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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, used by scientific and medical professionals to describe the compound. 


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

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

Beyond these uses, though, EtOH can also refer to alcoholic beverages, especially those distilled from grain substances. Grain alcohol does not need to mean only ethanol produced from grain. Individuals may interchange the name with moonshine to describe alcohol that is no less than 90% 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 (a higher amount of alcohol must be consumed to experience the substance’s effects) and become physically dependent. Heavy, chronic alcohol consumption, like binge drinking, may lead to alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) and 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, sometimes, alcoholic drinks like moonshine have high-proof ethanol. This means that that type of ethanol is pure or close to pure than that found in other substances.

However, drinking pure ethanol, especially from fuel, may pose 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 can have multiple harmful effects on the body, including 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). 

EtOH Addiction Treatment Options

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

  • Detoxification programs — when you stop drinking alcohol, severe withdrawal symptoms can arise. A detox program will allow a healthcare professional to evaluate your physical and mental health and respond with the most suitable actions. 
  • In-patient treatment — this type of treatment can give you the professional support you need to overcome your addiction. You may find a wide range of activities at In-patient treatment centers so your recovery journey is more satisfying. 
  • Support groups — support groups can be the source of comfort and encouragement that you need to fight cravings and manage your addiction. Support groups may also be a chance to find emotional refuge among people who have undergone similar experiences. 

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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