What is ETOH? The Dangers of Ethanol Abuse

April 30, 2021

Addiction in all forms can severely impact the lives of those who struggle with substance abuse and the loved ones who surround them. While addiction is more common than many people think, affecting 10% of US adults at some point in their lives, it remains highly misunderstood and villainized.

Ethanol abuse is just one of many variations of substance disorder, and it may even be the most common. 

Here is everything you need to know about its causes, symptoms, and the importance of seeking treatment.

What is ETOH?

ETOH is the chemical title for ethanol alcohol, often shortened to ethyl alcohol or just alcohol. 

Basically, ETOH abuse refers to someone who is struggling with alcoholism, a form of chronic addiction characterized by uncontrolled preoccupation with drinking alcohol.

Ethyl alcohol is a clear, colorless liquid that is the principle ingredient in beers, wines, liquor, and all other alcoholic beverages. However, since it can easily dissolve in most organic compounds, it is used in a wide range of products from beauty products, hand sanitizers, and paints.

When you consume alcohol, your liver breaks it down with an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which is further broken down by acetic acid. You feel intoxicated when you consume alcohol faster than it can be broken down.

The initial euphoric effects that ethyl alcohol can cause are the result of dopamine being released from the brain’s reward center. This is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that is thought to be one of the main mechanisms that drives alcohol dependence and addiction.

Symptoms of Ethanol Abuse

Consuming alcoholic beverages is a large part of social culture. Having drinks with friends at a bar, raising a glass during a toast, or having a glass of wine with dinner does not mean you have an alcohol use disorder. 

However, there are some signs that may indicate something more severe. 

Generally, the symptoms of alcohol use disorder are:

  • Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or thinking about drinking
  • Frequently binge drinking to the point of becoming ill
  • Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home due to alcoholic binges
  • Wanting to cut down on drinking or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
  • Using alcohol in unsafe situations, such as driving
  • Trying to hide your alcohol consumption from others, or feeling ashamed of your drinking habits
  • Developing a tolerance so you no longer feel its effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like nausea, sweating, and headaches

There may be times when you experience one or more of these symptoms. For example, you may have binge drank a few times in college, or you may have had a bit too much to drink at a friend’s birthday. While these are still unhealthy behaviors, they are not a problem if they do not become habitual.

The main factor that tends to be indicative of ethanol abuse is that it is a consistent pattern that is having adverse effects on the individual’s life, relationships, and responsibilities.

When is ETOH Abuse Dangerous?

Everyone metabolizes alcohol differently, so it can be difficult to say when exactly too much alcohol is over the limit. However, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism have defined a set of patterns that may put someone at a higher risk for developing an addiction.

The NIAAA defines heavy drinking for men as more than four drinks on one day or more than fourteen drinks per week. For women, it’s classified as having more than three drinks on one day or seven drinks per week. While this low-risk form of drinking may happen every now and then, a pattern of drinking in this way may have adverse effects on your health.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to serious problems such as:

  • Heart conditions such as high blood pressure or stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Learning and memory issues
  • Social problems, including family problems and unemployment

Also, since alcohol is a depressant, excessive use is often associated with co-occurring mental illnesses such as persistent depressive disorder. This is a type of depression that is more mild than major depression, but it makes it much more difficult to detect.

Depressive episodes may lead someone with ethanol abuse to continue drinking in order to diminish the pain, but this may cause them to become more depressed as they come down. This can lead to a vicious cycle that may have dangerous physical consequences.

What Causes ETOH Abuse?

Addiction in all forms is never a choice. It is a chronic mental illness that must be evaluated and treated. But while many people use alcohol every now and then, not everyone becomes addicted. 

While the underlying causes that lead to substance use disorders are not fully understood, there are a few things that can put someone at a predisposition. 

One of the major risk factors for chronic addiction is the environment surrounding an individual. Influences from friends, family, economic status, or other factors can play a role in developing an abuse disorder. 

Individuals who have had, or continue to have, traumatic experiences may drink to try to cope with their situations, leading to possible dependence. Factors like physical or sexual abuse, peer pressure, early exposure to drugs, or stress may all play a role.

Additionally, genetics can play a role in developing an addiction as well, accounting for about half of a person’s risk. Men are typically more prone to developing ethanol abuse than women, and the presence of pre-existing mental disorders may also influence risk factors. You may also be more likely to become dependent on substances if there is a family history of substance misuse.

Can ETOH Abuse Be Prevented?

The only true way to prevent ethanol abuse is to never drink alcohol in the first place, and remaining drug free is a choice that many people choose to make. With that said, experimenting with different substances is to be expected, especially during certain milestones of a young adult’s life.

By keeping educated on the causes of substance abuse and its effects, you may decrease your risk of developing one in the future. It’s also important to avoid temptation and peer pressure. When you decide to drink alcohol, it should never be because of someone else, and you should never be seeking alcohol purely to feel intoxicated.

Treatments for Ethanol Abuse

As with most other chronic diseases, ethanol abuse is not something that can really be “cured.” Once you become an addict, you cannot partake in the substance again without it being considered a relapse of your addiction.

With that said, there are many successful practices that can help you recover from ethanol abuse and lead a happy, long, and healthy life.

Inpatient Rehabilitation

For severe cases of addiction, it may be necessary to enlist in an inpatient program at a hospital or longer-term facility. Severe withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous if not monitored by medical professionals. Seeking this type of care will help you successfully manage withdrawal.

After that, comprehensive rehabilitation will begin to teach you skills and practices to help manage alcohol cravings and help you avoid relapse in the future. These programs may be done at the same rehabilitation facility, or they may have you take part in outpatient programs.

Mutual Support Groups

Support programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) aim to help you recognize your own alcohol use disorder and work towards recovering. The benefit of these group programs is that they can allow you to feel support from people in similar situations, allowing you to feel a sense of community during your ongoing recovery.

Many of these programs are also free, and you can attend them on your own basis. It’s a fluid and free-form method that has been successful for many people struggling with all types of addiction.

Behavioral Therapy

For mild to moderate cases, or in circumstances where physical withdrawal symptoms are no longer an issue, behavioral therapy can help with substance use disorders by changing a person’s perspective and subsequent behaviors in regards to drugs and alcohol.

Therapy is a highly effective treatment for addiction, focusing on maladaptive behaviors and developing new coping skills for stressors, allowing to better maintain sobriety and avoid relapse.

Additionally, it can help treat possible underlying mental health conditions, such as depression, that may put you at a higher risk for developing an ethanol abuse disorder.

In Summary

ETOH is an abbreviation for ethanol alcohol, or just alcohol. It’s the liquid used in alcoholic beverages that makes you feel euphoric. However, this can also make it an addictive substance, with alcohol abuse being one of the most common addictions in the country.

Not everyone is an addict just because they drink, but people with a dependence typically notice interruptions to their daily life and engage in persistent drinking patterns. Over time, this pattern can have serious effects on physical health, including liver failure and heart disease.

While ethanol abuse cannot be technically cured, it can be successfully managed through rehabilitation, group therapies, or cognitive behavioral therapy.

If you or a loved one is struggling with ethanol abuse, it is important to remember that you are not a bad person, you are not weak, and you are not alone. We are here to help.

YANA is a virtual mental health service that matches you with a doctor to create a personalized treatment plan that’s right for you.

If you are dealing with addiction and need to speak to a mental health professional, click here to schedule your first consultation with a medical doctor. We’ll be here every step of the way.

Sources:

10 percent of US adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives – NIH

Ethanol Uses, Benefits – Chemical Safety Facts

The Science of the Sauce: What Happens to Your Brain When You Drink Alcohol? – Meridian Health

Addiction and the brain: the role of neurotransmitters in the cause and treatment of drug dependence – NCBI

Drinking Levels Defined – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Understanding Drug Use and Addiction – DrugFacts

Alcoholics Anonymous