Alcoholic beverages are drinks that contain the chemical compound of ethyl alcohol (chemical formula of C2H5OH) or ethanol, a colorless and flammable liquid. Alcohol is found in any fermented liquor, and it is the ingredient that produces intoxication.
Alcohol consumed in small amounts functions as a stimulant; however, it is classified as a depressant or a drug that slows down the brain. It is also classified as a psychoactive substance in that it can alter mood and consciousness, leading to intoxication. Alcoholic beverages, like all psychoactive substances, affect brain functions. Higher brain functions, such as the ability to reason, problem-solve and control social inhibitions are affected first. If the person keeps drinking, he or she will become less alert, sleepy, and lose muscular coordination. Signs of alcoholic intoxication are slurred or rambling speech, difficulty remembering, staggering or unsteady walk, inability to drive or perform other mechanical tasks, lack of coordination, and personality changes. Some people become belligerent and argumentative, others become overly friendly and silly when intoxicated. People can die from alcohol poisoning, which is the consumption of too many drinks too quickly.
Intoxication or drunkenness has a legal definition in most states that is based on the level of alcohol in the bloodstream, usually 0.08%. In some countries, that standard is as low as 0.02%.
Alcoholic beverages are made by allowing the sugars in grains, fruits, honey and so forth to undergo fermentation or decomposition. There are basically three kinds of alcoholic beverages: wine, beer, and spirits or distilled liquor such as gin, brandy, vodka, rum, liqueurs, and cordials.
Wine is sometimes made from apples and berries, but most often made from grapes. Red grapes produce red wine, and white grapes produce white wine. After the grapes are harvested from the vineyards, they are allowed to ferment so that their sugars decompose into carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. Red grapes are pressed after fermentation, and white ones beforehand. What's left after pressing is a thick liquid, which "matures" or ages in specialized tanks or barrels, and then is filtered and bottled.
One five-ounce glass of wine counts as one alcoholic beverage. Wine is 9% to 16% alcohol.
Beer is usually made from cereal grains, especially barley, and flavored with hops, a flavoring and stabilizing ingredient made from hops plants. Yeast is used to ferment the grain. The kind of yeast used determines whether the beer is a lager or an ale.
Beer is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, and typically contains 4% to 6% alcohol, although that percent can vary from 1% to 50%, depending on the beer. One 12-ounce of beer or one-eight once malt liquor is considered one alcoholic beverage.
Gin, whiskey, vodka and other distilled liquors have the highest alcohol content, or 40%. One 1.5 ounce drink is considered one alcoholic beverage. These liquors are made from the fermentation of various plants; for example, gin is made from juniper berries, and whiskey is made from grains.
In most countries, only adults over a certain age are allowed to drink alcoholic beverages. Some countries restrict alcoholic beverages more than others; at one point in American history, the United States Congress passed a law prohibiting the sale, transportation, and possession of all alcoholic beverages, but this law was repealed after 14 years.