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What is Alcohol?

Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 6/04/2023

Alcohol is an intoxicating beverage that millions of people consume around the world. It’s made by the process of fermentation through sugars and starches. There are many different kinds of alcohol but they can be broken down into three main categories. These categories are beer, wine, and liquor. Beer usually has the lowest alcohol content at an average of 5%, then wine has the next most at an average of 15%, and lastly, liquor has a wide range but an average alcohol content of about 25%. 

The higher the alcohol content the less alcohol you need to feel the effects and become drunk. Heavy drinking is when you consume more alcohol than general health guidelines suggest. According to the CDC, too much alcohol is more than two alcoholic beverages per day for women and three beverages per day for men. Long-term consistent heavy drinking lead to various health issues and other problems.

How is Alcohol Made?

Alcohol is made through a process known as fermentation. Fermentation is when yeast turns sugar into ethanol. In fermentation, you need a carbohydrate to feed the yeast for the process to work. Depending on which carbohydrate you use, the type of alcohol you produce varies. 

For beer, you would use grain. On the other hand, for wine it’s important to use fruit. Different fruits produce different kinds of wine. Changing any part of the process changes your final product. Vegetables are also useful for making alcohol with corn and potatoes being common crops to ferment.

What is the Alcohol Content of Liquor?

Alcohol content varies greatly based on which type of alcohol you’re drinking. 

Below is a list of each type of alcohol and their average alcohol content.

  • Beer: 4% – 8% but the average beer has about 5%.
  • Wine: 12% – 18% but the average wine has about a 12% alcohol content.
  • Vodka: Average vodka has 75% but can go as high as 90%.
  • Gin: Average alcohol content is 40%.
  • Champagne: 12.5% is the average alcohol content.
  • Tequila: Almost all tequilas sit at around 40% to 50%.
  • Whiskey: Average alcohol content is between 40% and 45%.
  • Kombucha: 1.5% average alcohol content.

Overall, the level of alcohol in your drink varies greatly from 1.5% up to 90%. Ultimately, it depends on which drink you choose.

What are the Side Effects of Alcohol?

As you drink more alcohol it reduces the communication levels between your brain and your body within the central nervous system. This causes side effects such as confusion, bad decision-making, and mood swings. Drinking alcohol also has long-term negative effects on your central nervous system. 

Other side effects you’ll feel are nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhea, head pain, change in vision or hearing, loss of focus, and even memory gaps. The side effects of alcohol vary and you may feel all, none, or just some of them. 

According to the CDC, numerous studies prove that men and women have different alcohol tolerances, side effects, and limits. Typically, it’s safe for men to have about four drinks in a single day and no more than 15 in a week. For women, it’s safe to have no more than three drinks in a single day and no more than eight drinks at most in a single week. These numbers vary but they’re based on the average height and weight of men to women.

How Long Do Alcohol Side Effects Last?

The short-term side effects of alcohol like nausea, headaches, and vomiting last for several hours. Symptoms vary based on how much alcohol you drank, your sex, and height/weight. After 24 hours most side effects of alcohol disappear. You’ll feel better with maybe a lingering headache that most people know as a hangover. 

Hangovers are the longest-lasting short-term side effect of alcohol and last for up to a couple of days based on the level of alcohol consumed. Luckily, it’s possible to treat a hangover. For the headache, we recommend Ibuprofen. It will also help with other aches and pains.

Alcohol dehydrates your body too, so if you want to feel better faster you should drink plenty of water. You may feel tempted to grab a coffee but that will only make things worse. It’s a good idea to avoid caffeine because it changes heart rate and causes more dehydration.

Some of the longer-term effects can be brain damage, nerve damage, liver disease, and worse. These long-term effects can last the rest of your life. That’s why it’s important to stick to health guidelines when consuming alcohol. 

What are the Types of Alcohol?

Several types of alcohol are available. However, only some types of alcohol are safe to drink. In fact, all alcohol is toxic in the body but some types of alcohol are more toxic than others.

Below we list the types of alcohol.

  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Methyl alcohol
  • Undistilled ethanol
  • Distilled ethanol

1. Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol is made by combining propane and water. Once this is done it’s still not in a pure alcohol form and needs to be distilled. After distillation, you are left with 100% pure isopropyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol is known as a chemical compound and is most often used as a cleaner. 

Some companies will use isopropyl alcohol as an industrial cleaner because the alcohol kills most types of bacteria. It’s also something you can use at home as a surface cleaner. Isopropyl alcohol is even useful on glass and leaves no marks, smudges, or smears.

2. Methyl Alcohol

Methyl alcohol is an organic compound and is the simplest form of alcohol. Similar to isopropyl alcohol, it’s unsafe to ingest and it’s toxic. Methyl alcohol is used in the manufacturing of formaldehyde and acetic acid. It’s also useful as a solvent, in chemical synthesis, and also in antifreeze. 

When first discovered, methyl alcohol was made by burning wood chips without air. There were carbohydrates in the wood that are used in the making of methyl alcohol. Nowadays, methyl alcohol is made by heating hydrogen gas with carbon monoxide in the presence of a catalyst. 

3. Undistilled Ethanol

Undistilled ethanol is the type of alcohol that comes before distilled ethanol, which is the only safe type of alcohol to consume. While some types of undistilled  alcohol are safe to drink, distilled ethanol is more common. The main difference between distilled alcohol vs. undistilled alcohol is in the process of how it’s made. Distillation is also known as fermentation and it removes the impurities in the alcohol. It also takes away some of the quality of the alcohol in the process. 

Undistilled alcohol needs to sit a bit longer to allow the toxins to sit at the bottom and then you can take the alcohol from the top and it will be at a much higher quality. The downside is that you need to wait much longer for the toxins to settle to ensure you have a safe-to-drink beverage.

4. Distilled ethanol

Distilled (also known as fermented) alcohol is alcohol that has less impurities. The process of fermentation allows you to drink alcohol faster. Distilled ethanol does remove some of the quality, though, which is a problem for some alcohol drinkers. 

The upside to distilled ethanol is that you produce more alcohol in a shorter amount of time. As far as taste goes, most people agree that undistilled alcohol has a better quality and taste but most distilled drinks have a higher alcohol content.

What are the Types of Alcoholic Drinks?

Tons of alcoholic beverages exist today. According to the CDC and other health guidelines, there are hundreds of alcoholic beverages. We take you through some of the most common types of alcohol below.

  1. Gin
  2. Whiskey
  3. Rum
  4. Brandy
  5. Tequila
  6. Vodka 

1. Gin

Gin is a clear alcohol distilled from grain or malt and it gets its flavor from juniper berries. To be legally sold as gin it must have a minimum alcohol content of at least 40%. Gin is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages around and according to several surveys millions of people drink it every year.

2. Whiskey

Whiskey is a distilled alcohol fermented from grain mash. The flavor of whiskey is largely dependent on two things. These are the types of grain used and the quality of the oak barrel it’s in after fermentation. On average, most whiskeys have around 45% alcohol content with some as high as 65% and higher.

3. Rum

Rum is a liquor that is made by fermentation. Then, rum also goes through a distillation process to remove impurities. Rum makers use sugarcane molasses and sugarcane juices to gain the flavor of rum during distillation. On average, most rum alcoholic drinks will be about 40% alcohol content.

4. Brandy

Brandy is made by distilling another type of alcohol. To make brandy, wine needs to be distilled. The byproduct of wine distillation is brandy. Brandy then ages in wooden barrels for flavor. Most Brady drinks have between 35% and 60% alcohol content.

5. Tequila

Tequila is a distilled liquor made from an agave plant that can only be found in certain parts of Mexico. The sugars and flavors from the blue agave plant are what give tequila its flavor. Tequila can also be aged similarly to whiskey for more flavor. Most tequilas will be between 40% and 50% alcohol content.

6. Vodka

According to sources like CNBC, vodka is the most popular type of liquor and has been since the 1970s. With more than $7 billion in revenue, vodka controls a large market share of the alcohol industry. Vodka comes from Europe and is made from distilling cereal grains and potatoes. Different varieties will have traces of impurities and other flavorings. Vodka has a very wide range of alcohol content from 40% to 90% ABV.

What are the Facts About Alcohol?

A few other interesting facts about alcohol are that alcohol releases a chemical in your brain called dopamine. That’s why you have that free and fun feeling when you drink alcohol. Alcohol is broken down and processed in the liver. That’s why liver disease is one of the most common side effects of long-term heavy drinking. 

Studies from SAMHSA also show that the biggest recorded jump in alcohol use happened in the years between 2001 and 2013. Another fact about alcohol is that alcohol is the 3rd leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It’s considered preventable because you don’t need to drink alcohol, it’s a choice.

We list some additional facts about alcohol below.

  • Alcohol impacts men and women differently
  • Depending on the person, alcohol may lower blood sugar levels
  • Moderate alcohol consumption helps with heart disease (in some cases, according to the CDC)
  • Alcohol consumption doesn’t make you warmer; instead, blood rushes to the surface layer of the skin
  • Some people have alcohol intolerance, which is like an alcohol allergy that causes blushing and other problems
  • The National Highway Traffic Association found that 32 die per day from alcohol-related driving accidents

There are millions of facts about alcohol but these are some of the most relevant.

What is the Risk of Alcohol in Your Body?

There are many risks associated with drinking alcohol. One of the most common and worst ones is liver disease. Alcohol is also addicting, which is why several thousand people die from alcohol consumption each year. Below we list more risks of alcohol in your body.

  • Liver disease 
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Alcohol-related brain damage
  • Wet brain
  • Dementia
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Death
  • Coma
  • Addiction
  • Co-occurring mental illness
  • Weight gain

These are only some of the long-term risks of alcohol. There are also several short-term risks of alcohol like memory impairment,

What are the Benefits of Alcohol in Your Body

Any benefit associated with alcohol comes from a small or moderate amount of drinking. Heavy drinkers will not get these same benefits. Some of the benefits associated with moderate drinking are that it helps reduce the chance of heart disease. Small amounts of alcohol also reduce your risk of stroke, and also reduce your risk of diabetes.

We list more benefits of alcohol below.

  • A study from the CDC found that women who drink one glass of wine per day have a lower chance of developing heart disease
  • Lower risk of stroke and heart attack
  • Some research suggests that alcohol may reduce the chances of diabetes developing 

What is the Percentage of People Who Drink Alcohol Every Day?

According to various studies from the National Society of Drug Use and Health, more than 50% of people in the world drink alcohol regularly each week. That means more than half the people in the world drink alcohol often. Out of that 50%, 12% of those who drink regularly consume alcohol daily. That means most people in the world who drink alcohol do so in a moderate amount.

Which Medications Should I Avoid While I Drink Alcohol?

Many medications are dangerous to take when drinking alcohol. Most medication that’s not safe to take with alcohol will have warnings on the label. Furthermore, always consult with your doctor before mixing alcohol and medication for the best results.

Some of the medications that are dangerous to take with alcohol are found below.

These are only some of the drugs that are dangerous to mix with alcohol.

Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol with Prozac?

No, it is generally considered unsafe to mix alcohol with medications such as Prozac. Prozac is a brain-altering medication that treats depression. It’s also considered unsafe to mix alcohol with any other depression medication. Overall, it’s not safe to mix alcohol with prozac.

Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol with Ibuprofen?

Yes and no. It’s safe to drink one alcoholic beverage with a small dosage of ibuprofen. When you have more than one drink, or if you take a higher dosage of ibuprofen, mixing ibuprofen and alcohol becomes unsafe. Mixing alcohol and ibuprofen in high doses leads to heart problems and sometimes death.

Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol with Azithromycin?

Azithromycin is an antibiotic and it’s generally unsafe to take while drinking alcohol. It leads to nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. Typically, it’s unsafe to mix alcohol and most antibiotics. While the risk of dying is low, mixing alcohol with antibiotics makes the antibiotics less effective. Antibiotics become less effective when mixed with alcohol because the liver must process the alcohol first. Therefore, it’s not safe to mix azithromycin with alcohol.

Is alcohol a drug?

Yes, alcohol is a drug. According to the CDC, alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant. Other organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also classify alcohol as an addictive substance. In fact, alcohol is dangerous enough to cause death during consumption or withdrawals.