The Chemistry of Alcohol


I chose the chemistry of alcohol because of the numerous ways it has affected my life and others around me. For a long time I couldn’t understand why people drank and why they couldn’t stop. My grandfather has been an alcoholic for 48 years, my father has been an alcoholic for 5 years and my boyfriend has been an alcoholic for 6 years. I was confused on why you would want to keep drinking, especially when they know the consequences. I’ve poured into numerous researches and have found out why they need it, and why they know they don’t want it. Alcohol is such a glamorized affair. The commercials with people having a great time at a BBQ with family and friends does not even come remotely close to those who see it every day, deal with it every day, and hurt from it every day.Composition of ...

Alcohol is produced by the fermentation of sugars by yeasts. Alcohol is written as CH3CH2OH, is sometimes abbreviated as C2H5OH, C2H6O or EtOH.

Glucose + yeast → alcohol + carbon dioxide

C6H12O6 + Zymase → 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Ethanol is the chemical name for the alcohol we know better as beer, wine, gin or whiskey. Alcohol itself is the chemical term to describe any compound within an alcohol group, an –OH attached to a carbon atom. About 20% of the alcohol is absorbed directly into your bloodstream right when you take a sip, while the remaining 80% is absorbed by your small intestine. When the alcohol reaches your brain, it binds to little things called neuroreceptors that usually receive messages from neurotransmitters. Alcohol is an inhibitor. It can reduce the ability of the brain to process information leading to a lowering of the ability to screen thoughts and behaviors. This occurs in the cerebral cortex, which is the region of your brain mainly responsible for cognitive thinking, behavior, and voluntary muscle movements (The Brain 1). When alcohol reaches the cortex, you may feel less sensitive to touch or to physical pain. Of course, this doesn’t mean the pain is not physically there. Due to the neurotransmitters being slowed, the pain being experienced is slow to get to the brain’s receivers. This is experienced as a numbing effect and therefore, physical pain is decreased. Another symptom of alcohol consumption can be sleepiness, loss of coordination, and a feeling of euphoria due to the effect and slowing in the neurotransmitters and receivers. (Your Body 1). The effects long term on the body can be serious as the brain chemistry is altered. Under the influence of alcohol, the brain constantly tries to make accommodations and adjustments to keep the body functioning as normally as possible. Since the brain continues to develop until the age of 25, the effects on the teenage brain can be lifelong and catastrophic.

Chemistry's Role

Ethanol is produced using a process called fermentation. Other types of chemicals known also as alcohols can be made this way, but are made using natural gas, oil or coal in the refining processes. Fermentation of alcohol is the process in which yeast breaks down sugar into two elements- alcohol and carbon dioxide. Zymase is an enzyme complex naturally occurring in yeasts that catalyzes the fermentation of sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Alcohol is an organic compound, which means that it contains carbon molecules. When combined with the hydroxyl group (contains one oxygen atom connected by covalent bonding with a hydrogen atom) this makes -OH.

Background Research

Ethanol is produced using a process called fermentation. Other types of chemicals known also as alcohols can be made this way, but are made using natural gas, oil or coal in the refining processes. Fermentation is a process that turns sugar into acids, alcohol, or gases. It occurs with the yeast and bacteria that turn it into cellular energy. This produces ethanol and carbon dioxide.


    • The more alcohol a person drinks, the more tolerance is built up over time.
    • Neurotransmitters in the brain are small molecules that keep the body functions and behaviors in balance. Drowsiness, loss of coordination, and a feeling of euphoria are all symptoms of the neurotransmitters being affected by alcohol intoxication.

    • It only takes 90 seconds for alcohol to travel from the mouth to every part of the body once it is ingested.
    • The liver can metabolize one alcoholic beverage per hour in an average adult
    • Only about 10% of ingested alcohol is eliminated through sweat, exhaled breath and urine.
    • Alcohol accumulates in the body when the liver is no longer able to metabolize the incoming Etoh (alcohol). Autonomic body functions such as breathing and heart rate are affected when alcohol is not able to metabolize in the body. Excessive concentration of alcohol in the body can lead to coma or possibly death due to its effect on organ and brain functions.
    • The human body is only able to process one alcoholic drink per hour.
    • Physical Addiction can occur when the body finds itself craving the alcohol when sober.

Beer: 4-6%

Wine: 7-15%

Champagne: 8-14%

Rum,Vodka, Gin, Whiskey: 40-95% (Ball and Stick model)

    • Group -OH
    • In general, the hydroxyl group makes the alcohol molecule polar.
    • Alcohols can be either acidic or bases, like water.
    • Because of their hydrogen bonds, they have a higher boiling point.

    • Disrupts neurotransmitters, increases the inhibitory effects of GABA, excites glutamate and dopamine

    • Talks about GABA neurotransmitters and their ball/stick model of their chemical compounds

    • Ethanol (aka alcohol) C2H6O
    • Ethyl alcohol: CH3CH2OH

    • Any carbon atom with an attached -OH is an alcohol

About the Author

Hannah Brookshire is a senior at Billings Senior High School. She enjoys reading, poetry, and a good laugh. Hannah will be attending Rocky Mountain College located in Billings, Montana and has earned an academic scholarship to major in Biology and Pre-Medicine in the fall of 2016.