Beverage alcohol is a drug. But exactly 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. . . . Pharmacological effects are exerted by foods, vitamins, hormones, microbial, metabolites, plants, snake venoms, stings, products of decay, air pollutants, pesticides, minerals, synthetic chemicals, virtually all foreign materials (very few are completely inert), 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 a continuing effort by temperance oriented groups to emphasize that “alcohol is a drug.”
Their 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 a 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 similar policies to reduce drinking.
Asserting that “alcohol is a drug” is a deceptive tactic. But it appears to be effective.
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Footnotes: Alcohol is a Drug
1. SOLVO Biotechnology. Glossary. Some definitions of drug specifically exclude food. This might exclude alcoholic beverage as a drug according to those definitions because beverages are typically defined as food.
2. Modell, W. Mass drug catastrophes and the roles of science and technology. Science, 156, 346-351.
3. DeJong, W. What’s in a name? Let me count the ways. Prev File, 18(2), 2-5.