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What is Alcohol? | Chemistry, Use Cases, Dosage & Side Effects

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Alcohol is one of the most widely used psychoactive substances in the world. It is a colorless and volatile liquid that is obtained by the fermentation of sugar or starch. Alcohol has been used by humans for thousands of years for various purposes, including religious ceremonies, social events, and medicinal purposes. 

However, despite its widespread use, alcohol can have significant negative effects on health and well-being, especially when consumed in excess. In this article, we will explore the chemistry of alcohol, its various use cases, recommended dosage, and potential side effects.

Chemical Composition 

Legal Status 


C₂H₆O Unscheduled CAS Number     64-17-5

PubChem CID     b702

Alcohol High Level Fact Sheet

Now, we will dive into the legal status of alcohol in the United States, its chemical composition, and its classification as a drug. Recognizing alcohol as a drug can help us better understand the risks associated with its use and the potential for abuse. So, let’s explore these topics in more detail.

Alcohol Chemical Composition

Alcohol is a class of organic compounds that contain a hydroxyl group (-OH) attached to a carbon atom. The most common type of alcohol is ethanol, which has the chemical formula C2H5OH. Ethanol is a clear, colorless liquid that is highly flammable and has a characteristic odor and taste. 

Alcohol Legal Status 

In the United States, the legal status of alcohol is regulated by individual states, and the legal drinking age is 21 years old in all states. The production, sale, and consumption of alcohol are legal at the federal level, but individual states have varying laws and regulations regarding alcohol. Overall, alcohol is an unscheduled substance in the USA.

Alcohol Clinical Data

Alcohol is not classified as a drug in the traditional sense, as it is not typically used to treat medical conditions. However, alcohol is a psychoactive substance that can have significant effects on the brain and body, and its use can lead to addiction, physical dependence, and a range of health problems. As such, it is often classified as a recreational drug or a substance of abuse.

Alcohol Use Cases:

Alcohol is a widely consumed psychoactive substance that has a long and complex history of use. While its use can have both positive and negative effects, it remains a popular substance for a variety of purposes, such as:


While alcohol is not commonly used for medical purposes in the same way that prescription drugs are, it does have some limited applications in certain medical settings. For example, alcohol can be used as an antiseptic to disinfect the skin before a medical procedure, and it is also used as a solvent for some medications. 

In addition, small amounts of alcohol have been shown to have potential health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Performance Enhancement:

Alcohol has been used for centuries as a performance-enhancing substance in a variety of settings. For example, some athletes and performers use alcohol to reduce anxiety and improve their confidence before a competition or performance. In addition, some people believe that alcohol can enhance creativity and improve social skills, although there is limited scientific evidence to support these claims.


Perhaps the most common use of alcohol is for recreational purposes, such as socializing, celebrating, and relaxing. Alcohol is a legal substance in most countries and is widely available for purchase and consumption by adults over a certain age. Many people enjoy drinking alcohol in moderation, as it can help to reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance social interactions.

Alcohol dosages by form and strength:

However, it’s important to remember that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a range of negative health effects and social problems, such as addiction, liver disease, cancer, and accidents and injuries. It’s important to drink responsibly and in moderation to reduce the risk of alcohol overdose, and to avoid driving or operating machinery while under the influence of alcohol.

There is no universally recommended dosage of alcohol as it depends on individual factors such as age, gender, weight, metabolism, and overall health. In general, drinking in moderation is considered safe and may have some potential health benefits.

Moderate alcohol consumption is typically defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. A standard drink in the United States is defined as containing about 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to:

  • 12 ounces of beer (about 5% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (about 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol)

It’s important to note that these are general guidelines and some people may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than others. In addition, drinking in moderation does not mean that there are no risks associated with alcohol consumption, and excessive drinking can lead to a range of negative health effects and social problems.

Alcohol Side Effects:

While drinking in moderation is generally considered safe, excessive or long-term alcohol use can lead to a range of negative health effects and social problems. Understanding the common and serious side effects of alcohol can help individuals make informed decisions about their drinking habits.

Common Side Effects on Alcohol:

Short-term side effects of alcohol can include:

  • Slurred speech and impaired coordination
  • Reduced inhibitions and poor judgment
  • Memory lapses and blackouts
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Dehydration and fatigue

These side effects are typically mild and resolve once alcohol is metabolized and eliminated from the body.

Serious Side Effects on Alcohol:

Excessive or long-term alcohol use can lead to more serious side effects, including:

  • Liver disease: Alcohol can cause inflammation and damage to the liver, leading to conditions such as alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
  • Cardiovascular disease: Heavy drinking can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Cancer: Alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including breast, liver, and colon cancer.
  • Mental health problems: Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a serious condition that can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

Alcohol Long Term Effects:

Long-term alcohol use can also lead to a range of chronic health problems, including:

  • Liver disease: Chronic alcohol use can lead to permanent liver damage, including cirrhosis and liver failure.
  • Brain damage: Alcohol can damage the brain, leading to cognitive impairment and memory problems.
  • Pancreatitis: Alcohol can cause inflammation of the pancreas, leading to chronic pancreatitis and digestive problems.
  • Cancer: Long-term alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer, including liver, breast, and colon cancer.

If you have concerns about your alcohol use or its impact on your health, it’s recommended to talk to a healthcare provider. 

Alcohol Addiction: 

Alcohol addiction, also known as alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a chronic disease characterized by the compulsive and uncontrolled consumption of alcohol despite its negative impact on physical, mental, and social health. 

Alcohol addiction can develop over time, as repeated alcohol use can lead to changes in the brain that make it difficult to control drinking behavior. People with AUD may experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit drinking, including anxiety, tremors, and even seizures. 

Treatment for alcohol addiction may involve a combination of medication, therapy, and support groups to help individuals manage their cravings and maintain sobriety. It’s important to seek professional help if you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, as this condition can have serious consequences on both physical and mental health.

Types of Drug Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

There are various types of drug treatments available for alcohol addiction, and the most suitable option will depend on individual needs and preferences. Here are some common types of drug treatment for alcohol addiction:

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT):

MAT involves using medications to help individuals manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings for alcohol. Medications like naltrexone, disulfiram, and acamprosate can be used in conjunction with therapy and support groups to help individuals maintain sobriety.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT):

CBT is a form of talk therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with alcohol addiction. This therapy can be delivered individually or in group settings, and it focuses on building coping skills and strategies to manage triggers and stressors.

Motivational interviewing:

Motivational interviewing is a counseling technique that helps individuals overcome ambivalence and build motivation for change. This therapy can be used to help individuals overcome resistance to treatment and build confidence in their ability to manage their addiction.

12-Step programs:

12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are peer support groups that offer a structured program for individuals to work through the steps of recovery. These programs provide a supportive community of individuals who are going through similar experiences and can offer guidance and encouragement.

Holistic therapies:

Holistic therapies like yoga, meditation, and art therapy can be used to complement traditional treatments for alcohol addiction. These therapies focus on improving overall well-being and can help individuals manage stress and anxiety associated with recovery.

In summary, there are various types of drug treatments available for alcohol addiction, and the most effective treatment will depend on individual needs and preferences. It’s important to seek professional help to determine the best course of treatment and to receive support throughout the recovery process.

Alcohol Withdrawal:  

Alcohol withdrawal refers to the physical and psychological symptoms that occur when individuals who are dependent on alcohol abruptly stop or significantly reduce their alcohol intake. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and can last for several days or even weeks, depending on the severity of the addiction.

Some common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Tremors or shaking
  • Sweating and rapid heartbeat
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Seizures in severe cases

It’s important to seek professional help when experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms, as medical supervision and support can help individuals manage symptoms and prevent complications. 

Commonly Seen Alcohol Drug Combinations: 

Combining alcohol with other drugs can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. The effects of mixing alcohol with other drugs can be unpredictable, as each drug can affect the body differently and amplify the effects of the other. Here are three commonly seen alcohol drug combinations and their effects:

  1. Alcohol and methamphetamine: Mixing alcohol with methamphetamine can be particularly dangerous, as the effects of these drugs can amplify each other. Methamphetamine is a stimulant that can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, making it difficult to know how intoxicated one really is. This can lead to risky behaviors, poor judgment, and increased risk of overdose.
  2. Alcohol and benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium are commonly prescribed for anxiety and can be highly addictive. When mixed with alcohol, benzodiazepines can increase the effects of alcohol and cause dangerous respiratory depression, which can lead to coma or death. This combination can also impair cognitive and motor functions, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.
  3. Alcohol and opioids: Opioids like heroin and prescription painkillers can depress the central nervous system, leading to slowed breathing and heart rate. When combined with alcohol, these effects can be amplified, leading to respiratory depression, coma, and death. This combination can also increase the risk of accidental overdose and can be particularly dangerous for individuals who have a history of substance abuse.
  4. Alcohol and marijuana: Mixing alcohol with marijuana can lead to increased impairment and cognitive effects. It can also increase the risk of accidents and injuries, especially when driving or operating heavy machinery. The effects of this combination can vary depending on the amount of alcohol and marijuana consumed, as well as individual tolerance levels.

It’s important to note that mixing alcohol with any drug can have dangerous and unpredictable effects. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, seek professional help to find safe and effective treatment options.

Alcohol Facts and Statistics:

Alcohol is a commonly consumed substance worldwide, and its use can have both short-term and long-term effects on health and well-being. Here are some common alcohol facts and statistics:

  1. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can impair cognitive and motor functions, leading to slowed reaction time, poor judgment, and decreased coordination.
  2. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 14.5 million adults aged 18 and older had alcohol use disorder in the United States in 2019.
  3. According to the World Health Organization, harmful use of alcohol is responsible for approximately 3 million deaths each year worldwide.
  4. Alcohol is a factor in many accidents, injuries, and deaths. In 2019, an estimated 10,142 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the United States.
  5. The legal drinking age in the United States is 21, but underage drinking is still a common problem. In 2019, an estimated 7.2 million people aged 12-20 reported drinking alcohol in the past month.
  6. Binge drinking, defined as consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time, can have serious short-term and long-term health consequences. In 2019, an estimated 24.6% of adults aged 18 and older reported binge drinking in the past month.

Alcohol History and Cultural Impact:

Alcohol has a long and complex history, dating back thousands of years to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The first recorded use of alcohol as a beverage dates back to around 7,000 BCE in China, where people made fermented beverages from rice, honey, and fruit.

Throughout history, alcohol has played an important role in social and cultural traditions around the world. In many cultures, alcohol is used to mark important events and celebrations, and it is often associated with relaxation and socializing.

In more recent times, alcohol has been the subject of numerous legal and social controversies. The Prohibition era in the United States, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, saw the government attempt to ban the production and sale of alcohol in an effort to curb its negative social and health effects. While the ban was ultimately repealed, it had a lasting impact on American society and popular culture.

Famous cases related to alcohol include the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a high school teacher was accused of teaching evolution in violation of Tennessee state law. The trial was notable for the fact that the prosecution relied heavily on the fact that the teacher had been seen drinking alcohol.

Alcohol has also been a frequent subject of popular culture, with numerous movies and TV shows exploring its effects on individuals and society. Famous movies on the topic include “Leaving Las Vegas,” “The Lost Weekend,” and “Days of Wine and Roses.”

Throughout history, many famous personalities have been associated with alcohol use, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Winston Churchill. While alcohol has been celebrated in some circles, it has also been linked to a range of social and health problems, including addiction, liver disease, and drunk driving accidents.

Today, alcohol continues to be a major part of social and cultural life around the world, with millions of people consuming it on a regular basis. While its impact on society is complex and multifaceted, it remains an important topic for discussion and study. 

Alcohol Identifiers

Here is the list of alcohol identifiers: 

Identifiers Name Identifiers Code
CAS Number 64-17-5
PubChem CID 702
DrugBank DB00898
ChemSpider 682
UNII 3K9958V90M
KEGG D00068
ChEBI 6236
ChEMBL 545

Bottom Line: Alcohol in the United States 

 Alcohol is a legal and widely used substance in the United States, with millions of people consuming it on a regular basis. While moderate alcohol consumption can have some health benefits, excessive and prolonged use can lead to a range of negative social and health effects, including addiction, liver disease, and drunk driving accidents.

For individuals struggling with alcohol addiction, a range of treatment options are available, including inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs. It is important for those who consume alcohol to be aware of its potential risks and to drink responsibly, and for society as a whole to continue to explore ways to address the negative impact of excessive alcohol consumption.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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