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Overview: What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol is a substance that is a natural byproduct of sugar and plant fermentation. Commonly used as a disinfectant, alcohol is also a primary ingredient in fuels, paints, solvents, beauty products, and food additives. It is also distilled into a drinkable liquor or brewed (undistilled) into beers, wines, ciders, and mead.

Though there are various uses and types of alcohol, drinking can be fatal depending on the amount of alcohol you drink. Always consult a poison control center or 911 if an individual has consumed an alcohol-based substance not intended for human consumption. 

There are many methods for the treatment of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Consult a doctor or treatment center to discover available treatment options in each region.

Isopropyl vs. Methyl vs. Ethyl Alcohol

Isopropyl is a chemical compound made from water and propene in a hydration reaction or by hydrogenating acetone. Methyl is the purest form of alcohol. It is produced synthetically by a multi-step process involving natural gas and a process called “steam reforming.” 

Ethyl alcohol is a plant-based fermentation. To increase ethyl alcohol’s potency, producers distill the plant-based fermentation with high heat which evaporates extra water from the original product.

Isopropyl is commonly used as a disinfectant. Methyl is frequently sourced as a solvent in industrial or commercial instances. Ethyl or ethanol is the form of alcohol most widely produced for consumption in spirits and beers/ciders. 

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Difference Between Distilled & Undistilled Alcohol 

Distilled alcohol forms from a process of heating the fermented plant matter at high temperatures to produce steam that is collected and bottled. This process creates higher-strength and higher-proof alcohol. 

In contrast, undistilled alcohol is made by fermenting sugar or plant matter and yeast with water and heat to produce ethanol as a byproduct. It is less pure and lower in strength.

Different Types of Alcohol Beverages (By Alcohol Content)

Percent of alcohol 1

Distilled Alcoholic Beverages

Distilled alcoholic drinks, also known as spirits or hard liquor, vary in fermentation processes, ingredients, and alcohol by volume (ABV). Below is a list of popular distilled alcoholic spirits.

  • Gin is a distilled spirit made from juniper berries and often citrus peel. It is the main ingredient in a martini. It typically has 35% to 55% ABV.
  • Tequila has 40% ABV and comes from distilling the center heart of blue agave plants. Tequila gets its name from the City of Tequila, Mexico, where it is primarily harvested and produced. Agave is naturally high in natural sugar, so no additional sugar is added during the distillation process.
  • Brandy is a wine that has completed full fermentation and distillation; it typically has 40% ABV. Cognac is a common type of brandy. 
  • Vermouth is an aromatized, fortified wine with herbs and spices. It is fortified with a distilled alcohol like brandy.
  • Whiskey is made by distilling a mash made of previously fermented grain. Mixed starches like corn, barley, rye, and wheat convert to sugars and are mixed with yeast and water to ferment. Next, it is distilled at high temperatures and frequently undergoes the aging process in oak barrels or casks. It usually has 40% to 50% ABV.
  • Vodka has 40% ABV, including whiskey, is made by distilling a fermented mash. Generally, vodka is made of potatoes. In some instances, it is made with juniper berries or even milk.
  • Everclear has 60% ABV, but it can also have 75.5% and 95.% ABV.
  • Rum is made by the distillation of pure sugar cane, sugarcane juice, or molasses and is usually aged in wooden barrels. It varies in ABV from approximately 40% ABV (80 proof) to 75.5% ABV (151 proof).
  • Absinthe is a distillation sourced from the fermentation of herbs and leaves. It typically has a 90% ABV.
  • A liqueur is a type of liquor that has been sweetened with various flavors, oils, or extracts.
  • Ethanol, or grain alcohol, is a twice distilled, neutral spirit derived from fermenting and distilling a type of grain that could include wheat, corn, rice, or rye.
Types of Alcohol AlcoholRehabHelp 1

Undistilled (Fermented) Alcoholic Beverages

Undistilled alcoholic beverages are a staple in many cultures and regions around the world. Examples of undistilled alcoholic drinks include fortified wines, beer, and saké.

  • Wine is a fermentation made of grapes and fruit and typically has an ABV less than 14%. Some wines can be fortified with liquor and usually have an ABV of 20%. White wine, red wine, and sparkling wine (champagne) are common types. 
  • Beer is a fermented beverage made of cereals or grains with sometimes fruit flavors and acids added after the fermentation process. Light beers only have between 2% to 4% ABV, while malt liquors or craft beers can have between 6% to 8%.
  • Mead is made of fermented honey. Producers commonly blend the concentrated mead with water. It has an ABV of 10 to 14 percent.
  • Saké is a traditional Japanese beverage made of fermented rice. This type of alcohol typically has an ABV of 16 percent.
  • Hard Ciders come from fermented fruit juices and typically have an ABV of 5 percent.

What is a "Standard Drink"?

What is a Standard Drink AlcoholRehabHelp

In the U.S., a standard drink is any drink that consists of 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is equal to about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons. 14 grams of alcohol is found in:

  • 12 fl oz of beer
  • 5 fl oz of wine
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 1.5 fl oz of an 80-proof distilled spirit

Different brands and types of alcohol vary in alcohol content.

The effects of alcohol on the body depend on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The liver can only process approximately one standard drink per hour.

Although the standard drink amounts are useful for following health guidelines, they don’t always reflect common serving sizes. Likewise, while the alcohol concentrations listed are considered typical, there is significant variability in alcohol content within each kind of alcoholic beverage. 

Drinking in Moderation

Drinking five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women within two hours is considered binge drinking. Consuming five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women in a single session on five or more days in a month is considered heavy drinking.

Short term effects of alcohol consumption 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 consumption 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
The Health Effects of Alcohol

Moderate drinking is considered two drinks or less in a day for men and no more than one drink a day for women. Drinking in moderation helps to reduce the risk of alcohol-related issues.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults choose not to drink. If they do choose to drink, they should drink in moderation (two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink in a day for women).

CDC Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol abuse and addiction, including:

  • Inpatient ProgramsInpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center. These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to professional medical monitoring. The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer. Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOP). Compared to inpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs provide similar services. These include medical services, behavioral therapy, and support groups, along with other customized therapies. However, in a PHP program, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program. PHPs accept new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program and still need intensive treatment.
  • Outpatient Programs Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs. These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment. They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school. Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.
  • Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) Sometimes, medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment. Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat AUD. When combined with other evidence-based therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.
  • Support Groups Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are open to anyone with a substance abuse problem. They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. They can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

Alcohol Types FAQ

How many types of alcohol are there?

Three. The three types of alcohol are isopropyl, methyl, and ethyl alcohol

What are the 3 types of alcohol?

The three types of alcohol are isopropyl, methyl, and ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is the only one that can be consumed by humans.

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Resources

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Facts about Moderate Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Dec. 2020, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 9th Edition. December 2020. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials.

Grønbæk, Morten, and Ulrik Becker. Type of Alcohol Consumed and Mortality from All Causes ... 2000, www.researchgate.net/publication/12346207_Type_of_alcohol_consumed_and_mortality_from_all_causes_coronary_heart_disease_and_cancer.

Libretexts. “Isopropyl Alcohol.” Chemistry LibreTexts, Libretexts, 5 June 2019, chem.libretexts.org/Under_Construction/Walker/Chemicals/Substance_I/Isopropyl_alcohol.

“Alcohol Consumption And The Perceived Situational Appropriateness Of Consuming Different Types Of Alcoholic Beverages.” Alcohol and Alcoholism, 1989, doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.alcalc.a044944., https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article-abstract/24/5/479/102084?redirectedFrom=fulltext

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