Ethanol, Chemistry of Alcohol
Dr. Sidney Cohen, a drug abuse expert, described alcohol as "the most
dangerous drug on earth." There are a variety of drinking patterns and the range
of injury among alcohol abusers is great. Some are mildly injured and can
recover on their own with the right tools and techniques. Others are critically
injured, need hospitalization and prolonged rehabilitation with custodian
supervision. The challenge to a heavy drinker is not just to stop drinking for a
while, but to stop forever.
Ethanol is a 2-carbon alcohol, responsible for the behavior-altering effects
of Alcoholic Beverages, and for the devastation of the social and physical well
being of alcoholics and their communities. This alcohol is a simple molecule, a
carbohydrate, which is "burned" as a fuel supplying energy to cells. Ethanol in
its disguise as a fuel can be considered a non-essential nutrient. But before it
is metabolized as a fuel, it is an active brain-drug and an all-purpose cellular
As a brain drug, ethanol acts to depress brain function from the top down,
very much in the style of an anesthetic. With low blood concentration, the
cortical depression of ethanol seems to release behaviors that are otherwise
inhibited. At this low level of mind intoxication, ethanol is useful and
possibly pleasant. The relaxation of inhibitions releases playful behavior and
laughter, promotes chatty talk, and facilitates socialization. If the use of
AB's were constrained to occasional, low-dose cortical inhibition, we would
likely praise AB's as socially useful drugs.
Even low doses of alcohol interfere with memory and make it difficult for the
hippocampus to process new information. "Somebody who drinks too much, the next
day doesn't remember what happened during that time, but yet at the same time
has the ability, unfortunately in certain cases, to drive home after drinking a
With increasing doses, ethanol depresses more and more brain functions,
rendering the intoxicant temporarily demented, with inappropriate behavior,
incoordination, and poor judgment. The stubborn, irritable drunk often argues
unreasonably; belligerent outbursts are characteristic of heavy intoxication. In
many alcohol abusers, AB's release violent aggressive behaviors and result in
fighting, assaults, and death by accident or murder.
The AB-intoxicated driver accounts for the majority of car accidents and road
fatalities. Social attitudes are now changing, as the obvious relationship of AB
and highway carnage is finally acknowledged. The belligerence and family
violence of the drunk is the next level of criminal behavior which legislators
will seek to better control. Women are the most vulnerable people when married
to alcoholics and physical abuse of women is often related to male alcoholism.
Children are the most vulnerable people when mother and/or father is an
Metabolism of Ethanol
The metabolism and toxicology of ethanol has been extensively studied. AB,
like syphilis, are the "Great Imitators," since regular ingestion of AB in
excess produces so many disease patterns involving every part of the body. Even
moderate alcohol abuse distorts the personality, emotions, and intellect of the
"social drinker," producing the commonest patterns of psychopathology which
afflict our society. The personality distortion is a direct consequence of brain
dysfunction cause by ethanol and other chemical pathogens in AB's.
Ethanol supplies cells with energy and replaces other foods at the level of
basic fuel. Ethanol is metabolized to carbon dioxide and water with 2% being
lost through the urine and through respiration. The rate of oxidation is about
75 mg per kilogram of body weight per hour. About half of a group of middle
class alcoholics obtained 20 to 39 percent of their dietary calories from ABs
while about one third of the individuals obtained between 40 and 59 percent. ABs
had displaced other carbohydrates as a source of calories. The calories provided
by an AB may be calculated by means of the following formula:
0.8 x proof x ounces = kilocalories.
The calorie contribution from the ethanol in wine or beer can be calculated
by multiplying the percent alcohol by volume by two, and using this figure as
the proof of the beverage. The oxidation of alcohol occurs in the following
1. Ethanol ---> Acetaldehyde
2. Acetaldehyde ---> Acetate
3. Acetate ----> Carbon Dioxide + Water
Ethanol has a variable effect on body weight. It is ketogenic; ketones (like
acetaldehyde) may produce a rapid weight loss of several pounds. Acetaldehyde is
particularly toxic. The drug, disulfiram (Antabuse) impairs the enzymatic
degradation of acetaldehyde. The accumulation of this chemical causes flushing
of the face, shortness of breath, headache, fast and often irregular heart
action, nausea, vomiting, weakness, fainting or collapse. Recovery follows in
hours, after the ethanol and acetaldehyde have been metabolized. A person taking
Antabuse is warned that even a small drink will make them ill. The immediate,
rather than delayed, symptoms of AB ingestion are supposed to deter drinking.
Ethanol interferes with carbohydrate energy metabolism. Liver and muscle
glycogen are depleted.
As cellular toxin, ethanol is catabolic and promotes structural tissue loss.
The catabolic effect causes a greater loss of weight than caloric input can
replace in the form of fat stores. Typically, fat distribution shifts to the
belly and trunk, leaving the extremities skinny and weak. Men often grow female
breasts, as estrogen accumulates in their system. Their psyches follow their
body degeneration. Macho men turn to mushos and amygdaloids (people who have
lost control of their rage response). There are a host of body responses to
ethanol ingestion as it acts in its drug/chemical pathogenic role.