—there exists a way out of this cycle. All we must do is give ourselves a chance. If we can do this, then alcohol does not need to rule our lives. We must embrace recovery instead of drinking.

Alcoholism’s Effects on Our Lives

Living in the fog of alcoholism will leave us reeling. (runzelkorn/Shutterstock)

Living in the fog of alcoholism will leave us reeling. (runzelkorn/Shutterstock)

If alcohol and drugs share anything in common, it’s the effects they have on our daily lives. When drinking, we may not show up to work. In other instances, we may show up while drunk. We may drive under the influence. We may find ourselves with legal issues. Much as addicts use other drugs, alcoholics use alcohol to escape from daily life. And after this has been done long enough, we reach a point at which we become dependent.

At this point, physical cravings and mental obsession become the norm. We lose all sense of control, and some of us even lose the ability to enjoy our substance abuse. Our tolerance increases as well, demanding that we use more heavily than before. When alcohol is our substance of choice, we may develop habits such as shaking and sweating. We may experience nausea and anxiety during withdrawal. Like any other drug, it is difficult to quit alcohol after a period of extended use. It takes its toll on our bodies, which are accustomed to receiving a daily fix. And if we give ourselves too much of a fix, we just may wind up dead.

Alcoholism is not uncommon. In 2013, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism noted that approximately sixteen million adults were alcoholic. Those who drink moderately generally only consume up to two drinks each day if they are men and one drink each day if they are women. This is a range of 7-14 drinks per week. If you exceed this limit, you may suffer from the disease known as alcoholism. If you do not enjoy your drinking but continue anyway, you are likely an alcoholic. And if your health or your personal life have been adversely affected by your drinking, then alcohol is likely more of a drug to you than an occasional source of relief.

In the end, it isn’t really all that difficult to tell if you have been inappropriately abusing alcohol. If going a day without it makes you anxious or angry, then you are likely struggling with an addiction. If you need it to perform basic functions such as leaving the house, then alcohol addiction holds sway over you. Any signs of unnatural drinking behaviors likely point to alcoholism. But even if you are more addicted to other substances, there remain reasons to avoid alcohol consumption. We will talk about this below.

Is Drinking Safe for Drug Addicts?

Any addict, regardless of their drinking history, should steer clear of alcohol in recovery. (Billion Photos/Shutterstock)

Any addict, regardless of their drinking history, should steer clear of alcohol in recovery. (Billion Photos/Shutterstock)

Many addicts never struggled with alcohol during their addiction. As such, many feel able to drink in recovery without fear of relapse. Unfortunately, the disease of addiction works in mysterious ways. Those who need to exist in an altered state of consciousness often find ways of doing so. If drinking helps them with this, it may not be long before they return to drug abuse as well. Those who feel that drinking is okay often find that it is not long after the first drink that they begin using drugs again. Because while drinking may alter their consciousness, it’s simply too hard to forget about their drug of choice.

This is why many programs promote abstinence. Yes, there is something to be said for sheer harm reduction. But why hold ourselves back from a better life? Why settle on a different drug when we could settle on none at all? Every drug from alcohol to heroin has ruined lives. Perhaps we didn’t struggle with one of these before, but simply choosing a new drug of choice will not relieve us of our addictive tendencies. It will only serve to remind us of those urges that we have fought for so long. And before long, we will likely take up our preferred substance yet again.

Even if an addict does not to return to their drug of choice, alcohol may still be quite dangerous. There is little reason to believe that drinking will not simply replace their former drug use. Perhaps some addicts have been able to drink normally, but we’ve seen such attempts fail more often than not. For this reason, we at Amethyst promote abstinence as the most effective method of addiction recovery. It doesn’t take nearly as long to ruin our lives as it takes to put them back together. Why take such a gamble?

If you struggle with alcohol or other drugs, contact us today to learn more about our recovery program. Learn how therapy and life skills education can put you on the path to a better life. There’s no need to keep poisoning your mind and body with alcohol or other mind-altering substances. Treat your addiction, and you will discover the freedom to enjoy your life as it is. Whether you choose to define alcohol as a drug or not is irrelevant. All that matters is whether or not it has had a negative impact on you. If it has, then Amethyst can provide you with the help you need.

2 Comments

  1. Julian Rodriguez

    Of course alcohol is not a scheduled narcotic because its not a narcotic, opioids are the only narcotics on the face of the planet. Everything else has its own category e.g. stimulants, hallucinogens, et.

    Reply
    • Kieran Hair

      Not entirely. All opioids are narcotics, but not vice versa. “Narcotic,” as generally used, is a relatively imprecise term and includes many drugs that contain none of the same compounds as opium. If the DSM were to ever define alcohol as a drug, I believe that it would most likely be filed as a narcotic as opposed to other drug types since it affects the same neural receptors that are affected by drugs such as opioids. Or, it could conceivably become its own drug type, depending on whether they sought to define several types of alcohol or simply ethyl itself. In fact, it would be better as its own drug type since–as mentioned–it occasionally has the potential to mimic certain aspects of other drug types aside from narcotics. But I tried not to really get into all of that in TOO much detail, since it’s 1) complex, 2) hypothetical and 3) not technically the main point of the article.

      Reply

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