Is Alcohol a Drug?

Alcohol may be the world’s most acceptable drug. But if you ask a group of average people for a list of drugs, many people will leave it entirely off their lists.

Glass of whiskey

The Webster’s dictionary defines a drug as something that causes addiction or a marked change in consciousness, adding that it is often an illegal substance. Anyone who has dealt with an alcoholic close up, anyone who has tried to get someone with a drinking problem to stop drinking knows that alcohol is addictive. Maybe not exactly like heroin or crack cocaine or methamphetamine in that it might take longer for the addiction to take hold. But when it grips, it’s as rough as any cocaine, crack, meth or heroin. In fact, in many ways, it’s worse.

You might feel miserable, you might throw up and have chills, nausea, aches, spasms and vomiting if you withdraw from these other drugs. But if alcohol consumption is heavy enough, withdrawing suddenly from drinking can actually kill you. This potentially fatal state of alcohol withdrawal is referred to as the DTs—delirium tremens. It’s accompanied by delusions, seizures and hallucinations. When an alcoholic in withdrawal hits this state, it’s a medical emergency. Without immediate medical intervention, as many as 40 percent of alcoholics die.

Alcohol definitely has the ability to cause a marked change in consciousness. Ask anyone who has passed out drunk at a party or had an alcoholic blackout, finding themselves at home with no memory of how they got there.

Alcohol consumption is prone to overdoses that result in death, just like heroin or other opiates

Man drinks heavy alcohol

When a person takes too much heroin perhaps because it is purer than they expect, they suffer physical injury referred to as an overdose. Opiates slow down the respiration which deprives the body of oxygen and can cause death.

A similar thing happens when too much alcohol is consumed. Alcohol affects the part of the brain that controls consciousness, breathing and heart rate. More alcohol consumption than the body can handle can result in a coma followed by death. Some extremely drunk people who are left to sleep off their condition die because they vomit and then inhale the material they have vomited, which causes them to suffocate. Or alcohol may just stop the breathing and slow the heart until the body dies.

It may not happen as often, but alcohol can be just as deadly as opiates when too much is consumed. Usually, alcohol overdoses resulting in death just hit the US news media when a young person dies after chugging 21 drinks in an hour on their 21st birthday—a ritual referred to as the “Power Hour.” If a person’s vomiting reflex is good and they throw up most of the liquor, they may live. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the U.S. each year and that 76% of those are men.

Alcoholism Causes the Drinker and the Entire Family to Suffer

When a person is an alcoholic, it’s not just one person suffering. It may be just the drinker and his or her spouse, or perhaps there are children involved, or parents who are trying to help, or siblings. Very few people keep this problem entirely to themselves. In Europe, 23 million people are estimated to be dependent on alcohol. This means many millions more are carrying the burden of someone’s addiction.

In Russia, a government campaign was launched in 2010 to reduce alcohol consumption by 50 percent in ten years. State agencies estimate that half a million people in Russia die each year from alcohol related causes. More than 20,000 die from direct alcohol poisoning.

When a person can’t cut down his or her alcohol consumption when asked by family or employers or friends, even when they know it is in their best interests, they have lost control of their own drinking, fitting them into the category of alcoholic. The biggest favor that can be done for this person is to help them immediately enter an effective alcohol rehabilitation program.

An Alcoholic is Likely to Fight the Effort to Help Them

Despite a desperate need for alcohol rehabilitation, when a family brings the subject up to an alcoholic, there is a very good chance the alcoholic will reject the idea. That’s where working with a good alcohol recovery program can help. With Narconon, a family can find an interventionist to help evoke the person’s willingness to get help, or intake counselors can help walk a family through the process of saving their loved one’s life. For five decades the Narconon program has been helping alcoholics recover from this potentially fatal condition. The program gets to the root causes of addiction and teaches each recovering addict the skills they need to prevent future problems. For information on how our program can help someone you love overcome a problem with alcohol, contact a Narconon drug and alcohol counselor today.

Clinical Review by Claire Pinelli, LADC, CCS, ICAADC, MCAP

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