Alcohol is also known as ethanol or drinking alcohol.
Functions of alcohol in the body include sedation, disinhibition, mood elevation, respiratory depression and diuretic effects.
No RDA has been established for alcohol, but recommended limits for consumption are generally set at two drinks per day for men and one for women. Archaeologists have found evidence for intentional alcohol production from 10,000 BC.
Throughout the world, populations have fermented grains, fruits and other carbohydrate sources into beer, wine and distilled spirits for recreational, social and religious use. As health risks of alcohol have become better known, alcohol use has declined somewhat in many places.
The body cannot be deficient in alcohol because the substance is not required for sustaining life, but metabolism of alcohol does vary, and relative deficiency can occur through withdrawal.
People of Northern European ancestry, particularly men, tend to have increased levels of alcohol dehydrogenase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol in the body. This causes levels of alcohol to drop more quickly after consumption. When habitual alcohol drinkers quit abruptly, withdrawal occurs, resulting in potentially deadly effects as the body is thrown out of its acquired alcohol dependency.
An excess of alcohol in the body can result from excessive volume or speed of consumption or from deficiencies in the enzyme that breaks down alcohol.
Binge drinking, defined by consumption of several drinks in little time, overwhelms the liver's capability to excrete alcohol and can create a dangerous surplus of alcohol in the blood stream.
Alcohol dehydrogenase deficiency, most common in Native American and East Asian populations, interferes with the breakdown of alcohol after consumption. This results in increased toxic effects and a higher likelihood of suffering liver damage and other health problems from long-term drinking.
Zinc deficiency, which can be caused by habitual alcohol consumption, also reduces levels of alcohol dehydrogenase and can make it easier for alcohol to build up to toxic levels.