Drug and Alcohol

EtOH: What is EtOH Abuse, its Effects, & its Treatment

Do you know what EtOH addiction is? Here's a hint: it's one of the most addictive substances in the world. Read our blog to learn more about EtOH.

EtOH: What is EtOH Abuse, its Effects, & its Treatment

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

June 14, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

EtOH is the chemical abbreviation for alcohol, one of the most commonly abused addictive drugs in the world.

Alcohol abuse comes in different forms, such as drinking alcohol in large quantities in a short time (binge drinking) or drinking heavily regularly (heavy drinking). There can be various adverse consequences due to alcohol consumption which can reflect in personal, social, or even financial aspects.

These consequences affect the daily life activities of an individual.

It’s important to treat EtOH abuse right away, or it will simply get worse. Following an alcohol detox or treatment plan can help in overcoming the addiction.

Stats on EtOH Abuse:

According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2019, around 14.5 million people who were of age 12 years and above were estimated to be suffering from alcohol addiction. 

What is EtOH?

Ethanol is also known as ethyl alcohol or EtOH. It is a clear and colorless liquid having a distinctive odor. It is usually used as a fuel, beverage, and solvent. This particular type of alcohol is typically found in alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and spirits.

Additionally, it is utilized as a fuel, a solvent, and a component in household and personal care products.

Chemically, ethanol belongs to the alcohol family and has the molecular formula C₂H₅OH. Its structure consists of a two-carbon chain (ethyl group) bonded to a hydroxyl group (-OH). The hydroxyl group is responsible for the characteristic properties of ethanol and its ability to form hydrogen bonds.

How is EtOH Produced?

EtOH is primarily produced through the fermentation of sugars by yeast or bacteria. This process, known as ethanol fermentation, involves the conversion of carbohydrates (such as glucose and sucrose) into ethanol and carbon dioxide. It is commonly used to produce alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, and spirits. During fermentation, yeast enzymes break down the sugar molecules into ethanol and release carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

In moderation, EtOH is generally harmless. However, intake in larger quantities can cause several health issues, such as liver damage, brain damage, and even addiction.  Also, intake of the pure form of ethyl alcohol can cause damage to the eyes, skin, and internal organs.

What Does EtOH Do in the Body?

When a person drinks alcohol, it first enters the stomach. Then, it enters the small intestine. From there, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. Most alcohol is actually absorbed in the small intestine; only around 20% of a drink is absorbed in the stomach.

The next step involves the liver. EtOH is broken down, or metabolized, by the liver. A healthy liver only metabolizes around an ounce of liquor an hour. Liquor the liver can’t metabolize builds up in the bloodstream, which is why we feel drunk. This also increases our BAC: Blood alcohol content.

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What is Blood Alcohol Content (BAC)?

Blood alcohol content (BAC) is how law enforcement agencies and researchers gauge how much a person has had to drink…and how drunk they are. BAC measures how much alcohol is in the blood. Here’s an example: having a BAC of .10 means you have one part of alcohol per every thousand parts of blood.

BAC has a wide range. For example, a BAC of 0.03 means you might not even feel the effects of alcohol. 0.08 BAC is the legal limit in the US. A BAC of around 0.14 means a person is extremely drunk.

Finally, a BAC in the range of 0.30 and 0.60 is often a lethal dose of alcohol.

EtOH: How Much is Too Much?

This is a very common question, but it’s not that simple to answer. Many factors determine how alcohol affects a person: weight, gender, their age, whether they’ve been eating while drinking, and so on.

So, to resolve this, researchers developed a method called a standard drink. This helps them measure how much alcohol people drink. Basically, you can break down a standard drink like this:

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled, 40% liquor

  • 5 ounces of wine, which is around 12% alcohol

  • 12 ounces of 5% beer

Keep in mind, though, that alcoholism is less about how much a person drinks and more about what happens when a person drinks.

EtOH Addiction and its Side Effects

Alcohol use disorder is also referred to as alcoholism. This refers to the condition where one is not able to stop drinking despite its negative consequences. The condition worsens with time due to other co-occurring problems, making it more difficult to diagnose and maintain the treatment program.

Below are the few co-occurring diseases often linked to EtOH addiction.

Liver Disease

The body's metabolism of alcohol is mostly controlled by the liver. Alcoholism that is excessive and long-term can cause cirrhosis, fatty liver, and alcoholic hepatitis, among other liver diseases. The severity of these disorders can range from minor inflammation to permanent scarring and liver failure.

The advancement of liver damage and the risk of complications and mortality can both be accelerated by alcoholism and liver disease.

Cardiovascular Disease

Heavy alcohol consumption often increases the risk of diseases such as high blood pressure or even heart failure. EtOH can interfere with the heart's and blood vessels' natural operation, causing long-term harm and a rise in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

Alcoholism that coexists can increase these risks and hinder managing and treating cardiovascular diseases.

Mental Health Disorders

Alcoholism and various kinds of mental health illnesses frequently co-occur, making things difficult and complex for those affected. Alcoholism is frequently observed along with illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Alcohol use and mental health are frequently inversely correlated.

In contrast, some people use EtOH to self-medicate emotional pain; excessive alcohol use can exacerbate mental health symptoms and has been linked to the emergence of psychiatric diseases.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Chronic EtOH abuse may cause damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal system, resulting in diseases like pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), peptic ulcers, and gastrointestinal bleeding.

In addition to affecting digestion and food absorption, co-occurring gastrointestinal diseases and alcohol addiction can raise the risk of complications and make recovery more complex.

Respiratory Disorders

EtOH addiction directly affects the respiratory system. It increases the risk of other associated infections such as TB, pneumonia, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). EtOH addiction leads to the weakening of the immune system and makes the body more susceptible to other infections. This affects the body's ability to fight off these infections, making the person more vulnerable.

Neurological Disorders

Alcoholism can significantly impact the nervous system and brain. Neurological conditions, including Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which combines Wernicke's encephalopathy and Korsakoff's syndrome. It’s also known as wet brain syndrome. Alcoholic dementia can be brought on by prolonged EtOH abuse.

These diseases can cause cognitive deficiencies, memory loss, and personality and behavior abnormalities.

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What are the Symptoms of EtOH Addiction?

There are various symptoms of EtOH addiction which can vary depending on the severity of the addiction. However, some of the common symptoms have been listed below:

Cravings

Individuals with EtOH addiction often experience an intense urge or craving to consume alcohol. These cravings can be triggered by environmental cues, social situations, or even emotional distress.

Tolerance

Consumption of alcohol over some time can lead to tolerance. This means a person has to drink more to feel the same effects.

Loss of Control

Due to excessive drinking, people often lose their control over alcohol intake. They often make several attempts to cut their alcohol intake but often binge drink.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms begin to appear when consumption of alcohol is stopped or reduced significantly. These symptoms can vary from tremors to seizures. It becomes challenging and frustrating to deal with these symptoms; eventually, individuals continue their drinking routine.

Neglecting Responsibilities

EtOH addiction can cause individuals to neglect their work, school, or home responsibilities. They may have poor performance, frequent absences, or difficulty maintaining relationships due to their preoccupation with alcohol and its effects.

Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences

Even when faced with adverse consequences, such as legal issues, financial problems, deteriorating health, or damaged relationships, individuals with EtOH addiction persist in their alcohol use.

Increased Time Spent Using EtOH

As the addiction increases, more time is devoted to obtaining, using, and recovering from alcohol. This can lead to neglect of hobbies, social activities, and personal interests.

Loss of Interest in Other Activities

Individuals may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, preferring to drink EtOH instead. This can lead to social isolation and a narrowing of their focus solely on alcohol-related activities.

Physical Health Problems

Chronic EtOH use can result in various physical health complications, including liver disease, gastrointestinal issues, pancreatitis, weakened immune system, and increased risk of certain cancers.

Psychological and Emotional Disturbances

EtOH addiction can contribute to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, and cognitive impairment. Alcohol can act as a depressant, exacerbating underlying mental health conditions.

What are the Causes of EtOH Addiction?

Various causes eventually lead to EtOH addiction. They encompass genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some of the critical factors that lead to the development of EtOH addiction have been listed below:

Genetic Factors

Genetic factors play an essential role in determining the addiction to alcohol. There can be inherited vulnerability to develop an addiction, while others may not be due to genetic predisposition. Genetic factors influence an individual's sensitivity, risk of developing addiction, and tolerance.

Brain Chemistry and Neurotransmitters

Alcohol affects the brain's reward system, which involves the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Regular and excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the balance of these neurotransmitters, leading to changes in brain chemistry and creating a cycle of addiction.

Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to EtOH and requires it to function normally, leading to dependence.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors play a significant role in EtOH addiction. For example, a person growing up in a family where it is common to see alcohol addiction is likelier to become an addict. Along with these factors, societal code, alcohol availability, and peer groups play a crucial role. These factors can directly impact the likelihood of the development of addiction.

Thus, society and the environment can act as major deciding factors in the development of addiction.

Psychological Factors

People often begin EtOH consumption due to various psychological factors such as low self-esteem, high-stress levels, unhealthy lifestyle, or even under peer pressure. Often individuals suffering from depression, trauma, and stress are relatively more vulnerable to developing addiction.

The main reason is that alcohol provides temporary relief from their emotional pain and provides relaxation and an escape from harsh reality.

Social and Cultural Factors

Social and cultural factors also contribute to alcohol addiction. Cultural norms, social acceptance of heavy or binge drinking, and peer pressure can influence an individual's alcohol consumption patterns. Additionally, the availability and accessibility of alcohol, advertising, and media influence can shape attitudes and behaviors toward drinking.

Co-Occurring Disorders

EtOH addiction often coexists with other mental health disorders, known as co-occurring or dual diagnosis. Alcohol may be used as a form of self-medication to alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. However, this self-medication can lead to a cycle of addiction and worsen the underlying conditions.

Treatment of EtOH Addiction

EtOH addiction requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach to treat EtOH addiction. Also, various factors, such as the history of previous addiction or co-occurring diseases, can affect the treatment process.

Various treatment approaches available to combat EtOH addiction have been listed below:

Detoxification

The first phase of treatment starts with the detoxification process. It includes medication for various symptoms such as anxiety, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It is performed under medical supervision.

Medications

Several medications may be prescribed as part of the treatment for EtOH addiction. These medications help reduce alcohol cravings, manage withdrawal symptoms, and prevent relapse. Some commonly used medications include:

  • Naltrexone: It is used to reduce the cravings and pleasurable effects of alcohol.

  • Acamprosate: It helps restore the chemical balance in the brain disrupted by chronic alcohol use and reduces cravings.

  • Disulfiram: It creates an unpleasant reaction when alcohol is consumed, acting as a deterrent to drinking.

  • Benzodiazepines: They may be used during the detoxification phase to manage severe withdrawal symptoms.

Behavioral Therapies for EtOH Abuse

Behavioral therapies are a crucial component of alcohol addiction treatment. These therapies address addiction's psychological and behavioral aspects and help individuals develop coping skills and strategies to maintain sobriety. Some commonly used behavioral therapies include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This focuses on identifying and modifying unhealthy thoughts and behaviors related to alcohol use.

  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): It helps individuals find motivation and commit to changing their drinking behavior.

  • Contingency Management: It provides rewards for staying away from alcohol and achieving treatment goals.

  • 12-Step Facilitation Therapy: It is based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and emphasizes self-help and support from a community of peers.

  • Dual Diagnosis Treatment: Many individuals with alcohol addiction may also have underlying mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Dual-diagnosis treatment simultaneously addresses addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions to ensure comprehensive care and improve long-term outcomes.

  • Lifestyle Changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle is crucial for maintaining sobriety. This may involve changing diet, exercise, sleep patterns, and stress management techniques. Healthy lifestyle habits can contribute to overall well-being and reduce the risk of relapse.

  • Relapse Prevention: The major challenge in achieving success in recovery is relapse. Hence, an effective relapse prevention plan is required. It needs to be thoroughly prepared by analyzing the high-risk situations which can cause relapse.

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EtOH Addiction is Lethal if Left Untreated. The Forge Recovery Center Provides Expert Care for Alcohol Abuse

The Forge Treatment Center offers a holistic, evidence-based treatment program to overcome EtOH addiction. We approach each patient with empathy, respect, and nonjudgment because we have an in-depth knowledge of the peculiarities of alcohol addiction. This helps us create an environment of compassion favorable to healing.

We’ve helped people rebuild lives broken by EtOH abuse by providing them with a successful path to healing and recovery with the help of care, cutting-edge addiction medicine, and a comprehensive treatment program.

If you want to learn more about The Forge Recovery Center and our EtOH treatment program, please reach out today.

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