Alcohol, typically prepared as an alcoholic beverage, contains ethanol. Alcoholic beverages are divided into three categories: beers, wines, and spirits. Many people in more than 100 countries consume alcohol. There are a variety of laws regulating production, sale, and consumption of alcohol. One law, in particular, specifies the minimum age in which an individual can purchase and consume alcohol. Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that has a depressant effect on the person who consumes it. Too much consumption (e.g., having a high blood alcohol content) is typically considered legal drunkenness because it slows reaction speed and reduces one’s attention. Alcohol is considered addictive and addiction to alcohol is commonly referred to as alcoholism.
Beer is the oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage. Beer is produced by brewing and fermenting starches which is mainly derived from grains, particularly barley, wheat, corn, and rice. Wine, another popular alcoholic beverage, is produced from grapes or other fruits such as cherries, plums, or apples. Wine involves a longer process of fermentation, known as an aging process, which can last from months or years. Spirits, commonly sold as liqueurs, are unsweetened, distilled, alcoholic beverages, which contain higher amounts of alcohol by volume (ABV). An alcoholic beverage with an ABV greater than 20% is considered a spirit. The uses of alcohol vary. In history, people consumed alcohol as a means of avoiding water-borne diseases such as cholera. In colder climates, some people have chosen to “warm up” the body by drinking potent alcoholic beverages (e.g., vodka). Large numbers of people consume alcohol for its effects on the body. There are a variety of laws to prevent inappropriate usage of alcohol. However, those who use the drug long-term or in large amounts may develop addiction to alcohol and suffer from many health and mental consequences.