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Is Alcohol a Drug? Everything You Need to Know About Alcohol Abuse

is alcohol a drug

These days, we all know to be wary of narcotics and other mind-altering substances. But is alcohol a drug?

The straightforward answer is yes. Despite its widespread acceptance and legality for adults, alcohol shares many characteristics with more stigmatized substances, including its potential for addiction and harm. Let’s delve into the nuances of alcohol as a depressant, its potential for addiction and abuse, and the health implications of its misuse.

A Basic Introduction to Alcohol

Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is the intoxicating ingredient in beer, wine, and spirits. It's produced by fermenting sugars and starches with yeast. Its cultural and social significance is deeply embedded in history, with ancient civilizations producing and consuming alcoholic beverages for thousands of years.

Today, alcohol still holds a complex and multifaceted role in societies around the world, serving as a social lubricant, a traditional component of religious and ceremonial practices, and a ubiquitous presence in celebrations and gatherings. However, this significance is double-edged, as alcohol misuse can lead to health issues, social problems, and addiction.

Read More: Ethyl Alcohol Defined

Categorizing Alcohol

Alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant. It slows down brain function and neural activity, affecting decision-making, coordination, and inhibition. Despite initially stimulating effects that can elevate mood and reduce anxiety, its primary physiological impact is to depress brain activity.

Read More: Is Alcohol a Depressant?

Alcohol Addiction and Abuse

Many people partake of alcohol in casual, social situations, but this beverage has a high potential for abuse. Ethanol abuse, also called alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD), can be spotted when drinking leads to chronic problems in a person’s life, yet they continue to drink. This can manifest as drinking in dangerous situations, experiencing legal issues related to drinking, or having relationships strained by alcohol use.

Read More: Ethanol Abuse: Symptoms and Effects

The Downward Slide into Alcoholism

Usually, a person doesn’t simply wake up one day and decide to start binge drinking. In most cases, alcohol use disorder develops in stages, from drinking to relieve stress or feel good, to upping intake to overcome their increasing alcohol tolerance, and finally to developing a dependency where drinking becomes a central focus of one’s life.

Read More: The Stages of Alcoholism

The Point of No Return

Recovery from alcohol addiction is possible — but when it comes to rehabilitation, earlier is better. Left too long, alcohol abuse can advance to a point that’s difficult to overcome. End-stage alcoholism is the final phase of AUD, marked by severe health complications, including liver disease and cognitive issues. At this stage, the physical and mental health damages are profound and often irreversible.

Read More: End-Stage Alcoholism

The Genetic Component of Alcohol Abuse

Environmental factors and individual choices greatly influence the development of an alcohol addiction. However, research indicates that genetics can also play a significant role in the risk of developing alcohol use disorder, with some people having a greater predisposition to alcoholism.

Read More: Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Alcohol Withdrawal and Relapse

Unfortunately, alcohol is notorious for its high relapse rate. It creates powerful physical dependency and significant changes in the brain’s reward system, making recovery challenging. In fact, the rate of alcohol relapse is on par with infamously addictive drugs like heroin.

Read More: Why Alcohol and Heroin Have the Highest Rate of Relapse

Misusing Alcohol with Other Substances

Alcohol is dangerous enough on its own, but that danger is increased exponentially when alcohol is paired with other drugs. Using multiple substances concurrently can compound the risks and health impacts of each, making recovery even more complex.

Read More: Alcohol and Polysubstance Abuse

The Physical Risks of Alcohol Use

From the very outset, drinking alcohol has a noticeable effect on the human body. Getting drunk can impair your coordination and motor skills, causing symptoms like slurring or stumbling. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Long-term alcohol use can damage nearly every organ in the body. It increases the risk of chronic diseases, including liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular diseases, and several types of cancer. Alcohol even affects digestion, can lead to nutrient deficiencies, and weakens the immune system.

Read More: What Does Alcohol Do to Your Body?

Alcohol’s Impact on Mental Health

In the short term, alcohol can interfere with your brain function, causing confusion, memory problems, and lowered inhibitions. However, alcohol abuse can also manifest in more permanent ways. For instance, while many turn to alcohol to soothe anxiety, chronic drinking can actually exacerbate anxiety disorders. The temporary relief is followed by increased anxiety levels as the effects of alcohol wear off, creating a vicious cycle.

Read More: Alcohol and Anxiety

Alcohol-Induced Dementia

Chronic heavy drinking can also lead to a mental health issue known as alcohol-induced dementia, characterized by memory loss, difficulties with thinking and problem-solving, and changes in personality. This condition is often associated with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder caused by a lack of thiamine.

Read More: Alcohol Dementia

Alcohol and Drug Testing

Alcohol drug testing might be required for various scenarios. This includes pre-employment screenings — especially in safety-critical industries like transportation or construction — routine testing in certain professions, testing after a workplace incident, and screening for individuals in rehabilitation or treatment programs. 

Alcohol can be detected in various drug tests, including breath, blood, urine, and hair tests. 

Read More: Does Alcohol Show Up on a Drug Test?

The Alcohol Detection Window

The body metabolizes alcohol at a constant rate, but the time alcohol can be detected in the system varies by test type. Generally, alcohol is detectable in the blood for up to 6 hours, urine tests can detect alcohol for up to 24 hours, and hair tests can show alcohol use for up to 90 days.

Read More: How Long Does Alcohol Stay in Your System?

Are False Positives Possible?

Certain medications, medical conditions, and even the use of alcohol-containing products like mouthwash can lead to a false positive result in an alcohol urine test. Furthermore, it’s important to prioritize a trustworthy drug testing partner, whether you’re taking an at-home test or sending your sample to be processed by a professional lab.

Read More: What Can Cause a False Positive Alcohol Urine Test?

Alcohol Recovery and Rehabilitation

Giving up alcohol can be a difficult journey that requires dedication and support. When possible, detoxing alcohol should ideally be done under medical supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms safely. Treatment may include medication to ease symptoms, support groups, and therapy to address the underlying issues related to alcohol use.

Read More: How to Detox from Alcohol

Get Answers with Countrywide Testing

Understanding alcohol as a drug helps demystify its effects and the risks associated with its misuse. Recognizing the signs of abuse and seeking help early can prevent the long-term health impacts of alcohol and support recovery and a healthier lifestyle.

If you think that a friend or loved one may be abusing alcohol, Countrywide Testing can provide the answers you need. We offer discreet, at-home alcohol drug testing kits that will help you confirm a loved one's substance use and help get them started on the road to recovery. Countrywide offers various drug testing products for workplace testing, healthcare emergencies, law enforcement purposes, and individuals trying to stay clean after rehab. These include a range of alcohol test kits to support the process of an alcohol detox.

Our test kits are convenient affordable, and ship to you quickly. Plus, our lab is accredited by SAMHSA, so you can rest assured the highest industry standards handle your test results.

Want more information on how Countrywide can support a cleaner, safer lifestyle? Just contact our team today.