When most people think of alcohol, they often imagine a beer, a shot of liquor or a glass of wine. However, alcohol can also refer to many other chemicals and substances, including disinfectants and solvents. 

There are three primary types of alcohol, and each one has different effects. Mistaking one type of alcohol for another can be dangerous, so it’s important to be aware of each type of alcohol and learn which one can be safely consumed.

The Three Types of Alcohol

In theory, there is a nearly limitless variety of different alcohol types. This is because alcohol is technically any chemical that has a specific atomic structure using oxygen and hydrogen. However, there are generally only three types of alcohol that are commonly used.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, is a common type of alcohol that is often used as a disinfectant. This form of alcohol is not designed for drinking and can have a toxic effect when ingested. Isopropyl alcohol kills bacteria as it dries, making it a common ingredient in alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Methyl Alcohol

Methyl alcohol, also called wood alcohol, is very toxic when ingested and can be toxic when touched or inhaled. Methyl alcohol is normally used as a solvent for manufacturing plastics or for other industrial uses. Exposure to methyl alcohol can be dangerous, and it should never be deliberately ingested.

Ethyl Alcohol

Ethyl alcohol is the most commonly recognized form of alcohol and is commonly referred to as drinking alcohol. Ethyl alcohol can be used as an antibacterial or for other chemical purposes, but it is mainly used for drinking. Ethyl alcohol causes inebriation and intoxication that can be dangerous, but it is less dangerous than other forms of alcohol. This form of alcohol is also more related to foods, as it is caused by the fermentation of sugar.

See More:  Is Alcohol a Gateway Drug?

Distilled vs. Undistilled Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can come in distilled or undistilled forms, and it is made by fermenting a substance. At the end of the fermentation process, the drinking alcohol is considered to be undistilled, but it can still be used in this form. Undistilled alcohol is generally not very concentrated, as the alcohol content typically makes up less than 16% of the volume of the drink.

On the other hand, distilled alcohol goes through another process after fermentation to concentrate the ethyl alcohol. This increased concentration can produce a solution that is close to 100% ethyl alcohol; however, alcohol that is this concentrated is rarely ever used for drinking. Distilled alcohol is used to produce drinks that are up to 60% alcohol by volume (ABV), such as brandy, or drinks with an even higher ABV.

Distilled Drinks

  • Wine: Produced from fermented grapes. ABV: 5%–16%
  • Beer: Produced by fermenting grain, typically barley. ABV: 4%–6%
  • Sake: Drink originating in Japan; produced by fermenting rice. ABV: 18%–20%
  • Hard cider: Produced by fermenting apple juice. ABV: 5%–7%

Undistilled Drinks

  • Rum: Produced from fermented sugar or molasses. ABV: 40%–80%
  • Tequila: Produced from fermented blue agave. ABV: 35%–55%
  • Gin: Produced from fermented grain that is then combined with juniper berries. ABV: 35%–50%
  • Whiskey: Produced from fermented grain. ABV: 40%–50% 
  • Brandy: Distilled wine. ABV: 35%–60%
  • Vodka: Produced from fermented grains or potatoes. ABV: 40%

Other Products That Contain Alcohol

While alcohol is traditionally available in drinks that are centered around the alcohol they contain, it can also be added to nearly anything else that can be ingested. Some products that alcohol can be added to include:

  • Coffee
  • Kombucha
  • Energy drinks
  • Seltzers
  • Ice cream

New products are routinely developed to include alcohol as the demand for alcohol continues to increase in most areas of the world.

Do Different Types of Alcohol Affect You Differently?

Each of the three types of alcohol can affect you differently. Methyl alcohol is quite dangerous when ingested, and it can also be toxic when touched or inhaled. People should generally avoid exposure to methyl alcohol if possible, as it can quickly cause toxic effects. Isopropyl alcohol can also be toxic, but this is generally only if it is deliberately ingested. While drinking isopropyl alcohol is dangerous, it is not quite as dangerous as methyl alcohol.

Ethyl alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is the safest type of alcohol and the only one that is able to be routinely used by humans. While ethyl alcohol is considered safe compared to other types of alcohol, it is still intoxicating and can become toxic in high amounts. Additionally, ethyl alcohol has many long-term effects when used heavily. 

See More: How Long Does Alcohol Stay In Your System? 

Finding Help for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction in Orlando

Many people who use alcohol develop dependence or addiction, and one in eight Americans are considered to have an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol addiction can be difficult to recover from alone, but professional support is available.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, Orlando Recovery Center is here to help. Our 93-bed facility is staffed by addiction specialists and recovery experts who can help you safely detox from alcohol and learn how to maintain lifelong sobriety. We invite you to contact us today to learn more about alcohol addiction treatment programs that can work well for your situation. 

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

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Indiana University. “Types of Alcohol.” Accessed July 10, 2022.

Grant, Bridget F.; Chou, S. Patricia. “Prevalence of 12-Month Alcohol Use, High[…]01-2002 to 2012-2013.” JAMA Psychiatry, September 2017. Accessed July 10, 2022.

William Reusch. “Electrophilic Substitution at Oxygen.” Michigan State University, May 5, 2013. Accessed July 10, 2022.

Berkshire. “Toxic Alcohols 101: Ethanol, Methanol, Isopropanol.” July 10, 2020. Accessed July 10, 2022.

Sivilotti, Marco L.A. “Isopropyl alcohol poisoning.” UpToDate. Accessed July 10, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.