What are the Types of Alcohol?
Author: Thomas Roth
Last Updated: 11/15/2021
Alcohol is a broad term that groups a mixture of alcoholic beverages and other types of alcohol. There are three types of alcohol, each with its own unique properties. Alcohol varies because alcohol binds with different atoms to create unique chemical mixtures and literal cocktails.
That said, the three types of alcohol are methanol, isopropanol, and ethanol. While there are three types of alcohol, humans can only consume ethanol. Ethanol is found in the common alcoholic beverages most people drink. Ethanol is the only alcohol humans can consume because the other versions –methanol and isopropanol– are poisonous (more so than ethanol). These alcohol types are poisonous because the body metabolizes them as lethal substances.
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Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is the type of alcohol that people consume. While this type of alcohol is toxic and damages the liver, the body can handle it and it gives people a high feeling. Ethanol is found in alcoholic beverages and is created through the process of fermentation. The most common fermentations include sugar, yeast, starches, and grapes. Ethanol is found in beer, wine, and liquor.
Isopropanol, or isopropyl alcohol, is the type of alcohol that we use for disinfecting things. The alcohol is potent and kills bacteria and can help clean wounds. Isopropanol is the most common type of alcohol found in rubbing alcohol. While it's useful for cleaning, even consuming a little bit of this alcohol can lead to death because the body metabolizes it as poison.
Methanol, or methyl alcohol, is a unique type of alcohol that's found in many products and has many uses. For example, you can find methanol in fuel additives, fuel for cars and boats, antifreeze, and other types of cleaning products. Overall, it's one of the most versatile types of alcohol –as long as you don't drink it.
How Many Types of Alcohol are Available in the World?
There are lots of alcoholic drinks but humans can only drink ethanol-based alcoholic beverages. There are three types of alcohol. Humans consume X type of alcohol.The three types of alcohol are beer, wine, and liquor.
Of the three, beer tends to have the lowest alcohol content by volume. Common beers like Miller have alcohol contents of less than 5% and some beers like Blue Moon or other lagers have higher percentages of around 6-8%. Still, this is less than wine and liquor. Some wines can have alcohol contents of around 12% and some liquors can be upwards of 30% to 40% (alcohol by volume).
How is Alcohol Made?
Alcohol is made through the process of fermentation. Fermentation occurs when yeast begins to break down without oxygen. Alcohol is produced when the yeast breaks down different types of sugars.
One example is how wine is made through the fermentation of grapes. As grapes break down without exposure to oxygen, alcohol is created as a byproduct of the sugar from grapes. This also applies to beers and liquors. For beer, barley is fermented and for liquor plants like potatoes and beats ferment to produce high alcohol percentages. There are also ciders that come from apples.
Fermentation is important for a few reasons. First and foremost, without fermentation plants and fruits won't produce the alcohol that people want to consume. Secondly, fermentation creates enzymes that allow people to digest the alcohol. Humans have a limited number of enzymes to break down the chemicals in food, so fermentation makes this possible for alcoholic beverages.
Which Type of Alcohol is Suitable for Human Consumption?
There are three types of alcohol but humans can only drink ethanol. Ethanol is safe to drink because the liver can metabolize it in small quantities. When your liver becomes overwhelmed, this is when the feeling of being drunk or intoxicated occurs.
This is different from other alcoholic beverages because the liver can't metabolize them at all. This leads to poisonous results that can kill people.
What is Distilled Alcohol?
Distilled alcohol is alcohol that has been turned into a vapor and then back into a liquid. Some alcohol can be distilled more than once and the concentration of alcohol tends to increase when alcohol is distilled. The types of alcohol that get distilled are spirits, which include liquors like whiskey, vodka, gin, and other strong alcoholic beverages.
The distillation process begins with the fermentation of fruits and vegetables. When fruits and vegetables ferment alcohol is created as a byproduct. When alcohol becomes distilled, fermentation is only the first part of the process. Once the alcohol has been fermented it's brought up to different boiling points and turned into vapor. The vapor is then turned back into liquid (through condensation), which has a higher alcohol content than just fermented alcohol. Distillation can also happen more than once to boost the alcohol content.
Distilled alcohol is used for vodka, whiskey, and other potent liquors and delivers a more concentrated dosage of alcohol.
What are Distilled Alcoholic Drinks?
Distilled alcoholic drinks have high alcohol percentages in a smaller amount. This makes them sought after for binge drinking, shots and partying.
We'll start with gin. Gin is distilled from juniper berries and used to be used as a medicinal cocktail for monks and alchemists. Today, it's a common drink that has an alcohol percentage of about 35% to 55%.
Whiskey is one of the most common spirits and comes from the distillation of grain mashes. The grains can include barley, wheat, rye, and even corn. Whiskey traditionally has an alcohol content that varies based on the type of grain. That said, the common percentage is between 40-50%.
Rum is produced by fermenting sugarcanes and then distilling them. Rum is commonly produced in the Caribbean, where sugarcane is common, and it's traditionally a clear liquid that's stored in oak barrels. It has an alcohol content of about 40% depending on the brand.
Brandy is a unique liquor that's the result of distilling fermented grapes (wine). The result is a sweet and potent liquor with an alcohol content that ranges between 35% and 65%.
Tequila is produced from the blue agave plant. The plant is commonly found in Mexico and creates a unique drunkenness that's more of an upper than a downer. Most types of tequila have an alcohol content of about 40%.
Vodka is a type of liquor or spirit that's commonly created through the fermentation of potatoes. Vodka is also distilled, which gives it a high alcohol content that averages around 30%.
Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit. It comes from many plants, even flowers, and also includes some medicinal herbs. Absinthe tends to have a high alcohol content of between 45-74%.
Everclear is manufactured by the American company Luxco. This spirit is produced from fermented grains and has a high alcohol content –upwards of 95% in some proofs.
What are Undistilled Alcoholic Drinks?
Beer is one of the most common alcoholic beverages around. It's fermented from yeast. The yeast converts glucose molecules into the wort. Beer typically has an alcohol content that ranges between 4-10%.
Wine is created when grapes are fermented. This creates an alcoholic beverage that's stronger than beer and sweeter. There are a few types of wine and there are many ways to produce it. Overall, wine tends to have an alcohol percentage between 12 and 15%.
Mead is an alcoholic beverage that's fermented from honey and water. It's a unique drink that's less common than it was in the past. Mead has a sweet taste and a potent alcohol content that can reach up to 18.5% ABV.
Saké is fermented from rice and it's polished to remove all traces of bran. Saké is a sneaky beverage because it doesn't taste as harsh as other alcoholic beverages but has a potent ABV regardless. It tends to have an ABV of about 15% or 17%.
5. Hard Cider
Hard cider is made when apples are fermented. This gives the alcohol a sweet taste and it resembles apple juice and other fruity drinks. Hard ciders tend to have decent alcohol percentages of between 4-6%.
What are Other Types of Alcohol
There are also other types of alcohol that fit into different subgroups. For example, a common type of beer variation is lager. A lager is brewed slowly and in a cooler environment, which leads to higher alcohol content. While it's a type of beer, the fermentation process is different so it's grouped into a subcategory.
While lager is a good example, there are many types of alcoholic beverages. Here are some of the other types:
Moonshine: Produced illegally (in most cases), moonshine gets its name from being produced under the moonlight to avoid getting caught. It has a high alcohol content (190 proof) and tends to have a corn base.
Cognac: While a type of Brandy, Cognac needs to be made from a specific white wine in the Cognac region of France
Vermouth: A fortified wine with added herbs and spices
Mezcal: Shares almost everything with tequila but isn't produced in the Tequila region
Bitters: Commonly found in mixers and shooters
These are only a handful of examples but there are 100s of different alcohol types.
Which Drinks Have High Alcohol Content?
Alcoholic beverages vary in alcohol content, which makes some drinks more dangerous than others. For example, some people may seek out high alcohol content drinks to induce drunkenness faster. This is referred to as binge drinking and can create alcohol abuse disorder and other complications.
Here are the top 5 drinks with the highest alcohol contents:
Spirytus Vodka: 96%
Everclear (190 proof): 95%
Golden Grain (190 proof): 95%
Bruichladdich x4 Quadrupled Whiskey (184 proof): 92%
Hapsburg Absinthe (179 proof): 89.9%
While these are only five drinks, there are many types of alcoholic beverages that have alcohol percentages over 80%.
What are the Harms of Excessive Alcohol Consumption?
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to many issues like liver disease, cancer, and even mental health disorders. While alcohol impacts everyone differently, it's important to note that alcohol is a toxic substance that damages your mind and body over time. In fact, drinking too much alcohol quickly can result in alcohol poisoning, which can result in your death.
Here is a look at some of the common harms that come with excessive alcohol consumption:
High blood pressure
Cancer (mouth, throat, breasts, stomach, liver, colon, voice box, rectum, esophagus)
Reduced immune system
Increased risk for dementia
Mental health disorders
Social and professional problems (losing a job or your family)
Alcohol abuse disorder
While alcohol might be fun to use in small doses every once in a while, it's clear that drinking alcohol over long periods can lead to many health issues.
What is Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is another term for alcohol abuse disorder. Alcohol abuse disorder is a chronic condition that involves the overconsumption of alcohol. Moreover, alcoholism is also characterized as the inability to control the urge to drink.
While many people believe that alcoholism is a physical addiction, it's also a mental addiction. For example, alcoholics can develop an emotional dependence on alcohol. An emotional dependence on alcohol can be the result of using alcohol to manage happiness, escape issues, and more.
Alcoholism causes many problems for the people that suffer from the condition and for the people around them. It can damage organs like the liver and heart, damage relationships, and lead to depression and other mental health disorders.
What are the Types of Alcoholics?
Alcoholics all suffer from alcohol abuse disorder but the way the condition presents itself isn't always the same. There are five types of alcoholics, or subtypes, and each one is unique.
Young Adult Subtype
The first subtype is the young adult alcoholic. This group encompasses people in their late teens and early 20s. Young adult alcoholics tend to form habits around binge drinking, which is the rapid consumption of alcohol to get intoxicated faster. This is associated with the college culture and is sometimes the only option for teenagers who are under the legal drinking age.
According to the CDC, the young adult subtype consumes more alcohol on average than older alcoholic subtypes. Moreover, a study conducted by NIAAA shows that 31.5% of alcoholics fall into this group. Unfortunately, that's the highest percentage out of all the groups. The young adult subtype is also likely to develop mental health disorders and become chronic alcohol users as they age.
Young Antisocial Alcoholics
The next subtype is young antisocial alcoholics. This group is similar to the young adult subtype in that its members are teenagers and people in their early 20s. The difference between the subtypes is that young antisocial alcoholics typically have co-occurring disorders associated with alcoholism. For example, people in this subtype might be using alcohol to manage anxiety disorders that prevent social interaction.
People in this subtype also tend to have a family history of alcohol consumption. While half of all alcohol abuse disorder cases are related to genetics, that percentage is likely higher in this group. Furthermore, people in this subtype are more at risk to develop co-occurring disorders and other mental health issues because the brain is not fully developed.
Functional alcoholics are a unique subtype because it's not easy to determine if someone falls into this category or if they're an alcoholic at all. For example, people in this subtype will hold jobs, manage relationships, and even have families. Functional alcoholics represent about 19.5% of alcoholics.
That said, functional alcoholics are still at risk for liver disease, heart disease, and other conditions that alcohol brings. Functional alcoholics are also more likely to have co-occurring addictions like smoking or other drugs. This group is also less likely to admit they have a problem or seek help.
Intermediate Familial Alcoholics
Intermediate Familial Alcoholics male up around 19% of the alcoholic population. This group tends to have a high genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse and in many cases, it has been a multigenerational issue within the family. This subtype, like functional alcoholics, also has a high risk of abusing multiple substances at once.
Intermediate Familial Alcoholics may also have bad influences within the family that lead to alcoholism. There might be pressure to drink, abusers in the house, or people that encourage drinking when underage. These households may also lead to a poor family life that causes alcohol to become an escape.
Chronic Severe Alcoholics
The last subtype to note is chronic severe alcoholics. This group is about 9% of the alcoholic population and is what most people think about when the phrase alcoholic is mentioned. Unfortunately, chronic severe alcoholics started drinking earlier in life and the condition has become a severe addiction with severe symptoms of withdrawal when alcohol is not consumed.
This group is also at a higher risk for cancers, liver disease, and other mental health conditions. Chronic severe alcoholics also tend to have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism and it's the group that struggles the most with quitting.