An alcoholic beverage is a drink containing ethanol, commonly known as alcohol, although in chemistry the definition of alcohol includes many other compounds. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three general classes: beers, wines, and spirits.
Ethanol is a psychoactive drug that has a depressant effect. Most countries restrict and regulate alcohol sales and consumption; for example, they place legal drinking-age restrictions upon the sale of alcoholic drinks to young people to try and prevent alcohol abuse leading to alcohol rehabilitation. The manufacture and consumption of alcohol occurs in most cultures and societies of the world, from hunter-gatherer peoples to nation-states. The drinking of alcoholic beverages is very often an important part of social events in such societies, and it can be an important aspect of a community’s culture.
We do always have to remember though that alcohol is a drug, and that when consumed and relied on on a dependable basis over a period of time this leads to alcoholism. If you know someone, or you yourself are dependant on alcohol and want to find freedom then please apply to the Teen Challenge drug rehab programme to find the necessary help.
Ethanol is only slightly toxic compared to other alcohols, but has significant psychoactive effects. A significant blood alcohol content may be considered legal drunkenness as it reduces attention and slows reaction speed. Alcoholic beverages can be addictive and the state of addiction to ethanol is known as alcoholism.
Ethanol (CH3CH2OH), the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks, for consumption purposes is always produced by fermentation – the metabolism of carbohydrates - by certain species of yeast in the absence of oxygen. The process of culturing yeast under alcohol-producing conditions is referred to as brewing. The same process produces carbon dioxide in situ, and may be used to carbonate the drink. However, this method leaves yeast residues and on the industrial scale, carbonation is usually done separately.
Drinks with a concentration of more than 50% ethanol by volume (100 US proof) are flammable liquids and easily ignited. Some exotic drinks gain their distinctive flavors through intentional ignition, such as the Flaming Dr Pepper. Spirits with a higher ethanol content can be ignited with ease by heating slightly, e.g. adding the spirit to a warmed shot glass.
The concentration of alcohol in a drink may be specified in percent alcohol by volume (ABV), in percentage by weight (sometimes abbreviated w/w for weight for weight), or in proof. In the USA, the 'proof' measurement is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (e.g., 80 proof = 40% ABV). Degrees proof were formerly used in the UK where 100 degrees proof was 57.1% ABV (historically, the most dilute spirit which would sustain the combustion of gunpowder). Common distillation cannot exceed 191.2 proof (USA) because at that point ethanol is an azeotrope with water. Alcohols of this purity are commonly referred to as grain alcohol and are not meant for human consumption, with the notable exception of neutral grain spirits.
Most yeasts cannot grow when the concentration of alcohol is higher than about 18% by volume, so that is a practical limit for the strength of fermented beverages such as wine, beer, and sake. Strains of yeast have been developed that can survive in solutions of up to 25% alcohol by volume, but these were bred for ethanol fuel production, not beverage production. Spirits are produced by distillation of a fermented product, concentrating the alcohol and eliminating some of the by-products.
Unsweetened, distilled alcoholic beverages with an alcohol content of more than 30% ABV are called spirits. Sweetened beverages with a high alcohol content are usually called liqueurs. Spirits are sometimes added to wines, creating fortified wines such as port and sherry.
Some studies have suggested that in moderation, alcohol consumption has significant health benefits. These include a lower risk of heart attack, lower risk of diabetes, lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, reduced risk of stroke, and an increase in overall longevity.
Alcohol intoxication affects the brain, causing slurred speech, clumsiness, and delayed reflexes. The condition is called alcohol intoxication or drunkenness, and eventually subsides. Alcohol stimulates insulin production, which speeds up the glucose metabolism and can result in low blood sugar, causing irritability. In excess, the poisoning can be severe, even lethal. A blood-alcohol content of .45% represents the LD50, or the amount which would prove fatal in 50% of test subjects. This is about six times the level of intoxication (0.08%), but vomiting and/or unconsciousness are triggered much sooner in people with a low tolerance, among whom such high levels are rarely reached unless a large amount of alcohol is consumed very quickly. However, chronic heavy drinkers' high tolerance may allow some of them to remain conscious at levels above .4%, despite the serious health dangers.