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There are three different types of alcohol available for consumer use: ethyl alcohol, methyl alcohol and isopropanol alcohol. Ethyl, or grain alcohol, is found in alcoholic beverages while isopropanol and ethyl alcohol have medicinal, antiseptic and mechanical uses.
1) Ethyl (grain) alcohol
Ethyl (grain) alcohol is the kind of alcohol we consume in beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages. The level of dilution of grain alcohol in alcoholic beverages is called the “proof” of that beverage. For example, whiskey that is labeled 80 proof means its ethyl alcohol content has been diluted 20 percent. The higher the proof, the more alcoholic is that beverage.
Ethyl alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Drinking one beer or one shot of whiskey will have noticeable effects on your breathing, heart rate, speech, movements and visual/auditory perceptions. Drinking more than two or more beers or shots will also cause the following:
- Inability to sense pain, cold or heat (this is why doctors warn against drinking alcohol outside when the temperature are hot or below freezing)
- Vomiting/rapid onset of dehydration
- Inability to make rational decisions/loss of judgmental capacity
- Slurring speech
- Difficulty walking a straight line
- Extreme sedation
- Slowed breathing
Ethyl alcohol poisoning is a serious condition that could result in coma and/or death. Toxic amounts of alcohol in the body accumulate when the person drinks too much, too rapidly, and the liver cannot metabolize alcohol fast enough to prevent it from poisoning the body.
Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- Reduced respiratory rate (less then nine breaths per minute)
- Pale or bluish skin and lips
- Muscle tremors
- Vomiting while unconscious and remaining unconscious
- Hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature
- Inability to be roused out of a sleep state
Emergency treatment of ethyl alcohol poisoning is essential by a medical professional. It is comparable to treating overdoses involving different types of alcohol.
Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol is a disinfecting and cooling substance used by physicians and as a common household cleaner and sterilizer. The main ingredient in isopropyl is propene, a by-product of fermentation and vegetation processes that acts as a nervous system depressant if ingested. Drinking isopropyl alcohol causes amnesia and sedation. If enough rubbing alcohol is consumed, you could overdose on isopropyl alcohol, lapse into a coma and die. In addition, inhaling concentrated amounts of isopropyl alcohol (such as filling a plastic bag full of rubbing alcohol and inhaling only alcohol fumes) could result in fatal asphyxiation.
Used primarily to produce other chemicals and as a solvent, methyl alcohol (wood or methanol alcohol) also prevents fuels from freezing. Formaldehyde forms when methyl alcohol is degraded, a substance found in a variety of products such as explosives and plastics. Wood alcohol should never be consumed. Just 1/2 cup of methyl alcohol can cause the following:
- Sudden drop in blood pressure
- Difficulty talking and walking
- Bloody vomiting
- Severe headache
In case of a methyl alcohol overdose, never force the person to throw up and seek emergency treatment immediately. Activated charcoal is the usual antidote for wood alcohol poisoning, along with supportive care, intubation and EKGs. Rapid removal of methyl alcohol from the body is critical to the success of reversing its toxic effects. People suffering methyl alcohol poisoning may need dialysis to accelerate elimination of methanol.