Ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is an organic compound typically found in beverages. It is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. As a drug, alcohol is a psychoactive substance and a depressant. It has many applications apart from its use in intoxicating substances, including roles in the medical and automotive industries.

Alcohol has been consumed by humans for centuries. Traces of an alcoholic mixture of rice, honey, and fruit was found in pottery jars produced as early as 9,000 years ago. Alcohol is even mentioned in ancient Hebrew and Hindu texts. The drinking tradition in America is as old as the country, and borrows liberally from European culture. It is often said that in the 1820's, Americans drank seven gallons of alcohol per person annually.

There are three main types of alcoholic substances. Beer and wine are produced through the process of fermentation, while spirits are distilled after fermentation. Here is a little information about each:

Beer: Beer is one of the world's oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverages. It is the third most popular drink after water and tea. Beer is produced by the fermentation and brewing of starches. Usually barley is used, though wheat, corn, and rice can be used as well. Most beer is flavored with hops to add some bitterness. The alcohol content of beer is usually 4% - 6%, though it can be as high as 25%.

Wine: Wine is made from fermented grapes. Similar beverages can be made from other fruits, such as apples or plums. The fermentation process for wine takes longer than beer, and can last months or even years. Sparkling wine is made through a process of secondary fermentation. Wine has an alcohol content of 9% - 16%.

Spirits: Spirits are alcoholic beverages that have been distilled after fermentation. This gives them a higher alcohol content, 20% at the very least. Common spirits, such as vodka and whiskey, have an alcohol content of around 40%. Spirits can be added to wine to make fortified wine, giving it a higher alcohol content. Examples include port and sherry.

Once consumed, alcohol is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. The liver is the primary site for alcohol metabolism, which is why abusing alcohol can lead to liver problems. Once metabolized, alcohol is removed from the bloodstream by a process called oxidation.

Drinking alcohol will cause your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to rise rapidly. Within five minutes, the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream can be measured. An individual's BAC is determined by how quickly alcohol is absorbed, circulated, metabolized, and removed. Just because you have had the same amount of drinks as another person doesn't mean you'll have the same BAC. There are many factors that influence BAC, including gender, size, drinking patterns, medical history, and other drug use.

In small amounts, alcohol can help a person feel at ease or less anxious. More alcohol induces greater changes to the brain, and can result in intoxication. While being intoxicated can feel good at first, even euphoric, it generally results in things like slurred speech, confusion, loss of coordination, and aggressive behavior.

The United States restricts alcohol purchase to people aged 21 and older. In many parts of the world, the legal drinking age is 18 years old. In most states, it is illegal to drink or be intoxicated in public. Some cities allow it in designated areas or during public festivals. It is illegal, and dangerous, to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.