Is Alcohol a Drug?

Despite the prevalence of alcoholism, people often consider alcohol as separate from other drugs. To many, substance abuse only refers to the use of illegal street drugs. Some people are under the impression that alcohol use is easy to control, so it will not develop into an addiction. But according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH), alcohol is one of the most common substances with potential for misuse or addiction. In society, the consequences of alcohol misuse, like drunk driving and vehicular homicide, can be damaging. Alcoholism is listed as the fourth leading cause of preventable death worldwide.

In certain cultures, moderate drinking can be socially integrating. Since alcohol is more widely available than illegal street drugs, its overuse can be challenging to identify. It is available to all adults over 21, and its use sometimes becomes the center of festivals and celebrations. All these make alcoholism a largely hidden epidemic. In America, more than 14 million adults ages 18 and older develop alcohol addiction, and one in ten children live with a parent with this addiction.

In What Ways Is Alcohol Comparable to Other Drugs?

Just like other drugs, people can become addicted to alcohol because it affects the brain’s neurological pathways and chemistry. Repeated and long-term consumption of alcohol often leads to severe damage to human organs such as the liver and the heart. Alcohol abuse can cause changes to brain structures and neurochemistry, which in turn leads to a range of behavioral disorders, among them compulsion and aggression. 

Like drug abuse, alcohol addiction is considered a mental health disorder caused by the brain’s functioning. Co-occurring conditions often include depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. Accompanying these are a range of emotional or psychological problems such as mood shifts, irritability, anger, and even delusions. Also, like the effects of other drug use, alcoholism can lead to social isolation, disrupted marital relationships, and family conflicts. 

What Are the Differences Between Alcohol and Other Drugs?

Alcohol causes cumulative damage, often manifesting in long-term illnesses. Organ failures can happen due to accumulated toxicity. While overdoses do happen occasionally, they are comparatively rare compared to other drugs like heroin. Alcohol is a depressant, so the risks associated with those types of drugs are similar such as reduced respiration or loss of consciousness.

Although alcohol has been considered a kind of drug when it comes to addiction, the main distinction between alcohol and other addictive drugs concerns the matter of legal availability. Because the legal threshold for alcohol use is much lower than other drugs, more alcohol addiction is happening than that of other drugs. This threshold can make the difference between getting addicted to a legal substance versus an illicit one. Because of the differences in legal availability, there tends to be less of a social stigma around alcohol addiction. The idea of recovering from drug overuse can be more daunting compared to recovering from alcoholism. But the latter may lead to more denialism, which makes recovery more difficult.

How to Treat Alcohol Addiction?

Because alcohol addiction affects a person's physiological, emotional, and behavioral aspects, a combination of treatments that target these areas works best. First, some prescription medications can help people stop or reduce their level of alcohol use without relapse. Currently, the FDA has approved three non-addictive medications: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram. These medications ought to be used in combination with behavioral treatments such as counseling. The most common group counseling program is the AA 12-steps group. It has a built-in accountability system that values honesty, humility, and mutual support. 

Depending on the need of the recovering individual, effective behavioral treatments may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, marital and family counseling, and personalized interventions. Ideally, because alcohol addiction has developed into such a wide variety of forms and impacts, it should be treated with more personalized medical approaches. Medical professionals and organizations are researching the best ways to identify how people respond to a particular treatment. 

Relapse prevention of alcohol addiction also remains one of the problematic areas, also because of the legal availability of this substance. A treatment program should equip a recovering individual with a toolkit to prevent and manage relapse. It is important to note that alcohol addiction relapse also involves three areas: physical, emotional, and mental relapse. The sooner a person or people in the support system catches early signs in these areas (such as stressful emotions and cravings) and intervene, the more likely they will succeed at staying sober. 

If you or a loved one has an alcohol addiction, quitting might be more difficult than you think. Alcohol is more widely available to all adult groups than drugs, and social tolerance towards alcoholism is relatively higher. How can you or your loved one recover from alcohol addiction in this enabling social environment? It would require a comprehensive intervention strategy. At South Florida Intervention, our experienced interventionists have helped many people recover from alcoholism. As expert interventionists, we have walked alongside many families in finding a solution to teenage or young adult addiction. We are willing to spend time with you, encourage you, and explain whatever question you may have. Our commitment is to connect you with trusted health professionals who have plenty of experience in this area. Apart from recovering coaching and parent coaching, we offer detailed case management. You can also make use of your sober escort service. Call us at (202) 390-2273.