Is Alcohol a Drug?

Published On: November 15, 2022

Although many individuals may consider alcohol not to be a drug, it is in fact one of the most dangerous and commonly consumed substances.

Predominantly made up of the chemical ethanol, alcohol is a drug that can have strong psychoactive and physical effects on those who consume it.

In addition, it is also one of the most addictive substances that is available through legal means in the modern world.

Many countries do not have restrictions on alcohol purchases or consumption, save for age restrictions, but this can lead to additional issues, as well as increasing the ease of access to this substance.

When someone is addicted to alcohol (known as alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder), it can have serious impacts on their lives, and individuals should try and seek rehabilitative care as soon as possible in order to reduce the long-term effects and begin to work towards an addiction-free lifestyle.

Alcohol misuse – how much alcohol consumption leads to addiction?

People at a table toasting to a mix of drinks

Often, when an individual is consuming large amounts of alcohol, determining whether or not this is an addiction can be challenging.

Especially in the UK, it is not uncommon to consume large amounts of alcohol at social events or family gatherings, making it hard to ascertain whether someone may be struggling.

In some cases, it may be useful to employ an assessment, such as the CAGE questionnaire, to determine whether or not someone may be struggling with a dependence on or an alcohol use disorder (1).

The CAGE questionnaire is an acronym for the four areas which it assesses. This is outlined below:

  • Cutting downdo you feel as though you need to cut down on your alcohol consumption?
  • Annoyancedoes others’ criticism of your drinking habits annoy you?
  • Guilty feelings – do you experience guilty feelings over the amount of alcohol you consume?
  • Eye openers – do you need a drink first thing in the morning in order to function normally or to overcome a hangover?

Answering yes to two or more of the above questions may indicate an alcohol use disorder and further help will be suggested.

Use and effects

woman drinking 2

Alcohol has a range of effects depending on the individual, their experience with drinking, and the type of alcohol they are consuming.

There are stereotypical effects of drinking alcohol that many individuals are familiar with such as slurred speech, unstable walking pace, and loss of control (both behaviourally and mentally), but there are many more effects that may be difficult to detect.

For example, regular and heavy drinking can lead to serious physical health risks such as an increased risk of liver diseases and heart disease.

In addition, this drug is known to change individuals’ perceptions and self-awareness (2), leading to alcohol-impaired driving fatalities and death due to alcohol-related causes.

When caught early enough, some of these symptoms can be treated through professional care, though finding help as soon as possible is a key factor in the rehabilitative process.

Units of alcohol

In general, alcohol is categorised in strength through the allocation of units. A relatively modern approach (only created in the 1980s), units became a way for individuals to keep track of the alcohol they have consumed.

One unit is 10ml (8g) of pure alcohol and is generally considered to be the quantity of alcohol that an individual can process within the body per hour, though this varies from individual to individual.

Per unit of alcohol that an adult consumes, the average person will be able to remove this from their bloodstream in around an hour.

In general, calculating the number of units in a standard drink can be done using the following formula (3):

Strength of drink (percentage alcohol by volume) x volume (ml) / 1,000

All drinks in the UK are legally required to have the alcohol by volume (ABV) printed on the side of the bottle.

Spirits, in general, are served at a higher ABV than other forms of alcohol.


Woman exhausted

As mentioned above, the number of units of alcohol consumed will affect how long alcohol stays in the body and how long it will take for the individual’s body to remove it.

However, in the case of individuals who have been consuming large quantities of alcohol in the long-term, this may differ slightly.

This may also be due to a number of other factors:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Size (height and weight)
  • Health conditions
  • Medications

Whether or not alcohol is detected in the body will also depend on the type of test used. For example, a blood test may only be able to detect alcohol in the bloodstream within around 12 hours but other tests such as tests on the urine and hair may detect alcohol for around 5 days or 90 days, respectively.

Health consequences


As briefly mentioned above, there are many physical health risks that individuals become in danger of when consuming large quantities of alcohol regularly.

As the largest contributor to liver diseases, individuals with a long history of alcohol-related liver disease are even more at risk of developing a chronic liver condition (4) – something which can take rounds of treatment and monitoring to treat and stabilise.

In addition, long-term alcohol misuse can lead to serious complications with vital organs such as the heart. Heart disease is common among individuals who are regular alcohol users and can also require long treatment programmes and lifelong monitoring to ensure wellbeing within the individual.

Individuals who are chronic alcohol abusers or alcohol users also risk serious health implications when undergoing an alcohol detox due to the physically addictive nature of alcohol, though this will be outlined later in the blog post.

Long-term effects

alcohol allergy

If an individual considers themselves regular alcohol user, then they should ensure that they are aware of the long-term effects that alcohol addiction can have.

Addiction is never something that can be completely cured and individuals who struggle with addiction are likely to experience many of the more minor symptoms long into the future of their recovery.

For example, mental health is one of the areas that is most affected by a long-term alcohol addiction – an area which is known to have no overnight cures or treatments.

If an individual is struggling with an alcohol addiction and associated mental health issues, finding a suitable treatment programme or counselling sessions is a great way to reduce these effects and work towards an addiction-free lifestyle.

Chronic alcohol abusers who also suffer from serious mental health issues may require months of treatment depending on how much time they spent before seeking appropriate rehabilitative care.

An alcohol overdose

alcohol calorie petition

In serious cases of withdrawal, and in the case of a long-term alcohol addiction, individuals may risk an overdose.

This is when the body is overwhelmed by the amount of alcohol in the body’s system and cannot process it all, resulting in death in some cases.

The blood alcohol content becomes too high, and the individual is unable to process all of the effects.

In some cases, consuming a large quantity of alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning – a condition affecting the individual’s heart, breathing rate, gag reflex, and body temperature – all of which can have deadly consequences.

If you find yourself in a situation where you suspect alcohol poisoning or overdoses in yourself or in others, seeking help as soon as possible is of utmost concern.

Treatment can be administered to help individuals in these situations, but time is the key factor here – without finding help in a suitable time period, the individual’s chances of recovery are far lower.

Detox and withdrawal symptoms


Through most rehabilitation treatment providers, a full detoxification process will be available.

This is the process in which an individual will slowly cut down on the amount of alcohol they are consuming in an attempt to prepare for future rehabilitative treatments.

During a detox, harmful chemicals and toxins will be removed from the body that has built up as a result of alcohol addiction and the individual will be assisted through various withdrawal symptoms and effects that they may experience.

The detox process is essential, as it allows the individual to prepare themselves both physically and mentally for the rehabilitation that they face ahead of them.

A standard detox can take anywhere from 7 days to 14 days or more, with some long-term symptoms lasting for up to a year or more after the individual’s last drink.

Where detox is carried out

There are many places in which a detox may be able to be carried out. Rehab 4 Alcoholism always suggests detoxing in a safe and secure environment, often in a rehab centre or specialised detox clinic, and never suggests undergoing a detox alone.

If an individual chooses to detox from alcohol in a rehab centre or specialised detox clinic, then they are far more likely to have access to expert care and medical interventions when needed – something not often available if the individual chooses to detox at home.

In specific cases, it may be suitable for individuals to undergo a home detox, though this is highly specialised and is only suitable in cases where individuals are safe to do so and are able to be monitored every step of the way.

Withdrawal symptoms

When the individual first stops drinking alcohol, they are likely to begin experiencing withdrawal effects from the moment the alcohol leaves their bloodstream i.e., within the first few hours depending on their consumption.

This can lead to instant effects such as irritability, headaches, and increased sweating, but can also lead to more severe effects in the later stages such as the development of body tremors, alcoholic seizures, and serious insomnia.

Most of these serious withdrawal effects are included with alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) which is the name given to the condition that individuals withdrawing from a long-term alcohol addiction may experience during the process (5).

Medicated Assisted Treatment Implementation Plan

In the most serious cases of long-term alcohol addiction, some individuals may require medical interventions when it comes to surviving an alcohol detox.

This is essential as it protects the individual’s wellbeing and comfort, as well as making the detox process far safer in the long-term for those who struggle with extreme withdrawal symptoms or the effects of AWS.

The most common drug administered as a medical intervention is Librium – a substance known to reduce the effects of the harmful negative withdrawal symptoms and help the individual focus on the future of their rehabilitation – either through Rehab 4 Alcoholism or through external sources.

Society and culture

Family in field

The UK holds a strong drinking culture; going out to pubs, clubs, and restaurants to drink heavily is all fairly normalised, meaning that individuals in the UK and other drinking-focussed cultures may be at a greater risk of developing an alcohol addiction than in other countries where alcohol use is more restricted.

Many other European countries follow this pattern, and the highest prevalence of alcohol addiction is found in Hungary, with just over 20% of the population struggling with alcohol use disorders (6).

Therapy for alcohol dependency

Every individual will have a different experience of treatments and therapies experienced as part of their rehabilitation.

This is because every individual’s addiction is different, requiring different levels of care and support at every stage.

However, there are some forms of therapy that are more commonly used due to their effectiveness in the treatment of addiction.

These are listed below:

Get help for alcoholism today

Rehab 4 Alcoholism offers a referral service, meaning that we can help you or someone you know to find the help you need today.

From giving advice and making suggestions to enrolment into rehabilitation centres or addiction support networks, Rehab 4 Alcoholism is here to help you.

In addition, we have a 24/7 addiction support hotline that can be used to ask any questions relating to addiction, rehabilitation, and other support and can be found here on 0800 111 4108 today.


[1] Bush, B., Shaw, S., Cleary, P., Delbanco, T.L. and Aronson, M.D., 1987. Screening for alcohol abuse using the CAGE questionnaire. The American journal of medicine, 82(2), pp.231-235.

[2] Hull, J.G., 1981. A self-awareness model of the causes and effects of alcohol consumption. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 90(6), p.586.

[3] Alcohol units: National Health Service:,can%20process%20in%20an%20hour.

[4] Diehl, A.M., 2002. Liver disease in alcohol abusers: clinical perspective. Alcohol, 27(1), pp.7-11.

[5] Hall, W. and Zador, D., 1997. The alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The Lancet, 349(9069), pp.1897-1900.

[6] World Population review: Alcoholism by Country 2022:

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