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Drinking Habits

What Is Alcohol Made Of?

July 20, 2023
10 min read
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Written by
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 20, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 20, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 20, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
July 20, 2023
10 min read

You’re at a mixer after work and the happy hum of chatter, the rhythmic beats of music, and a heartening sense of camaraderie fills the air. In such convivial situations, we often find ourselves clinking glasses filled with a variety of alcoholic beverages. But have we ever stopped to ponder what alcohol, this ubiquitous social companion, is made of?

Let's explore the science behind its composition, the reasons for its widespread acceptance, and ways we can imbibe it more mindfully.

Is Alcohol a Drug?

Yes, alcohol is a drug. It’s considered to be a depressant that slows down the central nervous system while altering mood, cognition, and behavior. Regular or excessive drinking can lead to dependence and other serious health issues.

What Is Alcohol Made Of?

A person working at an alcohol manufacturing unit

To understand alcohol, we must take a deep dive into ethanol. Ethanol is a potent compound of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. This compound is what we commonly refer to as “alcohol.” The adaptability of ethanol is a double-edged sword; while it can seamlessly blend with a multitude of flavors to create the vast array of alcoholic beverages, it also serves as the primary agent of alcohol's adverse effects.

So, how does ethanol become the glass of wine or beer that we frequently hold in our hands? The answer lies in a natural, age-old process known as fermentation.

Fermentation: The Science Behind Alcohol Production

How is alcohol made? All alcoholic beverages start with fermentation. Fermentation involves microorganisms like yeasts or bacteria digesting sugars — primarily glucose, fructose, and maltose. These sugars are typically derived from fruits like grapes or grains such as barley or corn. Under the right conditions, the microorganisms begin to metabolize the sugars. This biochemical reaction transforms sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide, leading to what we identify as alcohol. This process of alcohol fermentation has been utilized for thousands of years to make wine, beer, and spirits.

The Sugar Source: Tailoring the Flavor Profile of Alcohol

The sugars that yield from alcohol fermentation shape the flavor of the final product, often distracting from the potential harm caused by the ethanol itself. Sugars derived from fruits, such as grapes, form the backbone of wines, and grains contribute to a wide array of beer flavors.

Furthermore, many drinks come with a lot of added sugar, which masks the potentially hazardous effects of ethanol into a seemingly harmless, enjoyable beverage. Alcohol’s deceptive appeal to our taste buds can lead our brains to crave more alcohol, potentially leading to a cycle of dependence. The extra sugar intake can lead to a host of health issues, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even dental problems.

How Distillation Works

Historical Roots to Modern Glasses: Alcohol’s Cultural Role

Interestingly, the omnipresence of alcohol isn't a recent phenomenon. Alcohol fermentation is a naturally occurring process that was not invented by humans at all, but archeological evidence in China shows that people have been making alcoholic beverages since at least 7,000 BCE. It has been an integral part of human cultures for millennia. Research has revealed that alcohol served multifaceted roles in ancient societies, from being a crucial component in religious rituals and medicinal practices to a staple in diets.

Over the centuries, alcohol’s use evolved and integrated into the fabric of different cultures, becoming a catalyst for social bonding, celebrations, and a conversation facilitator. Its deep-rooted societal acceptance helps explain its widespread prevalence today.

The Balancing Act: The Shift to Excessive Drinking

Despite alcohol's sociocultural roles, the contemporary trend of excessive consumption poses severe public health challenges. The World Health Organization's 2018 report suggests a grim picture, attributing over 3 million global deaths to harmful alcohol use annually. Factors like aggressive marketing strategies, societal pressures, and increasing stress levels have propelled the shift from regulated, social drinking to uncontrolled consumption patterns.

Alcohol’s Effect on Our Health

Overindulgence in alcohol can have wide-ranging effects on our health. It can interfere with the brain's communication pathways, leading to mood alterations, cognitive impairments, and coordination challenges. Prolonged excessive drinking can inflict damage on various organs.

Tips To Stay Safe

With these alarming implications, it becomes paramount to foster a more mindful approach towards alcohol consumption. Here’s how:

  • Monitor your intake. Keep track of how much alcohol you're consuming. Understand standard drink sizes and recommended limits.
  • Explore non-alcoholic alternatives. Be open to opting for non-alcoholic drinks, whether at social events or while relaxing at home.
  • Incorporate 'dry' days. Declare certain days of the week alcohol-free to break the cycle of daily drinking.
  • Sip slowly. Enjoy your drink by sipping it slowly. Savoring the flavor can reduce the speed and quantity of consumption.
  • Exercise your right to refuse. If you're not in the mood to drink, it's perfectly okay to say “no.” Your choices should be respected.

Understanding the science behind alcohol's creation and its impact on our health can empower us to make more informed choices about our drinking habits. While alcohol has seamlessly integrated into societal practices, its allure shouldn't overshadow the importance of balance and moderation. By choosing to drink mindfully, we can enjoy the pleasurable aspects of our favorite drinks without compromising our well-being.

So, as we raise our next glass, let it be a toast to wiser choices, healthier practices, and the joy that stems not merely from the drink in our hand but from the shared laughter, stories, and friendships that truly make our lives richer.

Take Control of Your Drinking Habits With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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