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  • EtOH Abuse | What Is Ethanol And What Are The Risks?

    EtOH Abuse | What Is Ethanol And What Are The Risks?

    Ethanol (also called ETOH or ethyl alcohol) is a form of alcohol. It appears in various products, including industrial solvents, antiseptics, and mouthwash. It’s typically made from grains like wheat, rye, and barley. That’s why it’s often called “grain alcohol.”

    Ethanol is also the form of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. In fact, when most people use the word “alcohol,” they are actually referring to ethanol. No matter what you call it, ethanol poses a high risk of abuse and addiction.

    What Is Chronic Ethanol Abuse?

    ETOH abuse occurs when you use the substance in a manner that poses serious health risks. Most people abuse ethanol in the form of an alcoholic drink rather than pure ethanol. 

    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), ethanol abuse occurs when a woman has more than one drink per day and a man has more than two drinks per day.

    The NIAAA has also defined two common types of alcohol abuse: binge drinking and heavy drinking. 

    Binge Drinking & Heavy Drinking

    Binge drinking occurs when you drink alcohol to the point where your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches at least 0.08 percent. Most women reach this BAC after having 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours. Most men reach it after having 5 or more drinks in about 2 hours. 

    Heavy drinking occurs when a woman has more than 3 drinks in one day or more than 7 drinks per week and a man has more than 4 drinks in one day or more than 14 drinks per week. 

    For both binge drinking and heavy drinking, a standard “drink” has about 14 grams of pure ethanol, which can be found in:

    • 12 ounces of regular beer, which has about 5% ethanol
    • 5 ounces of wine, which has about 12% ethanol
    • 1.5 ounces of liquor, which has about 40% ethanol

    Some people also drink pure ethanol, which is about twice as strong as liquor. That means that even a small amount of pure ethanol is more powerful than a large amount of liquor. 

    Risks Of Ethanol Abuse

    People who abuse ethanol face both short-term and long-term risks.

    Short-Term Risks

    Because ethanol impairs your judgment, it can increase your risk of falls, burns, and other injuries. It also makes you more likely to have unsafe sex, which can lead to unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.

    In addition, people who drink ethanol are more likely to engage in violent behaviors, including intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and homicide. 

    Finally, if you drink too much ethanol, you may experience ethanol overdose (also called ethanol poisoning or alcohol poisoning). 

    As a central nervous system depressant, ethanol slows down your brain activity. An ethanol overdose occurs when you consume so much ethanol that your brain activity starts to shut down. This causes symptoms such as:

    • confusion
    • pale, clammy, or bluish skin
    • slow or irregular breathing
    • slow heart rate
    • nausea and vomiting
    • extremely low body temperature
    • trouble remaining conscious
    • seizures

    If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, call 911 right away. When left untreated, an ethanol overdose can be fatal. You face a much higher risk of deadly overdose if you drink pure ethanol. That’s because it’s so powerful. 

    Long-Term Risks

    People who abuse alcoholic beverages face a higher risk of various physical and mental health problems, including:

    • digestive problems
    • high blood pressure
    • heart disease
    • stroke
    • liver damage
    • weakened immune system
    • certain cancers, including breast cancer, esophagus cancer, and liver cancer
    • depression
    • anxiety
    • memory loss

    They may also develop alcohol use disorder.

    Alcohol Use Disorder

    Alcohol use disorder (also called alcohol addiction or alcohol dependence) is a disease that makes you feel unable to control your alcohol use. 

    The most common symptoms are tolerance and physical dependence. Tolerance means you need an increasingly larger or more frequent amount of alcohol to feel the desired effects. 

    Physical dependence means your body starts relying on alcohol to function normally. If you stop drinking, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

    • strong cravings for alcohol
    • anxiety
    • irritability
    • headache
    • trouble sleeping
    • shaking
    • sweating

    Other signs of alcohol use disorder may include:

    • mood swings
    • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
    • loss of motivation
    • trouble performing at work or school
    • decline in personal hygiene

    When left untreated, alcohol use disorder can damage your relationships with family and friends. It can also cause financial problems, job loss, and homelessness. 

    To learn about treatment options for ethanol abuse, please reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. 

    Our compassionate health care providers offer medical detox, behavioral therapy, and other evidence-based treatment options to help you or your loved one stay sober.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2021 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Article Sources

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Alcohol Use and Your Health
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - What Is A Standard Drink?
    National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on August 26, 2022
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