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Updated on October 18, 2021

ETOH Abuse and Addiction

What is ETOH?

ETOH is a shorthand abbreviation for ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol. This is the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages that leads to intoxication

People usually consume ethyl alcohol in a diluted concentration. The level of the concentration is measured and is known as the alcohol proof. This is done mainly to improve taste and to lessen the severity of alcohol’s effects. 

Ethanol reacts with the body to alter mood and behavior. Brewers and distillers usually make it from organic matter with high sugar or carbohydrate content.

The human liver can usually filter ethanol from the body. However, it becomes even more toxic when consumed faster than the liver can break it down.

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Types of Ethyl Alcohol

There are three main types of alcohol: isopropyl, methyl, and ethyl alcohol (ethanol). All three are toxic, but ethanol is the only one humans can consume. Ethyl alcohol usually refers to alcohol made from grains (grain alcohol) or other edible organic matter.

All alcoholic beverages contain ethanol. They are divided into two categories: distilled and undistilled. 

Undistilled drinks are all fermented. Bacteria or yeast convert sugars into ethanol. Examples of undistilled alcoholic beverages include wine and beer.

Winemakers ferment grapes. Beer makers ferment wheat, rice, barley, and other grains.

Distilled drinks are made from fermented beverages that get treated to achieve a higher alcohol concentration. This is done by separating the alcohol from the water in a fermented liquid.

Examples of distilled alcoholic beverages include rum, vodka, and whiskey. They contain more alcohol than undistilled drinks and higher alcohol-proof. "Liquor" and "spirits" are common names for distilled drinks.

Measuring Alcohol Content

The two measures of alcohol content are alcohol by volume (ABV) and alcohol proof. ABV is sometimes called percent alcohol. They both measure the alcohol concentration in a drink. They are listed on the producer’s label. 

Alcohol by volume is the number of milliliters of ethanol per 100 milliliters. Alcohol proof is simply twice the alcohol by volume number. For example 40% ABV is measured as 80 proof. 

Most beers are around 4.5% ABV. Most wines are about 11.6% ABV. Most spirits are around 37% ABV.

How Does Ethanol Affect the Body?

Ethyl alcohol causes intoxication. Effects of intoxication include:

  • Behavior changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Diarrhea 
  • Impaired decision making
  • Impaired motor function

Binge drinking heightens these effects. Binge drinking is any drinking session that causes a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher.

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What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is typically done by people who drink with the purpose of ETOH intoxication.

Typically, women need to consume four alcoholic drinks or more over a 2-hour period. Men need to consume at least five beverages over a similar span.

After binge drinking, an individual is at a higher risk of:

  • Physical injuries
  • Wrecking a car
  • Engaging in unprotected sex

Alcohol can reduce the functioning of the area of the brain responsible for calculating risk and reward. This part of the brain is like the body’s parent. It prevents people from doing dangerous things.

When this area of the brain is impaired, people make poor decisions without determining the risks properly. Their inhibitions drop.

Binge drinking is almost always considered dangerous. It can lead to so many difficulties in a short period. As a result, binge drinking is known to be a symptom of an alcohol use disorder.

Someone who binge drinks may begin an abusive drinking pattern without realizing how dangerous it is. Understanding the damage alcohol can cause can, in some cases, help people get their drinking under control.

Too much ethanol can also create a physical dependency (substance use disorder) that can be difficult to quit. 

Symptoms of ETOH Abuse and Addiction

ETOH abuse can lead to alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD).

These questions are used by doctors and are taken from the DSM-V.

However, self-assessments are not an adequate substitute for professional assessment.

  1. In the last year have you continued to drink more than you meant to? (Larger amounts of alcohol or over a longer period of time?)
  2. In the last year have you found it difficult to limit your excessive drinking?
  3. In the last year have you spent a lot of time obtaining, drinking, or recovering from alcohol?
  4. In the last year have you felt cravings or strong urges to drink?
  5. In the last year have you found yourself letting obligations and responsibilities like work, school, and relationships with friends and family fall to the wayside?
  6. In the last year have you continued to consume alcohol despite alcohol-induced social or interpersonal issues caused by alcohol?
  7. In the last year have you stopped or slowed down attending important social, work, or recreational activities due to alcohol use?
  8. In the last year have you continued to use alcohol in situations that can cause you physical harm?
  9. In the last year have you continued to use alcohol despite knowing it is harming you physically, psychologically, or socially?
  10. In the last year have you developed a high tolerance for alcohol that requires you to drink more and more to achieve the same effect?
  11. In the last year have you experienced any alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, irritability, or tremors (delirium tremens)?

According to the DSM-5, alcohol use disorders are classified as mild, moderate, and severe.

If you answered "yes" to

  • 2 to 3 questions, you may have a mild alcohol use disorder
  • 4 to 5 questions, you may have a moderate alcohol use disorder
  • 6 or more questions, you may have a severe alcohol use disorder

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Dangers of ETOH Abuse

ETOH substance abuse in the form of heavy drinking can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD). This can lead to many adverse health effects.

Short term effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of coordination and awareness
  • Poor memory
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Slurred speech
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Injuries (such as car crashes and drowning)

Long term effects of alcohol abuse include:

  • Brain damage
  • Liver damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease 
  • Pancreas issues
  • Increased risk of cancers
  • Weakened immune system
  • Learning problems
  • Social, mental, and financial problems
  • Alcohol use disorder

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Here are some of the best treatments for AUD:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment is the most intensive and effective option for alcohol addiction treatment. These programs usually last 30, 60, or 90 days. They may be longer in some cases.

Throughout an inpatient program, you'll live on-site in a safe, substance-free environment. You'll go through medically supervised detox first, then behavioral therapy. Other services may be added to your regimen.

Many of these treatment programs assist you with an aftercare program afterward.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

PHPs are the second most intensive alcohol addiction programs. They're sometimes called intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). PHPs provide comparable services to inpatient programs.

These services may include:

  • Detox
  • Medical services
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Support groups
  • Other holistic or custom treatments

The main difference between PHPs and inpatient programs is that you return home and sleep at your house during a partial hospitalization program.

Some PHPs provide food and transportation. This varies by program.

PHPs are ideal for new patients and those who have completed an inpatient program and still require intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs are less intensive than inpatient programs and PHPs. They're best for people who are highly motivated to achieve sobriety. Patients usually have responsibilities at work, home, or school.

These programs customize your treatment sessions around your schedule.

Outpatient programs may be part of aftercare once a patient completes an inpatient program or PHP.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Certain people qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Some medications can assist you throughout detox and withdrawal. Others can reduce cravings and normalize your bodily functions.

The most common medications used to treat AUD are:

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol)

MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery if combined with other therapies.

Support Groups

Support groups are peer-led organizations made of people dedicated to helping each other stay sober. They can be the first step towards sobriety or part of an aftercare plan.

Many of these programs follow the 12-step approach.

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Resources

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  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Guidelines and Resources.” NIAAA https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/research/guidelines-and-resources
  2. Leeman, Robert F et al. “Ethanol consumption: how should we measure it? Achieving consilience between human and animal phenotypes.” Addiction biology vol. 15,2 : 109-24. doi:10.1111/j.1369-1600.2009.00192, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20148775/
  3. National Institute of Health. “Information About Alcohol.” NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20360/
  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Drinking Levels Defined.” NIAAA https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Binge Drinking.” NIAAA https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/binge-drinking
  6. Wackernah, Robin C et al. “Alcohol use disorder: pathophysiology, effects, and pharmacologic options for treatment.” Substance abuse and rehabilitation vol. 5 1-12. 23 Jan. 2014, doi:10.2147/SAR.S37907, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3931699/

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