Fake Banner
    Drinking Liquor Without Getting Drunk- A General Perspective
    By Camilo Tabinas y ... | July 19th 2011 05:11 AM | 16 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Camilo Tabinas

    He is both a chemist and an educator. He teaches General chemistry, organic, and biochemistry for health sciences students as well as introductory...

    View Camilo Tabinas's Profile
        Alcohol is a class of organic compounds with -OH (hydroxyl) group attached to the hydrocarbon chain.  The hydrocarbon chain got its hydroxyl group through replacement of its hydrogen.

        Among the many alcohols in the class, ethyl alcohol or ethanol is the alcohol in your alcoholic beverages: in table wines (10-13%), beers (4-5%), and distillled liquors (30% up).
        Ethanol can be prepared through  fermentation of sucrose and starches. It can also be prepared synthetically from ethene with the aid of a catalyst.

        Ethanol being an antiseptic is also an alcohol in a rubbing alcohol. Hey! rubbing alcohol is for external use only. Don't let stupidity set in your mind to ever think of drinking it. You will get blind. Though, ethanol is the same wherever it is, it is not a beverage when in a mixture called rubbing alcohol. The ethanol in rubbing alcohol is denatured to render it not suitable for drinking, in order to save from government tax.  Methanol can be one that manufacturer adds so that rubbing alcohol will not qualify as a beverage. It is the methanol in rubbing alcohol that can cause blindness in a dose of not more than 15 mL and death at higher dose.

        Ethanol, though it is the alcohol in alcoholic beverages, is a poison. Too much of it can ruin your liver.  It is oxidized in the liver and converted into aldehydes that may cause you to feel a "hang.over." Further, ethanol is metabolized into carbon dioxide, water, and ATP (adenosine triphosphate) or energy that when not used is turned into fat.  Ethanol metabolism occurs mainly in the liver and continues by oxidation to acetaldehyde by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase then to acetic acid by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase with a biochemical oxidizing agent NAD+, (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide).

        Most people experience flushing sensation and redness in their skin; ethanol causes dilation of the blood vessels beneath the surface of the skin.

        Some molecules of ethanol pass through without being metabolized which can be detected in the breath and urine.  The rate of metabolism of ethanol  defers from person to person. It ranges from 12 to 30 mg/dL in one hour(Timberlake, 2010, p.498).  Drinking alcohol beyond your normal rate of metabolism increases the amount of ethanol molecules that are not metabolized.  Ethanol can affect your motor coordination and pain perception. At lower blood alcohol concentration(BAC) at about 100mg/dL you may experience loss of balance, slurred speech, and amnesia. At higher blood alcohol concentration at about 300mg/dL can affect your voluntary responses to stimuli and you experience nausea and even loss of consciousness. At blood alcohol concentration of about 600mg/dL spontaneous respiration is much affected so as cardiovascular regulation, and may result to death. (refer to McMurry and Castellion, 1996) Evidently, ethanol that is not metabolized is harmful to tissues and organs.  So, the body has to detoxify itself from alcohol.  This is most likely to be the explanation why after a drinking spree I don't feel like doing anything but stay in bed sleeping, resting the entire day (hibernating, I may say).

        If you keep on drinking alcoholic beverage soon you will be drunk. The title of the article if taken literally is indeed an exaggeration. However, getting drunk can be delayed (if you stop drinking in time without being drunk the title is then precise) if the basics in chemistry are applied. So how can we delay the process of being drunk? Of course all of us know this, but come on this is often overlooked or taken for granted.  So here's some review of the basic chemistry.
        DILUTION. Dilution is a process of decreasing the concentration of solution by adding more of its solvent. If you drink hard liquor follow it up with more water to dilute it decreasing the effect of alcohol.  Putting some ice on the liquor is another way. Soon the ice will melt and dilute the alcohol.
        VAPOR PRESSURE. In alcohol water mixture, alcohol being volatile, has higher vapor pressure compared to pure water. Thus, above the surface of the liquor, it is expected to be rich in ethanol vapor. So, Do not inhale it (the alcohol vapor). Hold your breath while you pour the liquor form the glass to your mouth and exhale the adhering ethanol vapor.
        SUBLINGUAL ABSORPTION. Alcohol is made up of unit particles called molecules. These are small enough to be absorbed by the blood vessels under the tongue. Considering other factors equal, there are drugs bigger than ethanol molecules that are administered sublingually.  Don't hold the liquor in your mouth for long. Swallow it at once.  Of course, it is not practical to hold hard liquor in the mouth considering the stingy sensation but with extra srong beer such as Red Horse, about 7% alcohol( a popular beer in the Philippines)it doesn't hurt.  Try holding extra strong beer in your mouth for a minute each shot before swallowing and see if there is a difference.
        ABSORPTION.  Drink when you have some food in the stomach and continue eating from time to time while drinking. The food will delay the absorption of the alcohol into your blood stream. Absorption is also influenced on how fast the stomach empties, the faster the stomach empties the faster the absorption of the alcohol.  Foods rich in fat can stimulate the release of a hormone called enterogastrone by the duodenum. This hormone will inhibit the peristalsis in the stomach and thereby, decreasing the rate the stomach empties.

        There are other factors that influence a person from becoming drunk. Here are some:

        Mood.  if you feel depressed you get drunk easily than when you are not.

        Gene.  Resistance to alcohol differs from person to person.

        Size. A thinner person can easily get drunk than when he is big.

        Health. A person can get drunk easily when sick than when he is not. ( Wouldn't it be stupid    
    to drink while sick?)

        Sex.  Females get drunk easily compare to males, considering other factors equal.

        Experience.  A person used to drinking develops some kind of resistance  thus, can resist
    better to alcohol than an inexperience one.   

        Studies are not consistent as to whether or not ethanol can increase body weight significantly.  Some studies as presented by NIAAA found alcohol to decrease weight in men and women instead.  However, personally,  I believe alcohol is the culprit of my bulging stomach which could have been reduced if i exercised regularly.  I also noticed that my appetite for food is enhanced after a drinking spree and it continues until the following day.

        Months ago I was diagnosed as having a fatty liver.  So, I decided to slow down my indulgence with alcohol.

        To alcohol drinkers, Let's adhere to the old, common advice: "Drink Moderately."


    McMurry J. and M.E. Castellion (1996). Fundamental of General, Organic, and Biological
                Chemistry,2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.
    Sackheim, G.L. and Lehman (1998). Chemistry for Health Sciences. Upper Saddle River, New
                Jersey:  Simon and Schuster A Viacom Company Prentice Hall, Inc.
    Timberlake, Karen(2010).  General, Organic&Biological Chemistry: Structures of Life, 3rd ed.
                Singapore: Pearson Education South Asia Pte Ltd
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIAAA (2011). Alcohol Alert. In:
                 About.com  Alcohol Metabolism. Retrieved July 17. 2011
                 from http//alcoholism.about.com/cs/alerts/l/blnaa35.htm
    Wikipedia.com(2011) Methanol.Retrieved July 17, 2011 from http//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/methanol.



    I found your article to be informative. Incorporating your experiences in drinking to the established facts about alcohols inspires me to rethink and decide not to drink alcohol they way I usually do. I often drink alcohol 2 to 3 times a week and without due consideration as to whether I will be drunk or not. Your article changed my views.
    Thanks a lot.


    Aside from the social aspect, is there any other use for drinking liquor? I don't drink alcohol at all. Though I use mouthwash, and it has ethanol. I don't think I've ever been drunk in my life. This article is very informative and can be understood by people like me who don't have extensive knowledge of chemistry. Kudos!

    (What about getting drunk without liquor? Is that possible? LOL!)

    The ethanol in rubbing alcohol is denatured to render it not suitable for drinking, in order to save from government tax....Methanol can be one that manufacturer adds so that rubbing alcohol will not qualify as a beverage. It is the methanol in rubbing alcohol that can cause blindness in a dose of not more than 15 mL and death at higher dose.
    A lot of rubbing alcohol uses isopropyl alcohol instead of ethanol. In either case the denaturing substance is usually a ketone, not methanol. If a small amount of methanol is used in the presence of ethanol, although still unhealthy, it would unlikely lead to blindness because ethanol is the antidote for methanol poisoning.
    Isopropyl Alcohol and ethanol are the same substance. One is a common name the other IUPAC.

    No they are not. Ethanol is a smaller molecule. I'm sure some people wished it was the same; 70% isopropyl alcohol is often sold for a dollar for 500 ml!
    So what is the point in adding it? Or is it just a tradition left over from the old recipe of adding "wood alcohol"?
    They don't add it. Methanol is the natural byproduct of fermentation just the same as ethanol, but most of it is removed through distillation processes.

    It's a question of concentration. In this recent case, there apparently was enough methanol in the illicit booze to kill.  _http://www.realclearscience.com/2012/09/20/methanol_why_bootleg_alcohol_can_kill_you_249107.html
    A lot of rubbing alcohol uses isopropyl alcohol instead of ethanol.  In either case the denaturing substance is usually a ketone, not methanol

    We are both chemists and educators so, I am not going to argue with you instead, you have given me the opportunity to discuss basic physical chemistry and biochemistry with  you.

    One of the reasons to consider in choosing an additive for rubbing alcohol so it will not be suitable for drinking, is  its ease of reversibility.  Manufacturers would  not want their rubbing alcohol once denatured to be easily reversed and be suitable for drinking again. 

        Here are some data on boiling points in Celsius that we may  consider: Ethanol about  78.3, acetone  about 56-57, methyl isobutyl ketone 114-119.  and methanol 65

        Considering the data above, which do you think is  the additive that can be removed easily by distillation and why? 
            If a small amount of methanol is used in the presences of ethanol, although still unhealthy, it wouldd unlikely lead to blindness because ethanol is the antidote for methanol poising.
        I  believe we should consider how ethanol as methanol antidote works.  First of all methanol is metabolized in the liver by the same enzymes that metabolize ethanol.  It is the metabolites of methanol that can cause blindness. So, metabolism of methanol should be stopped or decreased. Now,  how does ethanol work as antidote? Is it through competitive inhibition? Does competitive inhibition process eliminate completely the undesired competing substrate? IF not, will the amount of methanol that will be metabolize increase should one drinks continuously a lot of rubbing alcohol? 

        Thank you for reading my article and for the comment Enrico.


    Although a lot of rubbing alcohol is indeed formulated from isopropyl alcohol, methanol is, as you pointed out, used as a denaturant of ethanol along with the ketones I mentioned. As you implied, the higher boiling ketones would persist while the most of the lower boiling methanol would get distilled off. As I stated in the previous comment, ethanol can indeed be an effective antidote for methanol poisoning ( but since only 6-10 ml can blind an adult, having it mixed with ethanol can still deprive one of sight.) In moonshining days, very few people actually went blind even though some of the alcohol contained methanol, but that's probably because lower concentrations were found.

    This metabolic pathway is what you're referring to:

      (Adapted from Brent 2001)

    The accumulation of formic acid is responsible for the presence of metabolic acidosis. Formic acid also inhibits cellular respiration leading to lactic acidosis. The ocular injury caused by methanol may be due to retinal injury, which results from intra-retinal metabolism of methanol and the accumulation of formic acid. Alternatively, it may be caused be the inhibition of normal metabolism in optic nerve calls (Jacobsen 1997). from


    Yes, as to the boiling points I was actually referring   to the denaturant that will not easily separate from ethanol by distillation. It follows the question as to  which could be the best azeotropic mixture?

    As to the amount of methanol that can cause blindness,   as low as  4.0mL of methanol is enough to cause blindness (Timberlake, 2010). The body weight as a factor should be considered and other factors which may explain the differences in the amount of methanol (that can cause blindness) as presented by different authors.

    Here's a link to a recent case involving methanol poisoning:


    So can you tell me why I can drink about a gallon of hard liqour and not get drunk? I do not like to drink all the time but every once and I while I want to get a little bit drunk (not full blown drunk). I only drink hard liqour, and Simrnoff hard lemon aid is the only beer I drink. Just this past weekend I tried to get drunk, and failed. I really didn't eat that day, and what I did eat it was fruit and some chicken that was there at the party. I out drank everyone at the party and still didn't get drunk. Which I don't mind, I don't want to depend on alcohol! I just want some answers.

    Thanks Christine


    You don't actually have to get drunk in order to enjoy a party.  Anyway in your case, we may be talking about alcohol tolerance that varies from person to person.  Try the link below


    you might get some answers

    Self-control is very important if you want to cut back your alcohol levels. It's amazing what makes up alcohol.

    I agree with you Richard