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EtOH (Ethanol) Definition

EtOH stands for ethyl alcohol or ethanol, a purer form of alcohol. The term EtOH is also a chemical abbreviation, or acronym. It is used by scientific and medical professionals to describe the compound. 

Ethanol is an organic chemical and colorless liquid. It is commonly used as a solvent in industrial and consumer products, ranging from plastics and mouthwashes to polishes and colognes.  

Ethanol Bottle

Individuals can also find the substance as a primary ingredient in antiseptics or cleaning agents. In ethylene glycol or methanol overdoses, health care professionals may also prescribe ethanol as an antidote. 

EtOH can also refer to alcoholic beverages, especially those distilled from grain substances. Grain alcohol does not only mean ethanol produced from grain. Individuals may interchange the name with moonshine to describe alcohol that is 90% (or more) pure. 

When individuals use the word EtOH, it may be an attempt to take away any negative charge surrounding excessive drinking habits. Softening the language may make substance abuse appear more acceptable than it is. 

However, alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that slows brain activity and has addictive properties. In many cases, individuals can build tolerance and become physically dependent. Heavy, chronic alcohol consumption, like binge drinking, may lead to alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD). An AUD can result in severe health effects, like organ damage or death. 

In a 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 55% of Americans aged 18 or older stated drinking alcohol during the past month. 

Can You Drink Pure EtOH?

Different industrial products and alcoholic drinks like moonshine have high-proof ethanol. That type of EtOHis pure or closer to pure than that found in other substances.

However, drinking pure ethyl alcohol, especially from fuel, poses dangerous health risks. The alcohol content can be twice the amount in typical liquors like rum. Individuals drinking pure EtOH will not need to consume much alcohol before blood alcohol concentration levels rise, and alcohol effects occur.  If not careful, individuals can experience alcohol poisoning and suffer other serious side effects. 

Also, pure ethanol fuel and/or other liquid substances may contain other harmful chemicals. Some personal care or cleaning products tend to add a denaturant, like a bitter flavoring, to make the alcohol unsuitable for drinking. 

According to figures reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), alcohol misuse cost the United States $249 billion in 2010.


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How Ethanol Affects the Body

Ethanol has multiple harmful effects on the body. It affects the central nervous system (CNS), liver, and pancreas. The effects of alcohol can become even more dangerous to health when individuals consume too much ethanol over an extended period. 

For example, the liver helps metabolize ethanol. The hepatic organ breaks down the substance into acetaldehyde, a highly toxic compound, to convert into acetate byproduct. In normal and healthy processes, there is no significant health problem. However, chronic ethanol overexposure may contribute to a build-up of acetaldehyde that results in organ damage and liver cirrhosis (improper functioning due to massive scarring).  In more severe cases, such liver damage can lead to death. 

Inflammation of the pancreas is also possible. Chronic ethanol exposure can affect pancreas functioning, which then changes insulin production and increases the risk of diabetes

Similarly, chronic ethanol overexposure can affect the neurotransmitter networks of the brain. These networks comprise proteins, receptions, signaling pathways, and more. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see behavioral impairment in individuals suffering from chronic alcoholism.  It is thought that even alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves in the CNS) results from chronic ethanol use. 

Ethanol, in general, is neurotoxic and can affect cognitive functions negatively.

It is estimated that 10% to 24% of all cases of dementia are alcohol-related. 

Finally, both acute (short-term) and chronic ethanol exposure inhibit an immune response (including antibodies and lymphocytes).  

Signs of EtOH Abuse (Alcohol Addiction) 

EtOh abuse or alcohol addiction shares characteristics found in opioid addictions that include the risk of binge or heavy drinking, followed by withdrawal. Individuals may return to drinking alcohol to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate and/or blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Irritability and confusion
  • Insomnia and nightmares
  • Hallucinations that can be tactile, auditory, or visual
  • Intense cravings 

Because cravings are intense, it can be difficult for these individuals to maintain abstinence. 

Similarly, individuals who suffer from EtOH abuse may partake in excessive drinking activities, such as:

  • Binge drinking — men consume 5 or more drinks within 2 hours, while women consume 4 or more drinks. 
  • Heavy drinking — men consume 15 or more drinks per week, while women consume 8 or more drinks per week. 

In individuals who abuse EtOH, there is the risk of overdose or alcohol use disorder (AUD). 


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How to Diagnose a Drinking Problem

If you're wondering if you or someone you know has a drinking problem, you can use this list of symptoms to do a quick self-diagnosis. This is taken from the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Remember, a self-diagnosis is not a substitute for professional medical advice. These are symptoms of an alcohol use disorder, according to the DSM-V:

  • Drinking more or for longer than was intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop alcohol use
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol consumption
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home due to drinking alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite having social problems caused by the effects of alcohol
  • Important social, work, or recreational activities are stopped or reduced because of alcohol use
  • Drinking in physically dangerous situations
  • Continuing to drink even though it is known to have negative effects on your health
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Having withdrawal symptoms after stopping alcohol use

According to the DSM-V:

  • 2 to 3 symptoms is considered mild
  • 4 to 5 symptoms is considered moderate
  • 6 or more symptoms is considered severe

If you or someone you know is having trouble with alcohol abuse, the first step is to talk with a professional. Reach out to an addiction specialist to review your options.

EtOH Addiction Treatment Options

If you or a loved one is suffering from an EtOH addiction, there is a range of options and resources available to help with recovery. The following is a list of choices:

  • 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.

Ethanol FAQs

What is an EtOH test?

An EtOH test checks to see how much ethanol is present in blood and the degree of intoxication. It may help in diagnosing alcoholism in individuals who have developed a tolerance to ethanol. These individuals may require higher levels of ethanol to experience the substance’s effects. 

What is a normal EtOH level?

Blood ethanol levels above 30 mg/dl (>0.03%) generally indicate that an individual consumed an alcoholic beverage. An EtOH test can detect ethanol in blood at concentrations beginning at 10 mg/dL (0.01%).

Is EtOH an acid or base?

EtOH, that is, ethanol is a very weak acidic substance. 


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“Alcohol Facts and Statistics.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 Feb. 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics.

“Ethanol Uses, Benefits, and Chemical Safety Facts.” ChemicalSafetyFacts.org, 9 June 2020, www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/ethanol/.

Strohm, B. “Ethanol.” Encyclopedia of Toxicology (Third Edition), Academic Press, 14 Apr. 2014, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123864543003791

Lovinger D.M., Roberto M. (2010) Synaptic Effects Induced by Alcohol. In: Sommer W., Spanagel R. (eds) Behavioral Neurobiology of Alcohol Addiction. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, vol 13. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-28720-6_143 https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-28720-6_143

H. Jacob Hanchar, et al., "Ethanol potently and competitively inhibits binding of the alcohol antagonist Ro15-4513 to α4/6β3δ GABAA receptors," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences May 2006, 103 (22) 8546-8551; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0509903103 https://www.pnas.org/content/103/22/8546.short

Lorenzo, Patricia M. Di, et al. “Neural and Behavioral Responsivity to Ethyl Alcohol as a Tastant.” Wiley Online Library, Journal of Leukocyte Biology, 19 Mar. 2003, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0741832986900716.

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