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In our everyday lives, the line between what is considered a drug and what isn’t often blurs, especially when it comes to substances we commonly encounter.

Alcohol and socialising have gone hand-in-hand for centuries – so much so that it is easy to forget that alcohol is a drug. Understanding alcohol in the context of being a dangerous drug is crucial for recognising the risks associated with its consumption, raising awareness as to alcohol’s potential for harm and addiction and challenging the current mindsets surrounding drinking alcohol. Perceiving alcohol as less harmful than other drugs is a dangerous misconception with wide-ranging consequences such as delaying recognition and treatment of health issues, contributing to economic problems, and impeding effective public health interventions.

Alcohol has such an ingrained association with relaxation, fun, socialising, and celebrations despite the fact that it leads to many negative consequences on an individual’s mind, body, and life. Society seems to encourage alcohol use to act as a coping mechanism.

“Come and have a drink, it will take the edge off”.

Alcohol is not considered a drug that puts one at a high risk of developing a physical and psychological dependence problem that leads to negative consequences on a personal as a whole. The misconception that alcohol is not a drug stems from various social, cultural, and psychological factors. Historically, alcohol has been deeply ingrained in many societies as a socially acceptable and even celebratory substance. Its legal status, widespread use, and portrayal in media further reinforce this perception. Unlike illicit drugs, which are often surrounded by negative stigma and legal restrictions, alcohol is typically associated with leisure and enjoyment.

Despite its profound effects on the body and mind, it is often perceived differently from other drugs like cannabis, cocaine, or prescription medications. 

Why is this the case?

Alcohol has been consumed for thousands of years and is a substance that ancient communities integrated into their rituals and religious ceremonies. There are many cultures worldwide that have traditions that are centred around alcohol whether it be linked to religious practices or to a means of celebrating.

Many children grow up seeing their parents or adults around them consuming alcoholic drinks at social gatherings, this subconsciously creates the idea that alcohol is synonymous with fun and with socialising. Drinking alcohol is often a core component at parties, any celebrations, dining, nightlife, and casual gatherings. The term “social drinking” has led to some people believing that it is appropriate to drink every night if they are at a social event.

Drinking alcohol is strongly associated with relaxation. Alcohol is a depressant which means that it does have an effect of relieving anxiety in social situations. Having a drink before a stressful event or to decompress after a taxing day is commonplace. Although theoretically it is true that alcohol does calm one down, it is a very short-lasting feeling and once it dissipates the anxiety is still there and often increases.

A major contributing factor to the extent of how socially acceptable drinking has become is due to the media portrayal of alcohol. If you consider the time from when you wake up to when you go to sleep, you are bound to recall one, if not several, adverts for alcoholic beverages. Billboards, specials in grocery stores, adverts shown on the television, adverts on different social media platforms, the list can go on. Media fails to address the negative impacts of alcohol use but rather focuses on glamourising the substance through the use of celebrities and associating with having a fun time. The adverts that run often aim to evoke emotions by associating drinking alcohol with positive experiences such as friendship or romance. Excessive drinking is portrayed humorously in tv series and movies is in a humorous way thus making binge-drinking look appealing and acceptable. The marketing of alcoholic beverages paints them in a positive light, placing emphasis on relaxation and social bonding. This image strongly differs from the media portrayal of other drugs, which are frequently depicted as life-endangering and destructive. These severely differing perceptions does make it easy to overlook the fact that alcohol, too, is an dangerous drug with potential for addiction to develop.

Is alcohol a drug? What are the dangers linked to alcohol consumption?

According to the National Institutes of Health, in the context of abuse, a “drug” refers to any substance that alters consciousness and may be habit forming. Alcohol is a substance that is classified as a central nervous system depressant which leads to changes in mood, perception, and behaviour. The psychoactive effects include, but are not limited to, sedation, drowsiness, respiratory depression, impaired motor and cognitive abilities. These effects are similar to those of opioids and benzodiazepines.

Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to lasting cognitive impairments, including memory loss and decreased executive functioning. Furthermore, it puts the individual at a high risk of developing early on set dementia and long-term use may lead to Korsakoff Syndrome, also known as wet brain syndrome.

Excessive alcohol use is strongly linked to liver damage, heart disease, cancer and brain damage. It is a leading cause of a liver disease called liver cirrhosis.

Alcohol’s classification as a drug is supported by its profound effects on the brain and body, as well as its potential for addiction and dependence. As with any other drug, regular use results in tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Physical dependence on alcohol is characterised by withdrawal symptoms such as tremors, anxiety, and seizures when alcohol use is reduced or stopped. If not medically managed, withdrawal from alcohol is often more life-threatening than from other drugs as the individual may develop delirium tremens which can be fatal.

As previously mentioned, alcohol is a depressant/sedative which means that it may seem to slow down one’s thoughts and have a calming effect. This feeling may lead to people developing a psychological dependence on alcohol, craving its effects to cope with stress, social situations, or other challenges.

As a person consumes alcohol over time, it causes changes in the way the brain is structured and functions. These changes lead to alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction.

Alcohol can have a profound impact on mental health, both in the short term and over the long term. Chronic alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of developing depressive disorders. Alcohol can exacerbate symptoms of depression and create a cycle where individuals drink to cope with their mood, which in turn worsens their depression. Regular alcohol use can contribute to anxiety disorders. While alcohol might initially reduce anxiety, over time it can increase anxiety levels and lead to dependency as a coping mechanism.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) alcohol use disorder (AUD) is “a condition characterised by an impair ability to stop or control use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences”. The term alcohol use disorder is used synonymously with alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse, and alcohol dependence.

The CAGE assessment is often used to help individuals decide whether a problem may exist. It consists of the 4 questions below:

  1. Have you ever felt that you should cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people annoyed you by criticising your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  4. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?

Can't Stop When You Want To?

If you think you or a loved one may be struggling to overcome an alcohol addiction, you are not alone. Realising that there is an issue is the first step towards recovery.

We, at YouTurn House, are here to provide all the support and guidance necessary to support you on your recovery journey.

For more information, please do not hesitate to reach out.  

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