What Is Alcohol?
An alcohol is a compound that consists of at least one hydroxy group, a pairing of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, and a carbon atom in a hydrocarbon chain. Alcohols are some of the most common organic compounds in nature. In chemistry, an alcohol can exhibit different properties depending on its precise chemical structure, but most alcohols are colorless liquids at room temperature which dissolve easily in water. When alcohol compounds bind with other atoms, particularly carbon atoms, they form secondary alcohols, which humans use in everyday life.
The Three Types of Secondary Alcohol
Every day, over two billion people drink ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, as an active ingredient in alcoholic beverages. For this reason, most people equate alcohol with ethanol, even though ethanol is just one type of secondary alcohol. Ethanol is produced through the fermentation of yeast, starches, and sugars. Ethanol is the only alcohol that the human liver is capable of safely metabolizing, albeit in limited quantities. Methanol and isopropanol, the other two types of secondary alcohol, will cause someone who drinks them to suffer fatal liver failure.
Nevertheless, both methanol and isopropanol serve important roles in maintenance and industry. For example, methanol, or methyl alcohol, is a component in a variety of household products, such as windshield wiper fluid, antifreeze, paint remover, air fresheners, and insecticides, as well as in fuel for cars and boats. Isopropanol, or isopropyl alcohol, is the chemical name for rubbing alcohol, a common liquid disinfectant.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?
When someone drinks a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of liquor, they introduce ethanol into their body through their bloodstream. As alcohol moves through the body, the liver will metabolize 80% to 90% of the alcohol into water, calories, and carbon dioxide. The kidneys will metabolize the rest of the alcohol as urine. In the brain and nervous system, alcohol will inhibit signals among neurons. This effect depresses brain activity, causing a person to feel relaxed and euphoric while also impairing their coordination and judgment.
How Is Alcohol Harmful?
In moderation, alcohol will not necessarily provoke any significant health problems. However, prolonged, excessive drinking will damage a person’s brain, liver, heart, and other organs and may cause a person to develop an alcohol use disorder.
Ethanol is toxic for the liver. As the liver metabolizes alcohol, the organ suffers scarring and inflammation. Over time, alcohol may so thoroughly damage the liver that the liver stops filtering blood and loses its metabolic functions, a potentially fatal condition called cirrhosis. Alcohol also causes brain damage by fraying the bonds between neurons, increases the risk of heart disease by straining the cardiovascular system with heightened blood pressure, and amplifies the risks of cancer by functioning as a carcinogen.
Furthermore, alcohol is involved in thousands of deadly car accidents and cases of murder, domestic abuse, and suicide every year throughout the world. As a drug, people can also overdose on alcohol, especially while binge drinking. Hundreds of people die every year from alcohol poisoning, which occurs when large amounts of alcohol in a short span of time overwhelm the body’s metabolism.
In addition to its harmful effects on the body, alcohol is also harmful for the mind. Alcohol addiction is one of the most common addiction disorders in the world. Many people drink alcohol because they enjoy it. Others drink alcohol to relieve anxiety, be more social, or cope with hardship. Whatever the reason for drinking, once someone develops a drinking habit, they may habituate their brain to alcohol and become alcohol-tolerant, which might compel them to drink even more.
Over time, a person can become dependent on alcohol to such an extent that they suffer withdrawal when they abstain from drinking. Ultimately, alcohol dependence can become alcoholism, a form of addiction characterized by tolerance, withdrawal, cravings, and compulsive drinking. While alcoholism is a difficult condition to overcome, treatment for alcohol addiction is possible with professional help at a rehab center.
Find Help for Alcohol Addiction Today
If alcohol is burdening your life, today could be the day to get help and make a change. There are thousands of treatment centers throughout the country where anyone can take the first steps to freedom from alcoholism. Please talk to a dedicated treatment provider today to get answers to questions about rehab and learn about the different options for treatment .
Author: Nathaniel Yerby | Last Edited: June 14, 2021
Medical Reviewer: Dayna Smith-Slade