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Absinthe to Zombies - What is Alcohol?

Types, Uses & Permissible Limits

Alcohol is a colourless volatile flammable liquid which is produced by the natural fermentation of sugars. Microscopic organisms known as yeast are attracted to the sugars in fermented fruits. As the yeast feed on the fruit sugars they produce a compound called ethanol. This chemical process is called fermentation and produces Ethanol and carbon dioxide. Ethanol is the type of alcohol in alcoholic beverages like beer and wine.

With the invention of a process called distillation (process involving the conversion of a liquid into vapour), much more concentrated forms of alcohol were produced. Fermented liquids were boiled to evaporate the alcohol in them. The vapour that is captured and cooled is more concentrated than any fermented beverage. This form of distilled concentrated alcohol is called spirit/liquor. For example rum, brandy, gin, vodka contain distilled ethanol.

Alcohol is also found in some medicines, mouthwashes, household products, and essential oils.

Three Main Types of Alcohol

Primary alcohol produced is Ethanol. Secondary alcohols are the distilled forms of Ethanol as well as Methanol and Isopropanol.

1. Ethyl alcohol/ Ethanol :

It is known as grain alcohol and is produced by fermenting various sugars, yeast, and starches. An alcoholic drink is a drink that contains ethanol. This type of alcohol is known for its ability to alter mood and behaviour and has been used as a recreational drug for years. This is the only type of alcohol that can be metabolised by the human liver, if consumed in limited quantities. When overused, it can over time cause damage to organs like the liver and the brain.

Undistilled ethanol or fermented alcohol only goes through the fermentation process and is not clarified or refined in any way. There are hundreds of types of undistilled alcoholic drinks but the most popular ones are beer, wine, and cider.

Distilled ethanol is fermented ethanol that has been put through a distillation or purification process. The distillation process separates the alcohol from the fermented brew so that it becomes much more concentrated. Vodka, gin, brandy, whiskey, rum, and tequila being best-known distilled drinks. Because of their high alcohol content, it might be necessary to mix distilled drinks with water, soft drinks, or fruit juices to make them more palatable.

Ethyl Alcohol uses:

  • It is the main ingredient in alcoholic beverages

  • Used in perfumes, cosmetics, paints, detergents and inks

  • Used as fuel in motors

  • Used as food additives

  • Hand sanitizers and chemical wipes also contain ethanol

2. Methyl Alcohol:

It is sometimes called wood alcohol. It is most commonly used in manufacturing. This type of alcohol and its vapours are highly flammable and require special care for use and transportation. Methanol has an odour and appearance similar to ethanol. It is often deliberately and illegally added to alcoholic beverages as a cheaper alternative to ethanol. Low concentrations of naturally present methanol are not harmful, but higher concentrations may be extremely toxic.

Avoid purchasing or producing illegal alcoholic drinks. If you want to purchase alcohol, ensure it is only from trusted retailers. Avoid consuming mixed cocktails, homemade brews, and/or drinks priced far below those of normal/legitimate alcoholic beverages.

Methyl Alcohol uses:

  • Solvent for inks, adhesives, resins and dyes.

  • Used as paint removers

  • Found in engine coolants

  • Works to fuel cars and boats and keeps other fuels from freezing

  • Fuel for factories and for producing electricity.

  • Biodiesel is produced by reacting vegetable oils with methanol. Glycerol is produced as a by-product in the reaction.

  • Used to make plastics and some explosives

3. Isopropyl Alcohol:

It is also known as rubbing alcohol, and is primarily used for sterilisation. Isopropanol is entirely unsafe for drinking and can cause severe toxic effects if swallowed in large quantities.

Isopropyl Alcohol uses:

  • Used for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, tools, and human bodies

  • It is found in everyday cleaning products

  • Small amounts can be found in some cosmetics or lotions

  • Can also be used medically as an antiseptic due to its antibacterial properties

All three types of alcohol are toxic but only ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is safe for human consumption and therefore used in alcoholic beverages. However, long-term alcohol misuse is associated with liver and cardiovascular disease, cancer, and nervous system damage as well as psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, and antisocial personality disorder. Drinking any amount of isopropanol or methanol is extremely dangerous and can be fatal.

People who should NOT drink alcohol include:

  • Younger than age 21.

  • Pregnant or may be pregnant.

  • Driving, planning to drive, or participating in other activities requiring skill, coordination, and alertness.

  • Taking certain prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol.

  • Suffering from certain medical conditions.

  • Recovering from alcoholism or are unable to control the amount they drink.

Permissible Limits of Alcohol Consumption

In India, the permissible age of consuming alcohol differs from 18 years to 25 years and varies from state to state. However, a maximum number of states and union territories in India have a lawful drinking age of 21 years. Legal limits of alcohol consumption are set all over the world. The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 -Section 185 considers drink and drive as illegal in India and is punishable under the Indian Penal Court.

Permissible Blood Alcohol Limits while driving a light motor vehicle (e.g. passenger car) varies from country to country. But for all practical purposes one should not exceed one small drink before driving. It is very difficult to really define a safe limit of alcohol. In India, the permitted blood alcohol level is 30 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (30 grams of ethanol).

Guidelines advise that one drink per day for women, two for men is well within the moderate limits. A single drink is approximately:

  • 2 pints of beer (660ml). One is advised not to drink large bottles (750ml)

  • One large peg of whisky (60ml)

  • Two glasses of wine (200ml)

According to the Indian National Bar Association (INBA), drunkenness is defined as the condition produced in a person who has taken alcohol in a quantity sufficient to cause him to lose control of his faculties to such an extent that he is unable to execute the occupation on which he is engaged at the material time. Any person found drunk and incapable of controlling himself or behaves in a disorderly manner under the influence of alcohol, in a public place or in any place to which the public have or permitted to have access, shall on conviction, be punished with a fine or imprisonment.

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