I am looking for a word that can be used to describe alcoholic beverages, coffee and tobacco products collectively. The closest I can think of is "drug," but that is too broad. Namely, it includes other substances that are not nearly as widely socially and legally accepted, as well as some forms of medicine.

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    Are you asking about alcoholic beverages, coffee, and tobacco products in general, certain types of those things (hard liquor, cigarettes), or specifically the chemical components: ethanol, caffeine, and nicotine? – miltonaut Nov 8 '18 at 8:42
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    I am almost certain that a similar question was asked in the past but I could not find it in the archives, perhaps it was deleted. Why does it have to be a single word? Could you please edit your question and explain? I'd be tempted to suggest vices but that would also include gambling, eating sweets, junkfood, etc. Beverage would exclude tabacco. Toxins is too broad and misleading... – Mari-Lou A Nov 8 '18 at 9:34
  • @miltonaut Beverages, coffee, and tobacco products in general. I edited my question as you suggested. – copcurry Nov 8 '18 at 10:34
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    Is tea included? – Mitch Nov 8 '18 at 13:58

I think I may have it, it's a bit of a cheat but it would comprehend substances such as caffeine, nicotine, and ethanol. It is normally written as two words, legal stimulants, but by adding a hyphen you can make it into a compound word.


Stimulants (also often referred to as psychostimulants or colloquially as uppers) is an overarching term that covers many drugs including those that increase activity of the central nervous system and the body, drugs that are pleasurable and invigorating, or drugs that have sympathomimetic effects.


@James McLeod correctly pointed out, in the comments below, that alcohol is classified as a depressant. Despite its name, a depressant does not make a person feel depressed, it is a substance which slows a person's physical and psychological responses. Therefore, if the OP is writing for a medical or an academic journal, the expression "legal-stimulant" would be completely erroneous.

On the one hand, the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes is often called a vice but on the other hand, it would exclude coffee and tea despite both containing the stimulant caffeine.

Addictive-substances might be a possible solution, seeing as all four drugs are addictive but just like the term “drug” itself, an addictive substance would also include narcotics: tranquilizers, sedatives, stupefacients, etc.

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    I think alcohol is the opposite, a depressant. – James McLeod Nov 8 '18 at 10:14
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    @Mari-LouA no thanks, I’m spoken for. – James McLeod Nov 8 '18 at 12:21
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    Regardless, your answer still "legal-stimulants" and that is incorrect. @copcurry's decision to mark it as correct is misguided and should be reconsidered. – Richard Nov 8 '18 at 13:44
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    The hyphenated version simply does not exist. I suggest you remove it from your answer. – TonyK Nov 8 '18 at 13:48
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    Oh dear, I said right at the beginning it was a bit of a cheat. And no one is writing any answers despite my encouragements. I've been open, I've been honest and I've explained in the edit very clearly why my initial response was faulty. Can't do more than that. My advice to everyone? Write a better answer or upvote microenzo's answer And comment as much as you like. Everything I needed to say and do I have. – Mari-Lou A Nov 8 '18 at 13:52

Legal recreational drugs

I assume that it is acceptable to use a term which includes tea, as well as coffee. Trying to find a term which includes one popular caffeinated hot drink and not another one will be completely impossible.

Alcohol, tobacco and caffeine are legal in most places. Alcohol is illegal in some Muslim countries, but they generally don't use English as their main language.

What sets them apart from other legal drugs is that they are used recreationally. This means the term doesn't include things like painkillers.

Some places will have other legal recreational drugs which are harder than alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. In the UK, all recreational drugs are illegal except a few whitelisted drugs (notably alcohol, tobacco and caffeine), so the term is very accurate in the UK.

Elsewhere, you could use the word "soft", i.e. "legal soft drugs" to indicate that hard drugs like Mephedrone (probably illegal most places now, just an example) are not included. Describing drugs as hard or soft is generally only done with recreational drugs, so using it with "recreational" would be redundant.

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    Not one word though, is it? – Mari-Lou A Nov 8 '18 at 15:19
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    And when has coffee ever been described as a recreational drug? – Mari-Lou A Nov 8 '18 at 15:20
  • @Mari-LouA This conveys the meaning in the fewest words possible which is the best that you can hope for when looking at such a specific set of substances. – Richard Nov 8 '18 at 15:21
  • @Mari-LouA Here's an article which refers to coffee specifically as a recreational drug. It may be very formal, but it's not wrong. sciencealert.com/… – Richard Nov 8 '18 at 15:28

If you are concentrating on the effects on the nervous system, psychoactive substances are substances which act on the nervous system in a stimulating or depressing way. As an example of usage, this is the legal definition in the UK:


Notice that the legal definition in those pages explicitly excludes alcohol, coffee and tobacco, but you can infer the wider meaning from the text.

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    Actually the bill applies to those substances which are not covered by legal classification at all. That means it doesn't apply to coffee etc because they are explicitly legal. "psychoactive substances" in the UK would often be understood as legalese for "former legal highs", which is what this legislation is meant to ban. – Richard Nov 8 '18 at 14:16
  • Yes, that is correct - the legal definition of psychoactive substances excludes the exempted substances, but I was describing the fact that the definition in 2.1.a seems to cover the question (albeit not in a single word, I must admit....) – microenzo Nov 8 '18 at 15:30
  • I'd delete the reference to the UK Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 altogether, or else distinguish it as a very unwieldy, counterintuitive and technical definition. – tmgr Nov 9 '18 at 20:11
  • I agree with the good point made, I have edited the answer. – microenzo Nov 12 '18 at 9:39

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