Alcohol is a Drug: Know the Truth about Alcoholic Drinks

Beverage alcohol is a drug. But what is a drug?

  Alcohol is a Drug

A drug is simply “Any substance which when absorbed into a living organism may modify one or more of its functions.”1

In fact, “any substance that by its chemical nature alters structure or function in the living organism is a drug. . . . Effects are exerted by foods, vitamins, hormones, microbial, metabolites, and plants. As well as snake venoms, stings, products of decay, and air pollutants. Also pesticides, minerals, synthetic chemicals, virtually all foreign materials, and many materials normally in the body.”2

This means that foods, vitamins, hormones and the other substances described are all drugs. So practically everything is a drug including the oxygen we breathe.

Yet there is an effort by temperance groups to stress that “alcohol is a drug.”


alcohol is a drugTheir intent appears to be to stigmatize alcohol by linking it to illicit drugs. Dr. William DeJong emphasizes that  “in modern usage, ‘drug’ has become shorthand for ‘illegal drug’ or ‘street drug.'” He points out that “People still go to the ‘drug store,’ but they go there to buy ‘medications,’ not drugs.”3

Equating alcohol beverages with illegal street drugs is clever by anti-alcohol activists. It creates negative attitudes toward such beverages. They can more easily promote higher alcohol taxes. Ask for more stringent restrictions on the times and places alcohol can be sold. They can push for censorship of alcohol ads, and other policies to reduce drinking.

Asserting that “alcohol is a drug” is a deceptive tactic. But it appears to be effective.

           These are related to this topic.


1. SOLVO Biotech. Some definitions of drug specifically exclude food. This might exclude alcoholic beverage as a drug according to those definitions. That’s because beverages are typically defined as food.
2. Modell, W. Mass drug catastrophes and the roles of science. Science, 156, 346-351. [Link works.]
3. DeJong, W. What’s in a name? Let me count the ways. Prev File, 18(2), 2-5.