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Ethyl Alcohol
Legal Status
US Age 21+
Canada Age 18+ in AB, MB, QC
Age 19+ in all other provinces
EU Age 18+ in most countries
Age 16+ in some jurisdictions
No drinking age in some jurisdictions
AU Age 18+
NZ Age 18+
Drug Information
FDA Status Approved and Regulated
Class Depressant
Sedative hypnotic
Addiction Risk Addiction-yellow.png Moderate
Therapeutic Index Addiction-red.png Low (1:10)

Ethyl Alcohol, also known as drinking alcohol, ethanol, or simply alcohol, is one of the most widely used drugs in the world, and is legal in all but a handful of countries in the Middle East.

Despite its widespread use and social acceptance in most of the world, alcohol is considered by many experts to be one of the most harmful psychoactive drugs currently in use.[1] Alcoholism affects over 200 million people worldwide[2] and causes approximately 139,000 deaths annually worldwide, including up to 88,000 in the United States.[3] In the United States, alcohol causes more deaths than any drug, other than tobacco.[4]

Legality and Availability[edit]

North America[edit]

The drinking age in the United States is 21. Regulations regarding possession, driving, and use by minors with adult supervision vary by state.

The drinking age in Canada is 19, with the exception of Quebec, Manitoba, and Alberta, where the drinking age is 18.


In Europe, the drinking age is usually 18. Moldova has a drinking age of 16. Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria have a drinking age of 16 in some jurisdictions, or situations. Norway, Sweden, and Finland have varying rules with respect to a drinking age of 20 or 18. Iceland has the highest national drinking age in Europe, at 20.

Middle East[edit]

Many countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Libya, and Sudan, maintain a strict prohibition on alcohol. Others, such as Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, and Turkey, allow drinking at various ages.[5]

Asia and Australia[edit]

China and Indonesia have no drinking age. Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines have drinking ages ranging from 16 to 20.

India has a national drinking age of 18, but many provinces, especially those with majority Muslim populations, have stricter rules.

Australia and New Zealand have drinking ages of 18.

Addiction Profile[edit]

Alcohol dependence is very common among heavy users. Unlike opioids such as heroin, withdrawal from alcohol has a significant risk of a fatal outcome. For severe alcoholism requiring inpatient care, benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium) and clonazepam (Klonopin) are often used, as they prevent GABA-related withdrawal symptoms and do not carry the risk of liver toxicity characteristic of alcohol. Diazepam is commonly prescribed in the United Kingdom, while clonazepam is more popular in the United States. Both benzodiazepines are characterized by long biological half-lifes.

For mild to moderate alcoholism, naltrexone is becoming increasingly accepted as an effective treatment for alcohol abuse, potentially far more effective than programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.[6]

Alcohol binge drinking can be particularly dangerous, as individuals often experience a positive feedback loop which can lead to further consumption. This is a contrast to marijuana, where consumption of large amounts usually leads to unpleasant effects.

The capture rate of alcohol is usually cited as being around 15%.[7] This places it lower than cocaine (17%), heroin (23%), and tobacco (32%), but higher than cannabis (9%).


Alcohol has been ubiquitous throughout history in many civilizations. As a result, it has been used for a variety of medical purposes, in addition to recreation. The chief medical use of alcohol historically has been to reduce anxiety, although it has also been used (effective or not) as an analgesic, antipsychotic, antidepressant, and even anesthetic. These uses have been deprecated in modern times, but continue outside of formal medical environments, and in the developing world.


Alcohol has been demonstrated to have significant analgesic effects. A 1978 study found that ethanol at a dose of 0.75 mL / kg (about 2 standard drinks for a 75 kg person) had effects comparable to 0.2 mg / kg morphine (15 mg for a 75 kg person, equivalent to 150 mg codeine).[8] It should be noted however that alcohol consumption may be dangerous when paired with certain injuries, such as concussions and internal bleeding. Alcohol has also been observed to worsen arthritis in many individuals. For reasons including these, acetaminophen, NSAIDS, codeine combination products, and cannabis are considered safer analgesics when medical care is not immediately available.

See Also[edit]