Ethanol abuse: what you need to know


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Most people who have struggled with alcohol abuse can name their poison – perhaps beer, wine, or a cool gin and tonic. Even after your recovery, the drink of your choice can haunt you from time to time. Few people with alcohol use disorders would name ethanol as their drug of choice, but the truth is that ethanol is present in all alcohols. Here’s what you need to know about ethanol, also known as EtOH, and dependence on ethanol.

What is ethanol

Ethanol refers to an organic chemical compound. In fact, its chemical compound – EtOH – now doubles as a slang or street name. Ethanol is produced when grains or fruits are fermented. This means that if you drink a cold beer or a sophisticated Merlot, the effect of the drink on you can be attributed to the ethanol. Most people don’t think of ethanol as a psychoactive drug, but it does produce positive brain changes – like relaxation – and negative ones, like depression of the respiratory system.

Ethanol is present in all alcoholic beverages, but it is also found in many other places. At higher concentrations, alcohol is used for cleaners (looks at you, hand sanitizer), polishes, cosmetics, plastic production, and more. Ethanol is even found in 97% of gasoline in the United States. While you probably haven’t thought much about ethanol, chances are you come into contact with ethanol-based products on a daily basis, even if you’ve been sober for a long time.

How is ethanol made?

Since ethanol is a naturally occurring substance, it appears whenever cereals or fruits are fermented. Ethanol is not added to beer or wine, but is found there in varying concentrations.

For commercial and industrial applications, ethanol is produced by fermentation of corn. When corn is distilled, the result is a liquid consisting of 10 to 15% ethanol. This is then boiled until most of the water evaporates and the liquid is 95% pure ethanol. By filtering, the remaining water is removed, leaving 100% alcohol behind.

Ethanol and alcohol

Ethanol is pure alcohol. In the alcoholic beverages that people drink, this is measured using the evidence system. To calculate it, manufacturers determine the amount of ethanol in the drink: this is called alcohol by volume (ABV). The proof of the drink is double that amount. For example, a 50-degree alcoholic drink contains 25% pure ethanol.

This becomes important for people who suffer from alcohol use disorders. As with many substance use disorders, people who abuse alcohol often develop tolerance – that is, they need more of the substance to feel its effects. At the same time, they also develop physical addiction, which means that their body needs an increasing amount of alcohol just to function normally.

People with severe alcohol use disorder may find themselves searching for alcohol with increasing proof or ABV. In severe cases, this could result in the consumption of ethanol or products containing a high concentration of ethanol but not intended for human consumption.

Even if you don’t drink pure ethanol, you can still get ethanol poisoning from drinking too much alcohol. Symptoms of ethanol poisoning may include stomach pain and vomiting, confusion, slurred speech, impaired function, and slowed breathing. If you frequently abuse EtOH, you even run the risk of organ failure.

Treat EtOH

Treating ethanol addiction can be difficult. By the time a person develops an addiction or dependence on EtOH, they are often plunged into an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol, especially in high concentrations, can affect almost all systems in the body, including the liver, cardiovascular system, digestive system, and nervous system. In addition, living with alcoholism can erode a person’s mental and emotional health and harm their relationships with loved ones.

That is why it is essential to obtain professional treatment of EtOH addiction. Treatment providers experienced in the treatment of ethanol addiction will know how to manage the physical, mental and emotional impacts of this disease. A highly individualized treatment program can help you understand why you are prone to alcohol abuse and change your habits.

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About Michael Brafford

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