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Alcohol (drug)

Active ingredient in alcoholic beverages / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Alcohol, sometimes referred to by the chemical name ethanol, is a depressant drug that is the active ingredient in drinks such as beer, wine, and distilled spirits (hard liquor).[11] It is one of the oldest and most commonly consumed recreational drugs, causing the characteristic effects of alcohol intoxication ("drunkenness").[12] Among other effects, alcohol produces happiness and euphoria, decreased anxiety, increased sociability, sedation, impairment of cognitive, memory, motor, and sensory function, and generalized depression of central nervous system (CNS) function.

Quick facts: Clinical data, Pronunciation, Other names, De...
Skeletal formula of ethanol
Ball-and-stick model of ethanol Space-filling model of ethanol
Clinical data
Other namesAbsolute alcohol; Alcohol (USPTooltip United States Pharmacopeia); Cologne spirit; Drinking alcohol; Ethanol (JANTooltip Japanese Accepted Name); Ethylic alcohol; EtOH; Ethyl alcohol; Ethyl hydrate; Ethyl hydroxide; Ethylol; Grain alcohol; Hydroxyethane; Methylcarbinol
Moderate (10–15%)[2]
Routes of
Common: Oral
Uncommon: suppository, inhalation, ocular, insufflation, injection[3]
Drug classAnalgesic; Depressants; Sedatives; Anxiolytics; Euphoriants; GABAA receptor positive modulators Neurotoxins;
ATC code
Legal status
Legal status
Pharmacokinetic data
Protein bindingWeakly or not at all[4][5]
MetabolismLiver (90%):[6][7]
Alcohol dehydrogenase
MetabolitesAcetaldehyde; Acetic acid; Acetyl-CoA; Carbon dioxide; Water; Ethyl glucuronide; Ethyl sulfate
Onset of actionPeak concentrations:[6][4]
• Range: 30–90 minutes
• Mean: 45–60 minutes
Fasting: 30 minutes
Elimination half-lifeConstant-rate elimination at typical concentrations:[8][7][6]
• Range: 10–34 mg/dL/hour
• Mean (men): 15 mg/dL/hour
• Mean (women): 18 mg/dL/hr
At very high concentrations (t1/2): 4.0–4.5 hours[5][4]
Duration of action6–16 hours (amount of time that levels are detectable)[9]
Excretion• Major: metabolism (into carbon dioxide and water)[4]
• Minor: urine, breath, sweat (5–10%)[6][4]
  • ethanol
CAS Number
PubChem CID
PDB ligand
Chemical and physical data
Molar mass46.069 g·mol−1
3D model (JSmol)
Density0.7893 g/cm3 (at 20 °C)[10]
Melting point−114.14 ± 0.03 °C (−173.45 ± 0.05 °F) [10]
Boiling point78.24 ± 0.09 °C (172.83 ± 0.16 °F) [10]
Solubility in waterMiscible mg/mL (20 °C)
  • CCO
  • InChI=1S/C2H6O/c1-2-3/h3H,2H2,1H3

Ethanol is only one of several types of alcohol; other alcohols such as methanol and isopropyl alcohol are significantly more toxic.[11] A mild, brief exposure to isopropyl alcohol (which is only moderately more toxic than ethanol) is unlikely to cause any serious harm, but methanol is lethal even in small quantities, as little as 10–15 milliliters (2–3 teaspoons).[citation needed] However, several analogues that naturally occur as psychoactive alcohols in alcoholic drinks are less toxic than ethanol. Unlike primary alcohols like ethanol, tertiary alcohols cannot be oxidized into aldehyde or carboxylic acid metabolites, which are often toxic. For example, the tertiary alcohol 2M2B is 20 times more potent than ethanol, and has been used recreationally.

Alcohol has a variety of short-term and long-term adverse effects. Short-term adverse effects include generalized impairment of neurocognitive function, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and hangover-like symptoms. Alcohol is addictive to humans, and can result in alcohol use disorder, dependence and withdrawal. It can have a variety of long-term adverse effects on health, such as liver and brain damage,[13][14][15] and its consumption can cause cancer.[16] The adverse effects of alcohol on health are most important when it is used in excessive quantities or with heavy frequency. However, some of them, such as increased risk of certain cancers, may occur even with light or moderate alcohol consumption.[17][18] In high amounts, alcohol may cause loss of consciousness or, in severe cases, death.

Alcohol works in the brain primarily by increasing the effects of γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA),[19] the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain; by facilitating GABA's actions, alcohol suppresses the activity of the CNS.[19] The substance also directly affects a number of other neurotransmitter systems including those of glutamate, glycine, acetylcholine, and serotonin.[20][21] The pleasurable effects of alcohol ingestion are the result of increased levels of dopamine and endogenous opioids in the reward pathways of the brain.[22][23] Alcohol also has toxic and unpleasant actions in the body, many of which are mediated by its byproduct acetaldehyde.[24]