ETOH Abuse and Addiction

ETOH (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) is the ingredient in alcoholic drinks that causes intoxication. It is the only type of alcohol that is safe to consume, however, ETOH abuse can have negative effects on your life and lead to addiction.
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What is ETOH?

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

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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. 

etoh

Ethanol reacts with the body to alter mood and behavior, among other effects. 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.

Drinking alcohol is the most common way to ingest a psychoactive substance in the United States.

Types of Ethanol Alcohol

There are three main types of alcohol: isopropyl, methyl, and ethyl alcohol (ethanol). All three are toxic, but people can safely consume only ethanol. Due to this fact, ethyl alcohol often refers specifically 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, with bacteria or yeast chemically converting available sugars into ethanol. Examples of undistilled alcoholic beverages include wine and beer. Winemakers ferment grapes, and beer makers ferment wheat, rice, barley, and other grains.

Distilled drinks are all made from fermented beverages that are then 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, which contain more alcohol than undistilled drinks and higher alcohol proof.

The two measures of alcohol content are alcohol by volume (ABV) and alcohol proof. ABV is sometimes called percent alcohol. Each of these measures the alcohol concentration in a drink and is 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, meaning 40% ABV is measured as 80 proof. 

Alcohol content for different types of drinks that contain ethanol varies, though most beers are around 4.5% ABV, while most wines are about 11.6% ABV and most spirits are around 37% ABV.

How Does Ethanol Affect the Body?

Ethanol affects the body in many ways. The effects of ethyl alcohol consumption are most pronounced when the drinker reaches the point of alcohol intoxication. These include:

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

Binge drinking exacerbates these effects. As defined by the NIAAA (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), this type of alcohol consumption is any drinking episode that causes a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher. Typically, women need to consume four alcoholic drinks or more over a 2-hour period, while men need to consume at least five beverages over a similar span.

Excess drinking in a short amount of time increases blood alcohol concentration and impacts the central nervous system (CNS). These effects can linger after you cease to drink alcohol, leading to hangover effects. 

Too much ethanol can also adversely affect the body by creating 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. This can have many potential symptoms, including:

  • Mood swings
  • Cirrhosis (impaired liver function)
  • Decreased immune system function
  • Frequent blackouts
  • Infertility
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Stomach problems
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Alcohol dependence (physical and mental)

Dangers of ETOH Abuse

ETOH substance abuse in the form of heavy drinking can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD) and many other dangers, including:

  • Alcohol intoxication
  • Liver disease
  • Brain damage
  • Legal problems
  • Mental health crises
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Malnutrition
  • Thinning bones
  • Difficulties with the pancreas and other endocrine organs
  • Possible life-threatening alcohol withdrawal symptoms 

Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a serious medical issue. It often requires addiction treatment and medically supervised detox programs to stop using alcohol without debilitating withdrawal symptoms. 

Treatment programs are designed to help patients break free from addiction. Most programs target both the mental and physical dependence associated with alcoholism with a combination of therapy, support groups, and supervision by medical professionals. 

Numerous inpatient and outpatient treatment centers can help if you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism. Alcohol addiction can become a potentially life-threatening condition, especially if left untreated. Consider seeking help immediately if you are concerned about yourself or someone close to you.

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Resources

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Guidelines and Resources.” NIAAA https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/research/guidelines-and-resources

Leeman, Robert F et al. “Ethanol consumption: how should we measure it? Achieving consilience between human and animal phenotypes.” Addiction biology vol. 15,2 (2010): 109-24. doi:10.1111/j.1369-1600.2009.00192

National Institute of Health. “Information About Alcohol.” NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK20360/

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Drinking Levels Defined.” NIAAA https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Binge Drinking.” NIAAA https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/binge-drinking

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Updated on: December 2, 2020
Author
Jordan Flagel
About
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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