What is Alcohol? Definition, Structure and Types

Alcohol is a chemical substance found in drinks like wine, liquor, and beer.  It is also found in some medicines, mouthwashes, household products, and essential oils (scented liquid taken from certain plants). It is made through the chemical process called fermentation and uses sugars and yeast which combine to create alcohol. There are different types of alcohol and many drinks have varying levels of alcohol within them. The ingredient used to make alcoholic drinks is called ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Drinking regular or large amounts of alcohol may increase the risk of certain diseases such as cancer or diabetes which can occur from sugar consumption. Individuals can also develop an alcohol dependency when it is consumed on a daily basis.

Alcohol is a popular legally controlled psychoactive drug that is commonly consumed in social settings. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is the intoxicating ingredient in alcoholic beverages that produces the feeling of being drunk. It lowers anxiety and inhibitions with a broad range of side effects, from euphoria to other harder side effects such as loss of coordination to slurred speech.

When ingested, about 20% of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach; the other 80% is absorbed in the small intestine. Alcohol makes its way to the rest of the body through the bloodstream and begins to disrupt the body’s system’s normal functioning. The liver breaks down the majority of alcohol that has been consumed. Long-term use of alcohol and excessive drinking can put a strain on the liver, which can cause related health issues. In the brain, alcohol interacts with neurotransmitters and impacts the normal functioning of mood, awareness, and perception.

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Different Types Of Drinks And Their Alcohol Content

Fermented drinks, such as beer and wine, contain from 2% alcohol to 20% alcohol. Distilled drinks, or liquor, contain from 40% to 50% or more alcohol. It’s important to note that different drinks also have varying sugar levels which can have adverse effects on health based on the frequency in which they are consumed. The usual alcohol content for each alcoholic drink class is listed below but they do vary based upon brand:

Different types of alcoholic drinks
  • Beer 2–6% alcohol
  • Cider 4–8% alcohol
  • Wine 8–20% alcohol
  • Tequila 40% alcohol
  • Rum 40% or more alcohol
  • Brandy 40% or more alcohol
  • Gin 40–47% alcohol
  • Whiskey 40–50% alcohol
  • Vodka 40–50% alcohol
  • Liqueurs 15–60% alcohol

History Of Alcohol

Alcohol has been around in society for thousands of years dating all the way back to the B.C. era. Evidence of alcoholic beverages has been found in history dating all the way back from 5400 to 5000 BC in Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran, 3150 BC in ancient Egypt, 3000 BC in Babylon, 2000 BC in pre-Hispanic Mexico, and 1500 BC in Sudan. According to Guinness, the earliest firm evidence of wine production dates back to 6000 BC in Georgia.

In the united states, alcohol was banned during the prohibition era. During this time the term  “moonshine” came to rise when Americans would produce their own alcohol under the light of the moon so as to not be detected. In every part of America, early moonshiners worked their stills at night to avoid detection from authorities. The United States started taxing liquors and spirits shortly after the American Revolution. The reason prohibition started was because many individuals became dependent on alcohol and it was viewed as a negative trait in the eyes of the government.

Alcohol Dependency

Drinking alcohol consistently and heavily for weeks, months or years can lead to both mental and physical problems when an alcoholic cuts back on their alcohol consumption or stops completely. The period in which a heavy alcohol drinker starts to cut back or stop drinking and suffers from symptoms as a result of the lack of alcohol in their system is called alcohol withdrawal. If you or a loved one is having difficulty moderating alcohol consumption you or your loved one may be an alcoholic. If you are an alcoholic, there are different ways to get help including a safe medical detox that lessens the side effects of alcohol withdrawal and provides coping mechanisms to continue long-term sobriety.

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What Are The Causes Of Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction or AUD (alcohol use disorder) starts because of the feeling someone gets from drinking. Alcohol can have a calming effect on the body similar to that of a benzodiazepine which can be appealing for someone that wants to “loosen up” or calm anxiety. The problem begins when an individual continually seeks the feeling that alcohol gives them. Certain biological, psychological, and social influences are also believed to play a role in the development of AUDs including the following.

  • Genetics
  • A family history of alcoholism
  • Parental drinking patterns
  • Exposure to trauma and stress during childhood
  • Drinking alcohol at an early age… Scientists have found that people who began drinking at age 15 or younger were 5 times more likely to develop an AUD than those who started drinking at age 21 or older. In addition, the risk for females in this group is higher than for males.

Certain psychiatric disorders may be a precursor to alcoholism or evolve out of alcohol dependency. Some of these disorders include major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and anti-social personality disorder. It is widely debated if these co-occurring disorders are the result of alcoholism or if they contributed to the development of alcoholism.

When Do Side Effects Of Alcohol Abuse Disorder Occur?

Alcohol addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder that comes with overuse or compulsive alcohol drinking, the loss of control over intake, and the emergence of a negative emotional state when alcohol is no longer available. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a diagnosis given when an individual loses the ability to stop drinking alcohol or control their alcohol consumption. Some of the adverse side effects of alcohol addiction are repercussions such as losing a job, financial or social problems, and adverse health side effects.

Prior to admitting to having a problem, sometimes alcoholics will try to temper their drinking, only drinking at certain times of the day or start switching the type of alcoholic drink they are consuming prior to admitting they have a problem with alcohol. It is generally accepted that changing the type of drink or slightly moderating alcohol consumption only helps for a period of time and is actually a precursor to more severe alcohol addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions

In a 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported the following related to alcohol consumption:

  • 85.6% of people ages 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime
  • 69.5 percent reported that they drank in the past year
  • 54.9 percent (59.1 percent of men in this age group and 51.0 percent of women in this age group) reported that they drank in the past month.

In a 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported the following related to alcohol binge drinking:

  • 25.8% of people ages 18 and older (29.7 percent of men in this age group and 22.2 percent of women in this age group) reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month
  • 6.3% (8.3 percent of men in this age group and 4.5 percent of women in this age group) reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month.

Over 95,000 people die every year from alcohol related deaths. These statistics include include motor vehicle crashes while under the influence of alcohol along with overdoses and 58 other acute and chronic causes using alcohol-attributable fractions, and are reported by age and sex from 2015–2019.

Recovery From Alcohol Dependency Is Possible

There are different types of alcohol treatment options depending on the individual and severity of abuse. Levels of treatment and care range from inpatient residential detox to residential rehab followed by partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment, counseling, and community-based programs like the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). If you are struggling with AUD and need help, please visit our admissions page and contact us immediately. We’re here to help you on your road to recovery.

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George Kocher

George Kocher

George is a content creator with 7 years of experience working with substance use disorder patients. He has held positions as an admissions director, marketing manager, and Chief Marketing Officer within chemical dependency.

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