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What Is Alcohol?
There are many different types of alcohol, both man-made and natural. All alcohols are dangerous for humans to consume to some extent, though some are more immediately dangerous than others. When most people think of alcohol, however, they are thinking specifically of ethanol, also known as drinking alcohol.
Ethanol is well-known throughout the world for the many effects that it causes on the human mind and body. Ethanol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and a powerful intoxicant. It is also incredibly addictive. Ethanol is by far the most commonly abused drug in the United States, and in most of the world. Tens of millions of people of all backgrounds currently suffer from alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism or alcohol use disorders. Luckily, there are also thousands of treatment options available.
The Chemical Structure of Alcohols
Alcohols are compounds that consist 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.
Ethanol, a secondary alcohol, is a sedative-hypnotic drug. Unlike other secondary alcohols, ethanol is not immediately fatal to humans. However, Ethanol poses significant long-term risks for poisoning, organ damage, and addiction.
The Three Types of Secondary Alcohol
Every day, over two billion people drink ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, as an active ingredient in alcoholic drinks. For this reason, many people associate alcohol with ethanol, even though ethanol is just one combination of an alcohol compound and carbon atoms. 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 liver failure and die almost immediately.
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, heavy 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, so 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, a 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 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 tolerant, which may 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 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 specialist today to get answers to your questions about rehab and learn about your options for treatment.