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Although the term alcohol applies to any organic compound with a hydroxyl group, when we say “alcohol” we usually mean "ethanol".

Ethanol is also known as grain alcohol and it is a colorless, volatile liquid with a strong smell formed by the fermentation of sugars.
Alcohol is probably the world's oldest known drug. Alcohol industry is a big business in today's society and the consumption and abuse of alcohol have become a major public health problem. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Doctors are particularly worried about an apparent increase in the number of teenagers who are drinking heavily.

Factors that influence how alcohol will affect a person include:

  • age
  • gender
  • physical condition
  • amount of food eaten
  • other drugs or medicines taken

Chronic drinking can lead to addiction to alcohol and to additional neurological problems. Typical withdrowal symptoms in someone who is addicted to it are shaking, sleep problems and nausea.

Incidence and history of alcohol use

In 1997, Americans drank an average of 2 gallons (7.57 liters) of alcohol per person. This translates roughly into one six-pack of beer, two glasses of wine and three or four mixed drinks per week. About 35 percent of adults don't consume alcohol, so the numbers are actually higher for those who do. Alcohol is an amazingly popular social phenomenon. Alcoholic beverages have been widely consumed since prehistoric times by people around the world. It was being used as a component of the standard diet, for hygienic or medical reasons, for their relaxant and euphoric effects, for recreational purposes, for artistic inspiration, as aphrodisiacs, and for other reasons. 

Structure of alcohol

Ethanol, the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages, is almost always produced by a process called fermentation. Fermentation is in fact the metabolism of carbohydrates by certain species of yeast in the absence of oxygen. Alcoholic beverages with a concentration of more than 50% ethanol by volume are extremely flammable liquids and easily ignited. Flavoring ethanol has also become a sort of ritual! Ethanol is a moderately good solvent for many fat substances and essential oils, and thus facilitates the inclusion of several coloring, flavoring, and aromatic compounds to alcoholic beverages, especially to distilled ones.
Sometimes the flavor is obtained by allowing the beverage to stand for months or years in barrels made of special wood.

Symptoms of alcohol usage

In low doses, alcohol produces:

  • a relaxing effect
  • reduces tension
  • lowers inhibitions
  • impairs concentration
  • slows reflexes
  • impairs reaction time
  • reduces coordination

In medium doses, alcohol produces:

  • slur speech
  • cause drowsiness
  • alter emotions

In high doses, alcohol produces:

  • vomiting
  • breathing difficulties
  • unconsciousness
  • coma
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