ETHANOL & ALCOHOLISM
The type of alcohol that people drink for a food source, the taste, and for relaxation is ethyl alcohol – or better known as ethanol alcohol. There are many different alcohol molecules, having in common a hydroxyl group (-OH).
Methyl alcohol – methanol –, on the other hand, is a solvent found in industrial compounds and antifreeze. Methanol is also known as wood alcohol, as it used to be primarily manufactured from wood. Since the odor of methanol resembles that of ethanol, it is sometimes mistaken for ethanol, but is highly toxic and can be deadly when ingested. When people try to produce ethanol at home, sometimes they end up with a high-enough concentration of ethanol to produce a toxic, and potentially deadly, beverage. Antifreeze is a sweet compound that may be drunk by those unaware of what it is, like children, and is a common cause of fatal poisoning. Or, some use it to commit murder.
The other most common alcohol is isopropyl alcohol – which is also called rubbing alcohol. Surgical spirits are also called rubbing alcohol, but have bitterants which make it undrinkable. Some who are heavily addicted to alcohol or who don’t know better, especially children, have poisoned themselves from drinking isopropyl alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is used as a disinfectant and as a household cleaner.
This webpage focuses on ethyl alcohol – ethanol -, which is the alcohol molecule that produces relaxation, is a central nervous system depressant, and the molecule found in alcoholic beverages that are commonly consumed. Sometimes ethyl alcohol is also used in household products, such as hand sanitizer, and those who are heavily addicted to alcohol have been known to drink hand sanitizer, ignoring the foam and tolerating the other additives.
Ethyl alcohol has been produced and used by humans, and our ancestors, for at least 12,000 years. But, was probably used even before that time. In fact, some animals ingest alcohol – drinking alcohol – that is naturally produced by fermentation in their environment, such as in fruit. Some have been known to eat enough that they become intoxicated. There is no way to document how long this has gone on. Unlike most other substances of abuse, alcohol is actually a food source, and not just an intoxicating substance. It is metabolized by the body to produce energy, which is why some who drink, whether they are alcoholics or not, can gain weight from the additional calories in alcoholic beverages.
Since alcohol is a food source, the body of an alcoholic may crave it for reasons other than for its psychoactive effects. In fact, those who enter alcohol withdrawal or are in recovery from alcohol may crave sweets. Also, because alcohol can provide calories, but has very little nutritional value, alcoholics may be overweight and ingest even an abundance of calories, but be very malnourished because they don’t get fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other substrates needed to maintain health. This causes many metabolic problems, such as diabetes, blood cell problems (the vitamins necessary to produce them are lacking), and ultimately neurological problems, like Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Syndrome, both of which can be severe and potentially fatal. The B-vitamins, thiamine, and folic acid are the biggest culprits. Those undergoing alcohol withdrawal should receive vitamin supplements. But, even if an active alcoholic routinely takes vitamins, they can still be severely vitamin deficient because alcohol impedes the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Alcohol can be added to many drinks to give different flavors, can be drank without mixing it, or is found in beverages such as alcohol and wine, which have alcohol from the natural fermentation process. Since alcohol cannot be ordinarily distilled to more than 96% by weight, it oftentimes contains high volumes of water. But, Everclear, a brand name of alcohol, is produced and sold in a 190-proof version, which is 95% alcohol. Many states have laws preventing the sale of 190-proof ethanol, and instead it is sold in lower proof versions, like 151-proof or 189-proof versions. Either way, high-proof alcoholic beverages are caustic to the gastrointestinal tract, if not mixed with other substances. High-proof beverages can also lead to rapid intoxication and fatal overdose because a high amount of ethanol can be ingested before the person realizes that they have drank too much.
Alcoholism is a worldwide health problem that causes a wide variety of severe social, medical and mental health problems. Despite these problems, alcoholics are unable to stop drinking, which is the hallmark of addiction – continued use despite negative consequences. In the U.S. alone, the prevalence of alcoholism in persons over the age of 18 was 15.1 million in 2015, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The prevalence of those under 18 was staggering 623,000 persons. Those under 18 aren’t even of legal drinking age, yet have managed to become alcoholics at a young age.
To be sure, wherever alcohol is sold, produced (legally or illegally), manufactured, or stored, there will be alcoholism. This deadly disease costs the U.S. about 223 billion dollars a year, diverts healthcare resources from others in need, and leads to violent episodes, crime, domestic violence, suicide and other tragedies. Many can drink alcohol in moderation with no ill effects, or even potentially benefitting health wise from the ingestion of alcohol. Others, however, because of genetic and environmental influences are not able to control their drinking and cause much suffering of those around them and themselves. But, this profound suffering does not provoke them to stop drinking in many cases. In fact, the suffering may cause these alcohol dependent patients to drink even more.
From DUIs, lack of self-care, battery, failure to perform work obligations and sexual impotence, the effects of alcoholism are tremendous. But, for alcohol addicts drinking continues with abandon, ignoring the consequences to others and living daily life angry, irritated, and unaware of one’s surroundings.
Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Fortunately, inpatient alcohol detox is widely available, so there is no reason that an alcoholic must continue drinking and destroying the lives of those who they love the most. After residential alcohol detox, most don’t recover unless they participate in alcohol rehab. Residential alcohol rehab is the most logical starting point for those who have completed inpatient alcohol detox. Even though it is expensive, and many health insurers are reluctant to pay for it, this level of care has high success rates and can prevent the untimely death of alcoholics and those around them, and save money in the long run.
If you or a loved one can’t put down the bottle, or sips on wine throughout the day in order to manage their feelings and hide from the world, the Addiction Specialists are the National Addiction Institute can lead you in the right direction to finding appropriate resources for this grave and consequential disease.