Ethyl Alcohol: Etymology, Mechanism, History, Uses, Side Effects, Pharmacology, Benefits and Alcoholism

Also called ethanol, grain alcohol, and pure alcohol, a chemical compound, a simple alcohol with the chemical formula C2H5OH.

Its formula can also be written as CH3-CH2-OH or C2H5-OH (an ethyl group attached to a hydroxyl group) and is often abbreviated as EtOH.

It can be described as a colorless liquid that can be soluble in water. It also has a slight odor and a somewhat sweet taste when diluted. However, when undiluted or concentrated, it tastes solid and leaves a fiery aftertaste.

Ethanol is a volatile and flammable liquid. It is a psychoactive substance. Ethyl alcohol is the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages such as beer, brandy, or whiskey. It is made from the fermentation or chemical breakdown of sugars by yeast.

It is made from plants and grains like corn, wheat, and barley. Ethanol can be produced by grinding the beans and fermenting them with yeast. During the fermentation process, the starches in the grains are turned into alcohol. Then there is also a distillation process.

Ethanol is produced naturally by the fermentation of sugars by yeasts or petrochemical processes and is most commonly consumed as a popular recreational drug. It also has medical applications as an antiseptic and disinfectant.

The compound is widely used as a chemical solvent, either for scientific chemical testing or in the synthesis of other organic compounds. It is a vital substance used in many different types of manufacturing industries. Ethanol is also used as a clean-burning fuel source.



Ethanol is the systematic name defined by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) for a compound consisting of an alkyl group with two carbon atoms (prefix ‘et-‘), which has a single bond between them (infix «-an-«), the functional group attached -OH group (suffix «-ol»).

The prefix “et-” and the qualifier “ethyl” in “ethyl alcohol” originally come from the name “ethyl” assigned in 1834 to the group C2H5- by Justus Liebig.

He coined the word from the German name Aether for the compound C2H5-O-C2H5 (commonly called “ether” in English, more specifically called “diethyl ether”).

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ethyl is a contraction of the ancient Greek αἰθήρ (aithḗr, “upper air”) and the Greek word ὕλη (hýlē, “substance”).

The name ethanol was coined as a result of a resolution adopted at the International Conference on Chemical Nomenclature held in April 1892 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The term “alcohol” now refers to a broader class of substances in chemical nomenclature, but in common parlance, it is still the name of ethanol.

The Oxford English Dictionary states that it is a medieval loan from the Arabic al-kuḥl, a powdered mineral of antimony used as a cosmetic, and it retained that meaning in Middle Latin.

The use of “alcohol” for ethanol (in its entirety “wine alcohol”) is modern, first recorded in 1753, and by the end of the 17th century, it referred to “any sublimated substance; distilled alcohol ‘use for’ the spirit of wine ‘(shortened from a full expression wine alcohol). Systematic use in chemistry dates back to 1850.


Ethanol, when used for toxicity, competes with other alcohols for the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, reducing metabolism to toxic aldehydes and carboxylic acid derivatives and reducing the more toxic severe effect of glycols crystallizing in the kidneys.


Alcohol has been used as an antiseptic as early as 1,363, with evidence to support its use available in the late 1800s. Since ancient times, before the development of modern agents, alcohol was used as a general anesthetic.

It is on the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines List, the most effective and safest medicines needed in a health system.

The wholesale cost in the developing world is approximately $ 1.80 to $ 9.50 per liter of 70% denatured ethanol.

It costs the National Health Service around £ 3.90 per liter of 99% denatured alcohol in the UK.

Commercial formulations of hand sanitizer based on alcohol or other agents such as chlorhexidine are available.


Alcohol is commonly used in the medical field as an antiseptic and disinfectant. In addition to these uses described below, alcohol has no other well-accepted medical services; the therapeutic ratio of ethanol is only 10: 1.


Alcohols, in various forms, are used in medicine as an antiseptic, disinfectant, and antidote. Applied to the skin, disinfect the skin before a needle and surgery.

It can be used to disinfect the skin of the patient and the hands of healthcare providers. It can also be used to clean other areas. It is used in mouthwashes.

Hospitals and medical clinics use alcohol to sterilize various medical equipment before and after use. Ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol can be used for this purpose.

Ethanol is used in medical wipes and the most common hand sanitizer gels as an antiseptic. Ethanol kills organisms by denaturing their proteins and dissolving their lipids and is effective against most bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

However, ethanol is ineffective against bacterial spores to help prevent the spread of bacteria in hospitals and related facilities. 70% ethanol is the most effective concentration, mainly due to osmotic pressure.

Absolute ethanol can inactivate microbes without destroying them because alcohol cannot penetrate the microbe’s membrane fully.


Ethanol can be given as an antidote to methanol and ethylene glycol poisoning. Taken orally or injected into a vein, it is used to treat poisoning when fomepizole is unavailable.

Medicinal solvent

Ethanol, often in high concentrations, dissolves many water-insoluble drugs and related compounds.

Liquid crack cocaine preparations, pain relievers, and mouthwashes can dissolve in ethanol concentrations of 1 to 25% and may need to be avoided in people with adverse reactions to ethanol, such as alcohol-induced respiratory reactions.

Ethanol is primarily an antimicrobial preservative in more than 700 liquid drug preparations, including acetaminophen, iron supplements, ranitidine, furosemide, mannitol, phenobarbital, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, and over-the-counter cough medications.

Side effects

Side effects include skin irritation. Care must be taken with electrocautery as ethanol is flammable. The types of alcohol used include ethanol, denatured ethanol, 1-propanol, and isopropyl alcohol.

However, it is effective against various microorganisms but does not inactivate spores. Concentrations of 60 to 90% work best.


Ethyl alcohol is extensively metabolized by the liver, mainly through the CYP450 enzyme. Ethyl alcohol increases the secretion of acids in the stomach.

The acetaldehyde metabolite is responsible for much of the short- and long-term effects of ethyl alcohol toxicity.

The absorption of alcohol (ethanol) is decreased by food, especially fatty foods. Absorption occurs mainly in the intestine. Alcohol is distributed in the body’s water.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) depends on body weight and fat, the amount and time of alcohol consumption, and the effects of food.

Drinking alcohol for shorter periods or in more significant amounts and on an empty stomach will lead to a higher concentration of alcohol in the blood. Blood alcohol concentration is generally expressed in grams per deciliter (g / dL).

In the 50 US states, 0.08 g / dL would equal 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration or the legal limit at which one is no longer authorized to drive. Regulations are stricter in many states for drivers under the age of 21.

Alcohol is primarily (90 percent) metabolized in the liver. The enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, a sympathomimetic toxin often blamed for the “hangover” effect.

Aldehyde dehydrogenase further metabolizes acetaldehyde to acetic acid and eventually carbon dioxide and water. The excretion of small amounts of alcohol also occurs through urine, lungs/breath, and sweat.

The excretion of alcohol through the lungs forms the basis of the breathalyzer test given by authorities who may suspect that they drink and drive.

Alcohol elevates the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and reduces nerve signals along that neuronal pathway. Due to this action, alcohol is known as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and reduces both cognitive and physical abilities.

Combination with other central nervous system depressants, such as opiates, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines, can have additive and dangerous effects.

Health Hazards from Alcohol Abuse

Long-term alcohol abuse is associated with liver and cardiovascular disease, cancer, nervous system damage, and psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, and antisocial personality disorder.

Alcohol and its consumption can cause a series of marked changes in behavior. Even low doses significantly affect judgment and coordination. In small amounts, it can induce feelings of relaxation and calm, suppress anxiety, and, in some, inspire feelings of confidence.

However, as the dose is increased, typically more than six ounces of 100 proof alcohol, the pleasant euphoric feelings begin to give way to feelings of depression. Poisoning occurs because the liver cannot metabolize more than one ounce of alcohol each hour.

Therefore, intoxication occurs when a person consumes more alcohol than the body can metabolize. Poisoning can generally last from one to 12 hours, and the after-effects (“suspension”) of the poisoning can last 24 hours or more.

Repeated use of alcohol can lead to increased tolerance, leading to higher amounts required to achieve the desired effects.

Once the body develops a dependency on alcohol, a sudden cessation of alcohol will likely produce withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening and include severe anxiety, tremors, hallucinations, and seizures.

Alcohol can be fatal if the amount of alcohol reaches a concentration greater than 460 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood (0.46 g / dL).

Death from respiratory depression can occur with severe alcohol intoxication, and this can be accelerated if alcohol is combined with central nervous system depressant medications.

Mixing alcohol with caffeine, either in premixed drinks or by adding liquor to energy drinks, has become a common way for younger masses to consume alcohol.

With this dangerous combination, drinkers can feel a little less intoxicated than if they had consumed alcohol alone.

However, they are so deteriorated and more prone to taking risks. This practice of drinking often takes place on and around college campuses.

Excessive use of alcohol can lead to alcoholism or alcohol dependence. There are four cardinal symptoms of alcoholism: anxiety, loss of control, physical dependence, and tolerance.

A doctor can diagnose alcoholism based on a specific set of criteria published by the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization.

She was drinking and driving, resulting in numerous car accidents, injuries, and deaths.

In 2009, there were more than 10,800 crash deaths with a driver’s blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, roughly 32 percent of the total traffic fatalities for the year.

Of these factors, fifty-six percent had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher. However, since 1982, alcohol-related deaths have decreased from 60 to 38 percent in 2009.6

Alcoholism is a treatable disease, but it is considered a chronic, life-long disease requiring counseling, support, and medications to control cravings. Relapses are a common problem for alcoholics.

Risks for developing alcoholism include a genetic predisposition and lifestyle practices. Stress, the ease of alcohol availability, and peer groups can increase the risk of alcoholism.

Scope of alcohol use and abuse

The prevalence of alcohol use in the US is widespread. According to the 2010 Health Summary from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The percentage of adults 18 and older who drank regularly (at least 12 drinks in the past 12 months) was 50.9 percent. The rate of adults who drank infrequently (1 to 11 drinks in the past 12 months) was lower, at 13.6 percent.

Alcohol use and binge drinking among teens is a significant public health problem. In 1999, alcohol use among high school students was reported in 1 in 2 students.

In 2009, current rates of alcohol use among high school students decreased to 42 percent, with 24 percent reporting episodes of binge drinking.

In 2009, 10 percent of high school students reported driving in the past 30 days when drinking alcohol.

28% of students reported riding in a car or other vehicle in the past 30 days driven by someone else who had been drinking alcohol.

Alcohol consumption in pregnancy

No amount of alcohol consumption can be considered safe during pregnancy. Alcohol is rapidly transferred from the mother’s bloodstream to the fetus through the placenta and the umbilical cord.

Alcohol can be toxic to the developing baby, not just in the first three months of pregnancy when vital organs develop, but at any time as brain development continues throughout pregnancy.

Damages can also occur early in pregnancy before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Although there is no known safe amount of alcohol that a woman can drink, the risk of miscarriage, congenital disabilities, growth retardation, and mental defects increases the more alcohol a pregnant woman consumes in an environment and the more frequently she drinks in general.

Women who plan to become pregnant or have recently discovered that they are pregnant should not drink alcohol.

It is advisable to seek the advice of a healthcare provider if alcohol cannot be stopped before conception and throughout pregnancy.

The Centers for Disease Control and the US Office of Surgeons General advise women not to drink during pregnancy.

Mothers who drink alcohol excessively during pregnancy can give birth to babies with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) or fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), including physical changes and irreversible mental diseases to the baby.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can include lifelong learning disabilities, poor memory, hyperactivity, poor attention span, speech or language delays, and other conditions.

Fetal alcohol syndrome can lead to growth retardation, mental disorders, skeletal and facial abnormalities, and heart defects. It is important not to drink anything during pregnancy, before a planned pregnancy, or if you are not using effective contraception.

Beneficial effects of alcohol

Drinking small amounts of alcohol is reported to have beneficial cardiovascular health benefits, mainly drinking red wine.

Red wine contains substances such as resveratrol and flavonoids with antioxidant properties and can provide cardioprotective effects on the heart. However, it is suggested that only small amounts of wine or alcohol are beneficial.

Antioxidants can help prevent heart disease by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol and protecting against damage to the arteries.

The antioxidants in red wine are called polyphenols and can be protective of the linings of the heart vessels.

Resveratrol is a polyphenol that comes from the skins of red grapes. It is also theorized that the beneficial heart effects of red wine could be possible simply by drinking 100% red or purple grape juice or eating red grapes.

The cardioprotective effect of alcohol cannot be restricted to red wine. Some research studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, not just the alcohol found in red wine. However, more research is needed.

Moderate alcohol consumption can raise high-density lipoproteins, reduce blood clots, and help prevent damage to the arteries from low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol.

It is not suggested to start drinking for the prevention of heart disease.

Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends starting drinking alcohol to prevent heart disease.

Alcohol can lead to other health problems and can be addictive.

Moderate drinking is only recommended for those who already drink. Moderate consumption is defined as an average of two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

A drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters or ml) of beer, 5 ounces (148 ml) of wine, or 1.5 ounces (44 ml) of 80-proof liquor.

Treatment options for alcohol abuse and alcoholism

Treating alcoholism requires strong family, social, and medical support.

Treatment for alcohol dependence usually involves a wide range of interventions, including step therapy, group support, individual counseling, and medications.

Some patients may choose to join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a group support organization available to men and women since 1935. More than 2 million recovered alcoholics in the United States, Canada, and other countries belong to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Medical treatments for alcohol dependence include three approved oral medications: disulfiram (Antabuse), naltrexone (Depade, Revia), and acamprosate (Campral), and a long-acting injectable form of naltrexone (Vivitrol).

These medical treatments can help reduce alcohol use and relapse and lead to full recovery and alcohol withdrawal.

According to a review, naltrexone and acamprosate have strong evidence and are recommended as treatment options for alcohol dependence alongside behavioral therapy.

Disulfiram has not been shown to increase withdrawal rates or decrease relapse rates or cravings compared to placebo, and its routine use is not recommended in primary care.