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What Type of Drug is Alcohol?

What Type of Drug is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that impacts the brain and behavior. People often wonder, "What type of drug is alcohol?" Learn the answer here.

Alcohol use is common in the United States. In fact, according to national survey data, half of Americans age 12 and older are current alcohol users. While some people may use alcohol in moderation and never develop problems related to its consumption, others may misuse alcohol or even develop an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for an alcohol addiction. Given that alcohol is a substance of potential misuse, people often ask, “What type of drug is alcohol?” Below, learn about the classification of alcohol, as well as how to seek help from an alcohol rehab program. 

Is Alcohol Considered A Drug?

People sometimes wonder if alcohol is even considered a drug to begin with, as it is technically a legal substance. While adults age 21 and older may be able to legally use alcohol, the reality is that alcohol is, in fact, a drug. It creates a physiological reaction in the body, which changes functioning and behavior. This fact classifies alcohol as a drug or a psychoactive substance. 

Alcohol has many sensations and effects, such as mild impairments in speech and balance, feelings of relaxation and sleepiness, and reductions in driving ability. Large quantities of alcohol can result in intoxication, which causes significant difficulties with coordination, speech, and decision-making, as well as serious dangers like blackouts, injuries, loss of consciousness, or even fatal alcohol overdose. 

What Type Of Drug Is Alcohol?

Based on its effects, it is pretty clear that alcohol meets the criteria for what is considered a drug. So, what is alcohol classified as? It is among a class of drugs called central nervous system depressants. Drugs in this category have a high potential for misuse, and they slow the activity of the nervous system. In low to moderate doses, this can create a relaxing effect. High doses of central nervous system depressants can lead to serious problems, like loss of coordination, breathing problems, and fatal overdose.  

Is Alcohol A Stimulant Or Depressant?

Alcohol is a depressant drug, rather than a stimulant. Understanding the answer to, “What category of drug is alcohol?” requires knowledge of how alcohol interacts with the nervous system. Alcohol is a depressant drug because itelevates levels of a chemical called GABA, which slows activity in the nervous system. This effect is responsible for the relaxing effects of alcohol, and alcohol’s effects on GABA are what make it a depressant drug. 

Effects of Alcohol

People sometimes wonder, “How is alcohol a drug?” The answer is that it is a chemical that affects the brain and behavior. Alcohol has the following effects, which demonstrate why it is a drug. 

Slowed Reaction Time

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, so it will slow your reaction time. Your reaction time is slightly slowed after just one drink.

Feelings of Euphoria 

When a person drinks enough to become intoxicated, they will begin to experience feelings of euphoria. They may feel relaxed, confident, and especially happy. 

Slurred Speech

As a psychoactive substance, alcohol affects numerous areas of the brain. One area it affects is the temporal lobe, which is why alcohol consumption can lead to slurred speech.

Poor Decision-Making and Judgment

Another area of the brain impacted by alcohol misuse is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for impulse control, logical reasoning, and planning. When this brain region is impaired by alcohol, you are more likely to engage in risky behavior, because your judgment is worse, and your self-control is not as high. 


As a person becomes intoxicated, they will become increasingly confused. High levels of alcohol consumption can even lead to stupor and blackout. In extreme cases, alcohol intoxication can lead to coma and even death.

Coordination Problems

Alcohol affects an area of the brain called the cerebellum, which controls movement. When under the influence of alcohol, you may experience coordination problems. With a high enough alcohol dose, you may struggle to walk on your own. 

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Alcohol Content In Different Types Of Drinks

It is important to understand that different types of drinks contain varying levels of alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a standard beer of 12 ounces contains 5% alcohol, whereas some light beers are 4.2% alcohol. An 8-10 ounce serving of malt beverages like hard seltzers contains 7% alcohol. 

Additional types of drinks have the following alcohol content level:

  • Table Wine: 12% alcohol in a 5-ounce serving
  • Fortified Wine: 17% alcohol in a 3.5-ounce serving
  • Distilled Spirits like Rum, Vodka, and Whisky: 40% alcohol per 1.5-ounce shot

Alcohol-Related Mental Health Disorders

Since alcohol is a drug, it has a negative effect on the brain and can increase the risk of several mental health disorders. This is because alcohol affects brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, as well as hormone levels. Alcohol misuse is linked to the following mental health conditions. 


Depression is common among people in treatment for an alcohol use disorder. In some cases, a person may develop depression before the alcohol use disorder. In other instances, depression may occur because of alcohol’s effects on the central nervous system. Bipolar disorder, which involves periods of depression and manic behavior, is also common in people with alcohol use disorders. 


Anxiety disorders tend to be more likely in people with a history of alcohol misuse. Panic disorder, social phobia, and PTSD are particularly likely among people with alcohol use disorders. In some cases, anxiety is a reaction to alcohol withdrawal and will resolve within a few weeks. 


Long-term alcohol misuse affects the brain and can lead to symptoms of psychosis. In some cases, people with a chronic history of alcohol misuse may develop a severe brain disorder called Korsakoff’s psychosis, which causes problems with learning and memory and may even make it difficult for a person to care for themselves. 

Antisocial Personality Disorder 

Both men and women with alcohol use disorders are significantly more likely to have antisocial personality disorder. Individuals with antisocial personality disorder have been found to be more likely to display aggression, and they tend to have more alcohol-related problems. 

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Other FAQs

The answers to the following questions are helpful if you want to know more about, “What type of drug is alcohol?” 

What Is The Name Of The Drug In Alcohol?

The name of the psychoactive substance, or drug, in alcohol is ethanol.

Is Alcohol The Most Misused Drug In The United States?

Alcohol is the most commonly misused substance in the United States. According to national survey data, 50.8% of people aged 12 and older had used alcohol within the past month, as of 2019. Furthermore, 69.5% had consumed alcohol within the past year. This compares to 17.5% who used marijuana within the previous year, 2% who used cocaine, and 3.5% who used painkillers. 

Is Alcohol a Hallucinogen? 

Alcohol is considered a central nervous system depressant and not a hallucinogenic drug. Some people may mistake alcohol for a hallucinogen, but alcohol-related hallucinations are rare. In rare instances, people who have chronically misused alcohol may develop auditory hallucinations after heavy alcohol use. Some people also experience hallucinations during alcohol withdrawal

Consult With Confidant’s Doctors For Online Medication Assisted Treatment for Alcohol Use 

Alcohol may be legal for those aged 21 and above, but it is still a drug. Because of its effects on the central nervous system, people may drink repeatedly in order to enjoy the relaxing and intoxicating effects of alcohol. Over time this can lead to tolerance and an alcohol use disorder. If you have experienced consequences from alcohol misuse, but you have still been unable to stop drinking, an alcohol rehab can help.

Download the Confidant app today, on either the Apple Store or the Google Play Store, to receive medication assisted treatment for alcohol use without leaving home. Our doctors will work with you virtually, and if appropriate, prescribe medications to help you manage alcohol cravings. We can also link you to a recovery coach for additional support. 

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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