Different Types Of Alcohol

Different forms of alcohol are used in many ways, and each kind has its intended purposes. Someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) may think they can consume any alcohol and receive the same effects, but this belief is untrue and can put them in danger of permanent harm. The truth is that misuse of any form of alcohol can lead to life-threatening consequences.

One way to avoid the negative consequences of alcohol misuse, intentional or accidental, is to understand the different types of alcohol, their composition, and symptoms of alcohol toxicity.

Chemical Makeup Of Alcohol

Alcohol is a combination of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon atoms. For example, ethanol is made up of two carbons, oxygen, and a hydroxyl group or multiple hydrogens. It is soluble in water and can metabolize through the body when consumed in small amounts with help from the hydroxyl group.

Three Types Of Alcohol

The three types of alcohol are ethanol, methanol, and isopropanol. Unfortunately, someone with an alcohol addiction may risk their health by consuming any of the three kinds of alcohol, while only one is intended for ingestion. They may not realize the harm they can do to their body or that consequences can be fatal.

1. Ethanol

Ethanol is the only one of the three types of alcohol manufactured for human consumption. It is clear, without color, and results from plant fermentation.

Ethanol is the alcohol used in alcoholic beverages, meaning that it is the type of alcohol with the highest rates of misuse. It is also a preservative in health and beauty products and is found in lotions, creams, and paints. It is also used as an ingredient in colognes and astringent in skin cleansing products.

2. Methanol

Methanol is a clean energy chemical for creating many popular household products and fueling various types of transportation, such as cars and ships. Methanol does not have any color but does have a slight alcohol smell. It is a toxic substance that can be created naturally by the human body due to a person’s food and drink choices. For example, diet sodas containing aspartame will produce methanol in the body. Also, fruits, vegetables, and fermented products are a source of methanol.

A widespread use of methanol is in creating formaldehyde for use in synthetic resins. Other methanol-containing products include antifreeze, de-icer, vape fluid, cigarette tobacco, fuels, solvents, and pharmaceuticals.

3. Isopropanol

Isopropanol is the main ingredient in rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizers. It is also clear and colorless but has a distinct alcohol smell. Isopropanol may be an ingredient in household cleaners, paint thinners, and perfumes. Consuming just a small amount of this alcohol can be toxic and, for some, fatal if it is swallowed or gets in the eyes.

The body absorbs isopropanol rapidly, and within less than an hour, a person will become very sick. It suppresses the nervous system, causing shallow breathing, a slowing heartbeat, and coma. Rubbing alcohol is twice as dangerous as ethanol alcohol, and consuming five to eight ounces can be fatal.

Symptoms Of Alcohol Poisoning

Ethanol, methanol, and isopropanol consumption can lead to dire consequences. Symptoms will be prominent and require immediate medical attention. Below are the signs of alcohol poisoning from each kind of alcohol.

Ethanol Poisoning Symptoms

Drinking too much ethanol can lead to the following symptoms of alcohol toxicity:

  • Stomach cramps and pain
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of balance
  • Confusion
  • Trouble speaking or slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Internal bleeding in the stomach or intestines

Methanol Poisoning Symptoms

Ingestion of small amounts of methanol produces severe symptoms in various body parts, such as:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Snow blindness or photokeratitis
  • Extreme changes in blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Painful digestive problems
  • Weakness
  • Jaundice

Isopropanol Poisoning Symptoms

Consuming small amounts of isopropanol has serious health consequences, including the following:

  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pain in the throat, stomach, and skin
  • Low temperature, blood sugar, and pressure
  • Eye burns
  • Coma

Different Types Of Alcoholic Beverages

Alcohol is either distilled or undistilled. Undistilled alcohol occurs through fermenting, where sugars from specific ingredients become alcohol. Conversely, distilling is a process that separates fermented ingredients and water, allowing the alcohol to concentrate further. This process results in higher alcohol content.

The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse provides extensive information on the different types of alcohol, which they separate into categories, including beer, malt liquor, table wine, fortified wine, liqueur, brandy, and distilled spirits. A standard drink in the US is 14 grams or .6 ounces of pure-grade alcohol.


Beer has four common ingredients: hops, barley, yeast, and water. Through a distillation process of brewing and fermenting starches, the ingredients turn into alcohol.

Beer makers are creating new types of beer on the market today, each containing different amounts of alcohol. Light beers typically have around 4% alcohol, while craft beers have 5% to 9% or more. A standard beer is 12 fluid ounces, which contains 14 grams of pure alcohol.

Malt Liquor

Malt liquor is a type of beer, but instead of using the distilling process, grains are malted and combined with other starches to boost the amount and flavor of alcohol. Flavored malt beverages usually contain 6% alcohol. A standard drink of malt liquor is 8 ounces, which includes 7% alcohol content.

Table Wine

Table wine refers to a style and quality of wine that is usually white, red, or pink with varying levels of dryness. It is made by fermenting fruit juices. Some have added sugars and flavorings. Table wines have high alcohol concentrations, some as high as 15%. A standard drink, however, is 5 ounces of wine, which equals 12% alcohol content.

Fortified Wine

Sherry and port are examples of fortified wines. They combine wine with distilled liquor, such as brandy, the most common liquor used in fortified wines. Most fortified wines have a higher alcohol content than table wines. A standard drink of fortified wine is 3 to 4 ounces, which contains 17% pure alcohol.


Cordial, aperitif, or liqueur are distilled spirits with added sugars and flavorings to make them sweet or bitter. Fruits and herbs are part of the ingredients to change the taste. The liquor ingredient may be vodka, brandy, tequila, rum, or any other spirit. A standard liqueur drink is 2 to 3 fluid ounces, which contains 24% alcohol content.


Brandy or cognac is made from fermented fruit juices like grape, apricot, or apple. Cognac uses multiple types of grapes found only in France. The process includes fermenting juices into a wine and then distilling it to make it a liquor. A standard brandy or cognac drink is 1.5 ounces, which contains 40% alcohol content.

Distilled Spirits

Distilled liquors include gin, rum, vodka, tequila, and whiskey. The alcohol in each is usually high and more concentrated, comparable to that of brandy and cognac. One standard drink is 1.5 fluid ounces, including 40% alcohol content.

Many liquor drink recipes call for more than one type of distilled spirit. Knowing the ingredients of mixed drinks is crucial to know precisely how much alcohol a person consumes.

Household Products Containing Alcohol

Some individuals may resort to consuming household products due to their alcohol content, regardless of the dangerous consequences.


Drinking mouthwash can get a person drunk, which is why some people with an addiction consume it when they cannot access their preferred alcohol. The alcohol content in mouthwash can be as high as 27%. Drinking mouthwash is dangerous because of its high alcohol content and because it contains other ingredients that are harmful to the body when ingested in large amounts.

Hand Sanitizer

Like mouthwash, hand sanitizers can have an extremely high alcohol content. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends hand sanitizers have at least 60% alcohol content to prevent the spread of germs.

Hand sanitizer contains methanol and has FDA approval for topical use only. It can be extremely harmful to internal cells, tissues, and organs upon ingestion.

Vanilla Extract

Flavoring extracts like vanilla contain high alcohol concentrations, enough to slow breathing, heart rate, and movement. The minimum amount of alcohol in vanilla is 35%. Although it contains ethanol, which is safe for consumption, too much can lead to ethanol poisoning.

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The Strongest Alcohol

Distilled spirits tend to be the strongest type of alcohol, but they vary greatly in alcohol content. Many manufacturers try to make their spirits mostly alcohol, as close to 100% as possible.

Alcohol proof is one way to determine how much alcohol exists in a bottle of spirits and lets someone know the strength of the drink. To calculate alcohol proof, double the percentage of alcohol by volume. For example, if a bottle of whiskey has a 30% volume of alcohol, it is 60 proof. If a drink has 50% alcohol content, it is 100 proof. The higher the proof, the higher the strength.

Find Support For Alcohol Addiction And Abuse

If you or someone you know feels that they have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder and where to turn for treatment.

Call a treatment provider today, risk-free, to explore your available treatment options and take your life back from alcohol addiction.