Alcohol is a dangerous substance but it’s often not considered a drug by most people. It’s one of the most widely used substances in the world and doesn’t have a controlled substance classification from the DEA.
Despite all of that, alcohol is a drug. It’s addictive, has negative side effects, and can lead to various health problems. This is especially the case if you participate in heavy drinking or binge drinking.
What Is Alcohol?
Alcohol (ethanol/ethyl alcohol) is produced through fermenting grains, fruits, or other sugars and is the main ingredient in wine, beer, and liquor.
Alcohol is used by thousands, if not millions, of people despite the consequences. It’s primarily used for recreation, and drinking alcohol on its own has no medicinal purpose.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), around 85% of adults admitted to drinking alcohol at one point in their lives.
Alcohol As A Drug
Alcohol is a depressant drug that slows down the function of the central nervous system (CNS). This means it slows down the messages traveling between the brain to the body. It does this by activating GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors in the brain.
Beyond the way it affects the brain, alcohol is also considered a drug because of its addictive qualities. Drinking alcohol can lead to an alcohol use disorder where you can no longer control your drinking.
Effects Of Alcohol
The effects of alcohol can range from minor to severe and even fatal. How alcohol affects you depends on a number of factors including:
- body chemistry
- physical and mental health
- medical conditions
- amount consumed
- use of other drugs or medications
- level of tolerance
The short-term side effects of alcohol can include:
- trouble concentrating
- increased confidence
- cognitive impairment
- alcohol poisoning
- high blood pressure
- increased heart rate
- delayed reaction time
- slurred speech
- unsteady gait
- lack of coordination or motor skills
- distorted perceptions
- reduced inhibitions
- impaired judgment
- memory loss
The Dangers Of Alcohol
While many of the dangers of alcohol use are listed above, there are other long-term health effects caused by excessive drinking. These long-term effects can be fatal if they’re not treated.
With the regular use of alcohol, the risk of building up a physical dependence on alcohol increases significantly. If you become dependent on the drug, you may feel like you need it just to get through the day.
Along with dependence, you may also develop a tolerance for it as well. This means that you need to drink a larger amount of alcohol to get the same effects you used to get when drinking a smaller amount.
Those with dependence and tolerance have a higher risk of alcohol addiction and of experiencing more serious side effects.
Alcohol can have negative effects on the liver. With excessive alcohol consumption, the risk of alcoholic hepatitis, liver disease, liver fibrosis, and a fatty liver increases.
The liver filters toxins like alcohol out of the system. That’s its job. But if it has to constantly do that, it begins to break down. Sometimes this damage can be reversed but if the damage is severe enough, it may be permanent.
Alcohol can affect the heart as well. Drinking alcohol can temporarily increase your heart rate and blood pressure. This increase in heart rate over time leads to the heart wearing out, a condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
Alcohol can also damage the heart and lead to heart disease.
Additionally, mixing alcohol with opioids or benzodiazepines like Xanax can increase the risk of respiratory depression and death.
Mental Health Issues
Alcohol has also been linked to mental illness, especially when mixed with other drugs. Mixing alcohol and marijuana can lead to panic, anxiety, and paranoia as well as nausea and vomiting.
Additionally, because alcohol is a depressant, if taken in large amounts, it can change your brain chemistry and lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. If you drink heavily over a long period of time, you could also experience brain damage.
Coming off of alcohol after drinking for a long period of time can be just as dangerous as drinking it in the first place. Coming off alcohol should be done in a safe and, ideally, in a medically-supervised setting.
When alcohol leaves your body, you may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
- hand tremors
- delirium tremens
If you or a loved one lives with alcohol use disorder, drug addiction, or another substance use disorder, we offer a wide range of addiction treatment programs to ensure everyone can find the help they need. To learn more, please call our helpline today.
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