Alcohol – production, effects and degradation

A healthy person who leads a moderate lifestyle, who does enough exercise and sports and who has a balanced diet should not be harmed by an occasional and moderate consumption of alcohol.

What is alcohol

Alcohol is an organic compound. Alcohol molecules have one or more hydroxyl group(s) (OH) as their functional group. The alcohol called drinking alcohol, which is generally consumed by people, is ethanol (C2H6O).

The term alcohol in the further course of this article always refers to this ethanol. One gram of alcohol has an energy content of 7.1 kcal or 29.3 kJ.

How alcohol is produced

In nature, alcohol is produced by the fermentation (i.e. without oxygen) of sugar in fruit, for example, on which various types of yeast and bacteria have settled. This fermentation is used to generate energy. alcohol has existed since evolution has produced sugary fruit as well as yeasts and bacteria that can ferment this sugar (about 48 to 50 million years ago).

Since when has man been producing alcohol

Maß BierThe first writings on the production of alcohol can be found in Egyptian scrolls that are more than 5000 years old. Through the fermentation of sugar in grapes or wheat (the so-called mash), man has been producing wine and beer since ancient times.

The natural alcohol limit of alcoholic fermentation is 23%. The reason is that the yeasts then die from their own metabolic end product, alcohol. Higher alcoholic percentages are achieved by distillation or freezing of water.

Some effects of the alcohol

Alcohol is not officially classified as toxic or harmful. In pathology, however, it is classified as a liver poison because it has a direct toxic effect on the formation of red blood cells. In paediatrics, alcohol is considered a poison that damages the body fruit.

  • About a certain dose of alcohol is spoken of acute poisoning and chronic poisoning in alcoholism.
  • The acute effects of ethanol are mainly based on damage to nerve cells or the central nervous system.
  • alcohol causes a drop in blood sugar levels. One of the consequences is increased hunger.
  • An intermediate product of alcohol degradation is the cell toxin acetaldehyde, which is responsible for the so-called “hangover” and liver cirrhosis.
  • Alcohol displaces fats and carbohydrates from the energy requirement cover. Inhibits fat breakdown. Furthermore, there is a vitamin deficiency, especially of the vitamins of the B-complex.
  • alcohol can be metabolized to fat.

External signs of alcohol consumption

quantity of alcoholic beveragesblood alcohol levelEffects
1 glass of beer (0.33 l) or 0.2 l of winefrom 0.3 ‰Reducing effect with an increase in talkativeness.
2-3 glasses of beer or 0.5 l of wine0.5-1 ‰“Schwips” with disinhibition, overestimation of one’s own ability and a decrease in the ability to react.
5-9 glasses of beer or 1-1.5 l of wine1-2 ‰Clear drunkenness, incipient ataxia, reduced visual acuity, partial aggressiveness, insensibility.
11-16 glasses of beer or 2-3 l of wine2-3 ‰drunkenness, intoxication, severe ataxia, thinking and orientation disorders, later partly amnesia.
ab 3 ‰Heavy intoxication, drowsiness to unconsciousness, aspiration of vomit and hypothermia, risk of life-threatening respiratory paralysis in people who are not used to regular higher amounts of alcohol.
6-8 ‰I.d.R. (also for heavy alcoholics) deadly.

The three steps of alcohol degradation

Step 1

The enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) converts ethanol into acetaldehyde. This occurs at a rate of 0.1 to 0.2 per mille per hour.

Step 2

Acetaldehyde, an even more toxic cell poison than ethanol, is now further processed by the enzyme acetaldehyde dehyrogenase (AIDH) into acetic acid (in chemical jargon: actyl-CoA or acetyl co-enzyme A).

Step 3

Actyl-CoA is processed into water and carbon dioxide by the citric acid cycle.

Glasses with sparkling wine and cocktails

Alcohol in modern society

Alcohol is the most widely used drug in the world along with nicotine!

The daily limits for alcohol/day are 20 grams for women and 40 grams for men. The term per mille (from Latin pro = for; mille = thousand, symbol: 0/00 or ‰) stands for a thousandth fraction. 1 per mille therefore means 1 part per 1000 parts. 3.6 ‰ therefore means 3.6 parts per 1000 parts. Transferred to alcohol this would be 2.5gr. Alcohol per 1000gr. body weight.

  • For a person weighing 50 kg, this is approx. 125 grams of pure alcohol.
  • For a person weighing 75 kg, this is about 187.5 grams of pure alcohol.
  • For a person weighing 100 kg, this is about 250 grams of pure alcohol.

Alcohol enjoys great social acceptance in our latitudes. Hardly any celebration without alcohol (or can you imagine a Rose Monday in Cologne without alcohol consumption?). In particular the advertisement suggests skillfully, with beautiful humans and mad photographs of tropical islands, of sail trips or whole men at the garden grill, that alcohol simply belongs to it.

Sterberate due to alcohol abuse compared to smoking and illegal drugs.

Alcohol consumption

  • Sterberate: 74.000 (year 2010).
  • average age at death: minus 20 years.
  • Economic costs: around 24 billion euros per year.


  • Sterberate: 140.000 (year 2005).
  • average age at death: minus 10 years.
  • Economic costs: about 35 billion euros per year.

Illegal drugs

  • Sterberate: 986 (year 2011).
  • average age at death: not specified.
  • Economic costs: around 5.2 – 6.1 billion euros for the year 2006 (according to BMG estimates).

Alcohol in sports

Whoever wants to do sports should not drink alcohol before and during their sporting activities. Alcohol has hardly any positive effect on athletic performance (there are of course always exceptions, so a sports shooter can get a calmer hand by drinking small amounts of alcohol). However, there is evidence of many negative influences of alcohol on the human body and thus of course also on athletic performance.

Alcohol and doping

Due to the many negative effects alcohol is hardly used for doping. Nevertheless, in accordance with all international sports federations, alcohol is subject to certain restrictions. For example, alcohol tests may be carried out and sanctions imposed if test results are positive.

This post is also available in: German

William C. Hilberg
As an author, Mr. Hilberg has published several papers on health issues that have gained international recognition. He is close to nature and loves the seclusion and activity as a freelance journalist. In his function as editor William C. Hilberg manages the entire content of PENP. Our team greatly appreciates his expertise and is proud to have him on board.