Alcohol is a drug in liquid form, classified as a depressant. What is commonly referred to as alcohol is actually ethyl alcohol or ethanol, obtained from the fermentation of natural ingredients such as fruits, seeds or vegetables.
During the fermentation process, yeast is used to dissolve the sugar in a fruit or vegetable and turn it into a mixture of carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Beers, including ale and lager, are made by fermenting barley and hops. Wine is made from the juice of pressed grapes. The incredible diversity of characters and tastes comes mainly from the different varieties of grapes used in its production. The alcohol content differs according to the type of alcoholic beverage, with beers and wines generally containing less alcohol than “hard liquor” such as gin, whiskey and vodka. The higher alcohol content in hard liquor is the result of a process called “distillation,” in which a fermented liquid is heated to evaporate ethanol. The ethanol vapor is collected and condensed into a much more potent concentration of ethanol than would normally be obtained by fermentation alone.
Alcohol production dates back to prehistoric times. Archaeological evidence shows that Neolithic man fermented beer as early as 10,000 BC. The ancient Greeks were heavy wine drinkers, as were the Romans, who brought wine to the territories they conquered and traded it with the rest of the world. In medieval Europe, it was monks who were responsible for fermenting beer and wine, and although drunkenness was a sin in the eyes of the Church, popular images of drunken monks became a widespread caricature. For several hundred years, beer and wine were the preferred beverages of many people because they were considered less dangerous than the available water, which often carried bacteria.
The consumption of hard liquor, especially gin, became widespread in Great Britain in the 18th century, leading to social unrest, health problems and increased mortality. In the United States in the 20th century, the widespread consumption of whiskey and its similar effects on public order and health led to prohibition in 1919 and the manufacture and sale of alcohol was banned nationwide from 1920 to 1933.
Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the world. Alcoholic beverages can be legally purchased and consumed in most countries at the age of 18 or 21. Laws defining where alcohol can be consumed vary from country to country and many Islamic nations prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol for their Muslim and non-Muslim citizens.
Alcohol is present in a wide variety of beverages. The brewing of hops and barley produces the many types of beer, lager, ale, stout and bitter.
The fermentation of grape juice produces wine. In white wine, only the juice is fermented, while in red wine, not only the juice but also the skin of the red or purple grapes is used.
In sparkling wines, a secondary fermentation process is induced so that carbon dioxide bubbles are formed in the wine bottle itself. Champagne is the most famous of all sparkling wines. Its production is subject to very strict regulations regarding the type of grapes used, the conditions under which the grapes are grown and the region from which they come.
The distillation process is the origin of alcoholic beverages called spirits, which include gin, vodka, whiskey, rum and many others. They contain much more alcohol than fermented alcoholic beverages.
Alcoholic beverages are often mixed with non-alcoholic beverages and other flavors to make cocktails, such as the Martini (vermouth and gin), Pina Colada (white rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream) and Bucks Fizz (champagne and orange juice).
Many colloquial words are used to refer to alcohol, such as booze, booze and moonshine.
When a person drinks alcohol, it enters the bloodstream through the stomach and seeps into the body tissues. The same amount of alcohol can have different effects on different people, depending on their weight, height, gender and age. Eating while drinking alcohol slows its effects because the alcohol is digested along with the food, rather than passing quickly into the bloodstream.
Psychologically, alcohol has a disinhibiting effect, which is why it is associated with certain social situations. Alcohol also impairs judgment, giving people more confidence to do things they would be more careful about if they were sober.
A person who drinks a lot of alcohol may feel dizzy, slurred, nauseated and vomit. Drinking alcohol affects motor function. Drinkers may have difficulty walking and coordination problems, which is why it is extremely dangerous to operate machinery or drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
Some people become more aggressive after drinking alcohol, which is often a contributing factor to domestic violence and fights.
Binge drinking, which involves drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time, can lead to blackouts and memory lapses.
A few hours after consuming large amounts of alcohol, drinkers typically experience unpleasant physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, fatigue and dehydration, which are popularly known as “hangovers.”
Regular consumption of large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time can seriously damage your health. Major organs such as the brain and liver can be irreparably damaged.
Long-term effects of prolonged drinking also include an increased risk of cancer, especially of the mouth, throat and stomach, high blood pressure leading to a risk of heart attack, reduced fertility and, in men, impotence.
A person who drinks excessively over a long period of time may also become an alcoholic, that is, psychologically dependent on alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol include shaking, sweating, anxiety and hallucinations.
Today, alcohol is legally produced and consumed in most countries around the world under the laws of each nation, and the production of alcoholic beverages is a global industry.
The largest alcohol-producing company is the Belgian company Anheuser-Busch Inbev, whose main brands include Budweiser and Michelob beer.
Also among the major alcohol-producing companies is Companhia de Bebidas das Americas (or AmBev), a subsidiary of Inbev and Diageo Plc in the United Kingdom, which produces major global brands such as Smirnoff vodka, Johnnie Walker whiskey and Guinness beer. Heineken, based in the Netherlands, is another global alcohol production giant, producing the beer of the same name, as well as Amstel beer. Pernod-Ricard, based in France, is another big liquor company, producing such flagship beverages as Absolut vodka, Jacob’s Creek wine and Havana Club rum, among others.
SABMiller is a global alcoholic beverage company based in London. The company, which started in South Africa, manages numerous brands, including Grolsch, Miller and Peroni Nastro Azzura beer.
While many of these companies are based in specific countries, it is important to note that the alcohol industry is a global industry. The companies that dominate the global alcoholic beverage market are not tied to any one country and have offices and production facilities around the world.
Recently, there has been a general decline in beer sales in North America and Western Europe due to increased consumption of wine and hard liquor.
Increasingly, global beverage alcohol companies are investing heavily in the emerging markets of India, China, Central Russia, and South America, where rising per capita incomes are generating increased demand for major beverage alcohol brands.
France is the world’s largest producer of wine, with approximately 50 million hectoliters produced each year, the equivalent of seven billion bottles. The country devotes a large portion of its land to growing grapes for wine, with Spain being the only country with a larger total area of vineyards. Wine making in France dates back to Roman times and the country is one of the largest exporters of wine in the world.
Many of the wine grape varieties planted and grown in many other wine producing countries originate in France. France also has the best practices in wine production and its traditions have been copied by other countries around the world. In terms of wine production, France has recently been facing competition from large local European rivals such as Italy, but also from emerging wine producers in North and South America and Australasia.
The volume of wine production in France is so high that it has created a surplus, which means that France actually produces more wine than it can sell. Several million liters of wine are therefore transformed into industrial alcohol each year, through a process called “crisis distillation”.
However, the champagne market is not affected by this phenomenon, with a demand that remains strong throughout the world.
Facts and Stats
Alcohol is the most abused drug in the world. Here is a list of key facts about alcohol:
- What we drink as alcohol is a chemical substance called ethanol.
- Alcohol is made from the fermentation of fruits, vegetables or seeds.
- Distillation is a process that increases the concentration of alcohol.
- The percentage of pure alcohol contained in the drink is mentioned on the labels of alcoholic beverages.
- Alcohol is measured in units. One unit is equal to 10 ml of pure alcohol.
- The British government recommends that men drink no more than 3-4 units of alcohol per day and women no more than 2-3 units per day.
- Alcohol is fattening because of its high sugar content. A glass of wine contains as many calories as a piece of cake and a pint of beer about as many as a hamburger.
- Excessive alcohol consumption is closely linked to an increased risk of cancer, as well as many health problems, such as ulcers, cirrhosis of the liver and the development of diabetes.
- It is a myth that drinking black coffee will sober you up after drinking too much alcohol.
- Alcohol affects testosterone levels in men, lowering sperm count and causing impotence.
- Alcohol disrupts a woman’s menstrual cycle and can make her infertile.
- Drinking during pregnancy can cause irreversible deformities in the baby.
- 29% of alcohol-related deaths are due to accidents caused by alcohol consumption.
- Alcohol is involved in one-third of burglaries, one-third of sex crimes, and half of all street crimes.
- The leading cause of alcohol-related deaths (about one-third) is the result of accidents.
- These deaths are most common among 16-34 year olds.
- Alcohol is directly or indirectly responsible for 75,000 deaths per year in the United States
- About 10 million people in the UK drink more than the recommended level.
- 1 in 3 adults is at risk of liver disease due to alcohol consumption.
- In terms of calorific value, a gin and tonic contains about 126 calories, a glass of wine about 175 calories and a pint of beer about 250 calories.
- The second most common cause of death involving alcohol (about 20%) is cancer.
- In 2008 in the UK, there were 8,620 road accidents caused by a driver who had been drinking over the legal limit. These accidents resulted in 2020 deaths or serious injuries.
- In the United States, nearly 30 people die every day in car accidents caused by a drunk driver.
- As a result of major national campaigns and increasing stigma, drunk driving crashes in the United Kingdom have declined by more than three-quarters since 1980.
- The legal limit for alcohol consumption in the UK is 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.
- In many European countries, the threshold is lower, most often 50 mg per 100 ml of blood.
- People with depression are twice as likely to also have alcohol problems.
Signs of addiction
Because drinking is so culturally accepted, it is sometimes difficult to detect the signs of alcoholism in others or even in oneself. If a person drinks alcohol only to feel better or to avoid feeling worse, this may be a clear sign of alcoholism.
Alcoholism affects a person’s behaviour in many ways. They may lie to others about how much they drink or hide bottles around the house or in places they frequent.
An alcoholic may neglect responsibilities at home, work or school, perform daily tasks poorly, or fail to keep commitments as they recover from the previous night’s party.
If a person drinks in a setting or at a time of day not normally associated with drinking, such as at work or early in the morning, this may be another sign of alcoholism. Usually, smelling alcohol on a person’s breath in these settings is a sure sign. If a person drinks in dangerous situations, such as while driving, this is another sign of alcoholism.
Outward physical signs such as profuse sweating and shaking hands are often seen in alcoholics. These are symptoms of withdrawal due to excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption.
A frequently neglected appearance, signs of financial problems, memory loss, unpredictable mood swings and isolation from friends and family also indicate that a person may be suffering from alcoholism.
Treatment for alcoholism is known to be long and difficult, in part because of the social acceptance of alcohol and the difficulty of avoiding contact with the subliminal pressures that surround us, such as advertising. Many experts suggest that in order to overcome alcoholism, it is essential to adopt a radically different lifestyle and outlook.
There are different approaches to alcoholism treatment. There are those who view alcoholism as a pathology or disease and advise a different approach than those who view alcoholism more as a deliberate choice.
Most treatments begin by getting the person to admit that they have a problem with alcohol, before trying to reduce and then stop their drinking. Most experts agree that it is important for the alcoholic to have ongoing support to prevent him or her from relapsing into drinking in the future.
It has been recognized that alcoholism can be caused by many different factors, including psychological problems. Treatment for alcoholism therefore usually involves counseling or therapy to address these underlying causes. Group therapy sessions, which allow alcoholics to support each other in their battle with addiction, are common.
Many organizations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, were created to help people overcome alcoholism and solve the problems that led them into addiction. Most groups have zero tolerance for alcohol consumption, with the premise that alcoholics must banish all alcohol from their lives in order to overcome their addiction. However, some treatment programs do not impose total abstinence and instead seek to encourage alcoholics to moderate their consumption.
The first step in treating alcoholism is detoxification. A person who has become an alcoholic can put his or her life in danger by stopping drinking suddenly. The withdrawal symptoms are so severe that detoxification is monitored very closely to protect the person’s health. A doctor may prescribe medications such as diazepam (marketed as Valium) to treat the anxiety and depression that often accompany withdrawal. Alcoholics who are trying to withdraw often take mild painkillers for the first ten days to compensate for these withdrawal symptoms.
Detoxification is usually followed by withdrawal, which can be done in the form of admission to a center. The patient may also choose to go through this phase on an outpatient basis. Not everyone who is being treated for alcoholism will need to undergo detoxification. Some alcoholics may have a psychological dependence on alcohol that does not manifest itself in daily binge drinking, so their physical withdrawal will be less difficult and will not require medical attention.
Certain medical treatments can also help an alcoholic to withdraw. A drug called Antabuse (disulfiram) prevents the body from dissolving ingested ethanol and causes an extremely unpleasant sensation in people who take this drug and then drink alcohol. The effect is similar to a severe hangover and is intended to discourage further drinking. Continued heavy drinking while taking Antabuse can be fatal. There are various other medications that can be prescribed to an alcoholic on a short or long term basis, either to reduce their craving for alcohol or to prevent the body from assimilating alcohol.