Alcohol is the primary ingredient in beer, wine, and spirits that causes intoxication. The alcohol chemical attaches to other atoms to produce secondary alcohols. All types of alcohol are potentially toxic, but only ethyl alcohol is relatively safe for human consumption, while others are used for cleaning and manufacturing. Drinking any amount of isopropanol or methanol (see below) is extremely dangerous and can be lethal.
What Is Ethyl Alcohol?
Ethyl alcohol (also known as grain alcohol) is produced by fermenting various sugars, yeast, and starches. This type of alcohol is known for altering mood and behavior when consumed and has been used as a recreational intoxicant for thousands of years. It is the only form of alcohol that can be broken down by the human liver, albeit in limited quantities.
In fact, ethanol can have many adverse effects on the body and, over time, causing damage to organs such as the brain and liver. Ethanol also affects the central nervous system (CNS) by impairing coordination and judgment. Abusing alcohol by excessive drinking can lead to long-term health problems and alcoholism.
Isopropyl and Methyl Alcohol (Not for Human Consumption)
Isopropyl alcohol (aka rubbing alcohol) is primarily used for sterilization. This type of alcohol is commonly used for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, tools, and human bodies. Methyl alcohol is most widely used in manufacturing. It can be used to produce products such as paint remover or antifreeze, and its byproducts can make many other products, including plastics and explosives.
Distilled and Undistilled Alcohol
Alcohol by volume and alcohol proof are measurements that indicate the amount of alcohol in a fermented drink. Alcohol by volume (ABV) reflects the number of milliliters of ethanol per 100 milliliters in a solution, and alcohol proof is twice the ABV percentage. For instance, a drink with 50 percent ABV is 100 proof. Distilled beverages such as spirits and liquor contain considerably more alcohol by volume and are higher alcohol-proof than undistilled ones.
Different Alcoholic Drinks by Alcohol Content
There are various alcoholic beverages that can be categorized into three main types: beer, wine, and spirits. Certain alcoholic drinks (namely spirits or liquor) contain more alcohol than others and can cause intoxication and alcohol poisoning more rapidly and in smaller amounts.
Beer is likely the most popular alcoholic beverage worldwide. It is also believed to be one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in history. Beer is brewed and is usually produced by fermenting barley or other cereal grains such as wheat, rye, corn, rice, oats, or sorghum. The alcohol content in beer ranges anywhere from 2.5-15 percent ABV, but a standard drink usually contains between 4-6 percent ABV.
For hard seltzer, fermentation involves straight-up fermented cane sugar. As a result, the alcohol content of most spiked seltzers falls in the range of 4-6% alcohol by volume (ABV), although some can be as high as 12% ABV.
Hard cider is created using fermented apple juice and typically contains 4-6% ABV.
Malt liquor is a beer that often includes any alcoholic beverage with 5 percent or more ABV made with malted barley. Common usage refers to beers containing a high alcohol content, often above 6 percent, which are made using ingredients and processes resembling those for American lagers. Malt liquor also includes sugar, corn, or other adjuncts to boost the total fermentable sugars in the wort (a sweet liquid drained from mash and fermented to make beer and whiskey).
Wine is also among the most popular and oldest alcoholic drinks in the world. Wine is produced using crushed grapes that are yeast-fermented. The yeast converts grape sugars into ethanol which is later stored to be bottled and aged. In the U.S., standard wine is defined as having less than 14 percent ABV.
Mead and Sake
Mead is produced using fermented honey and has an ABV between 10-14 percent. Sake is a well-known alcoholic Japanese drink made by fermenting rice and has an average standard alcohol concentration of about 16 percent ABV.
Distilled Alcohols (Liquors and Spirits)
Brandy is distilled wine, and the ABV ranges on average from 35-60 percent. Cognac is a special type of brandy that originates from the Cognac region of France, located southwest of Paris and just north of Bordeaux. The base wine is produced primarily from white grapes. Distillation occurs twice in a copper pot still, and the resulting product is a transparent liquid that is roughly 70 percent alcohol.
Whiskey is produced from fermented grains, and the ABV typically ranges between 40-50 percent. There are different types, including Irish whiskey, Canadian whiskey, and Tennessee whiskey (basically Bourbon whiskey), such as the well-known Jack Daniels.
Rum is produced using fermented sugarcane or molasses and can have an alcohol concentration of about 40 percent ABV. However, certain rums can have a much higher ABV, reaching 75.5 percent ABV or 151 proof. An example of this is Bacardi 151.
Gin is made by distilling fermented grains then redistilled with juniper berries and other botanicals. It has a distinct herbal taste, and the ABV can be anywhere from 35-55 percent.
Tequila is a spirit made in Mexico from the fermented made from the fermentation of the sugars found in the blue agave plant. The average alcohol concentration of this beverage is around 40 percent.
Vodka is a liquor produced from fermented grains and potatoes then treated with charcoal to remove any distinctive taste or color. The standard ABV for vodka in the U.S. is 40 percent.
Absinthe is made from various herbs and leaves and usually has a high ABV. Although it is commonly believed that absinthe is a hallucinogen (due to the presence of wormwood in some forms), there is little evidence of this claim. Certain types of absinthe contain around 40 percent ABV, but others can have up to 90 percent ABV, which is an incredible 180 proof and very dangerous to ingest.
Everclear (Grain Alcohol)
Everclear is a brand name rectified spirit made from grain and is bottled at 60, 75.5, 94.5. and 95 percent ABV (120, 151, 189, and 190 U.S. proof, respectively). Due to its high alcohol content, Everclear has become iconic with a somewhat notorious reputation in popular culture. Since the sale of the 190-proof variation is prohibited in some states, because it is very dangerous, Everclear’s maker started selling the 189-proof version.
Get Professional Help Today for Alcoholism
There are many different alcoholic beverages, but when ingested in excessive amounts, they can cause harm and lead to addiction. Alcohol is not only highly intoxicating but can cause wreak long-term damage to the liver and other organs.
Persons who abuse alcohol and have found themselves unable to quit despite multiple attempts to do so are urged to seek professional treatment. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer integrated residential and partial hospitalization programs that feature a wide variety of evidence-based services, including the following:
- Medical detox
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Group support
- Relapse prevention
- Addiction education
- Health and wellness education
- Co-occurring disorders treatment
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning
- Alumni activities