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Grain Alcohol (Everclear): Why Is It So Dangerous?

Alcohol is a common recreational beverage in the United States. In 2015, 86.4 percent of people age 18 and older reported drinking alcohol at some point in their lives, 70.1 percent drank alcohol at least once in the past year, and 56 percent drank at least one beverage in the past month. Just over one-quarter of people in that age group binge drank in the prior month while around 7 percent drank heavily.

Types of alcohol are generally divided into beer, wine, and hard liquor, which are made from fermenting fruit or grain. Drinking too much of any kind of alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning, which is dangerous.

Grain Alcohol

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol, which is the intoxicating part of alcoholic drinks, is created by yeast breaking down the carbohydrates or sugars in fruit and grain. Ethanol, after being broken down by the liver, binds to receptor cells in the brain to create a sense of pleasantness, relaxation, and sleepiness.

Humans have created and consumed alcohol for thousands of years, but as distilling and scientific processes around alcohol-making improve, the amount of ethanol present in alcoholic beverages is increasing. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists standard servings for beer, wine, and hard liquor, these serving sizes are based on moderate levels of alcohol consumption, which some new liquors exceed rapidly.

Different types of grain alcohol have long been distilled for increasing potency. This is a pure form of alcohol from fermented grains, which in the U.S. mainly consists of corn.

Grain alcohol is a clear liquid with no color, smell, or taste; however, it does have a harsh aftertaste, according to consumers, which can burn the throat and even lead to coughing. Sometimes, grain alcohol is purified to the point that it is used as rubbing alcohol or industrial solvent. Drugstore brand rubbing alcohol is typically considered 70 to 91 percent alcohol, for context. Any liquid mixed to 50 percent grain alcohol is flammable.

What Is Everclear?

A popular brand of grain alcohol, called Everclear, reaches 95 percent alcohol content, which is 190 proof. It is one of the purest and most potent alcoholic beverages available. It is so dangerous that several states have outlawed its sale and consumption. 

For comparison, a standard alcohol serving is 1.5 ounces of vodka at 40 percent alcohol content, or 80 proof. Everclear is more than twice the proof of most standard hard liquor. The liver processes about one serving of alcohol per hour, and according to the CDC, binge drinking is four to five servings of alcohol in a two-hour period. With around two servings of alcohol consumed per hour, the liver gets backed up, and more alcohol enters the bloodstream. The effects of intoxication begin to build as more alcohol and its metabolites enter the blood and bind to receptors in the brain.

The Dangers of High-Proof Drinks

Because Everclear and some other types of grain alcohol are so potent, one shot of liquor is more than two standard servings of alcohol. If you drink Everclear as you would drink other types of hard liquor, you can quickly reach alcohol poisoning levels.

In the U.S., it is illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent, which is about two to three drinks in one hour. With a BAC of 0.06 to 0.09 percent, there are slight impairments to balance, reaction time, speaking, and inhibitions, which can make driving dangerous. A person also experiences reduced judgment and self-control at this level. One 1.5-ounce shot of Everclear can bring you to this level.

Drinking more than one serving of Everclear will lead to serious dangers as your BAC rises.

  • BAC of 0.1 to 0.129 percent involves significant impairments in physical coordination, reaction time, judgment, balance, peripheral vision, and hearing.
  • BAC of 0.13 to 0.159 percent leads to major loss of balance, blurry vision, and reduction of good feelings into negative side effects.
  • BAC of 0.16 to 0.199 percent increases the feeling of dysphoria or feeling unwell, and nausea may begin.
  • BAC of 0.2 to 0.249 percent leads to imbalance, potential injuries from falling, nausea, vomiting, and possible blackouts.
  • BAC of 0.25 percent is when alcohol poisoning begins.
  • BAC of 0.3 to 0.4 percent can lead to passing out, coma, respiratory arrest, or sudden death.

If one shot of Everclear leads to about 0.08 percent BAC, three servings can cause alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol Poisoning 

If signs of alcohol poisoning are present, call 911. They include:

  • Confusion or delirium
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or stopped breathing
  • Irregular breathing
  • Low body temperature, or hypothermia
  • Passing out
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Coma

Treatment for alcohol poisoning likely will require a visit to the hospital. If you see someone with from alcohol poisoning, do not leave them alone. Call 911 immediately and stay with them until professional help arrives. The advice to let a person “sleep it off” is extremely dangerous; they need emergency medical attention.

Don’t Wait for Alcohol Poisoning to Get Treatment

Someone who enjoys the occasional social drink may experiment with Everclear out of curiosity without knowing what the beverage really is. While the person may drink to excess unintentionally, too many people who drink a lot of Everclear do so because they are binge drinking or because they struggle with alcohol use disorder and their tolerance is high. If this is the case, it’s important to get help to overcome AUD with evidence-based detox and rehabilitation.

Sources

Alcohol Facts and Statistics. (June 2017). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze. (February 2017). National Geographic Magazine. from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/02/alcohol-discovery-addiction-booze-human-culture/

Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health. (January 3, 2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Grain Alcohol. (2018). Cook’s Info. from https://www.cooksinfo.com/grain-alcohol

12 of the World’s Strongest Liquors: Everclear. (2018). Food & Wine. from https://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/slideshow/12-worlds-strongest-liquors#everclear

The World’s Strongest Spirits: Everclear Grain Alcohol. (June 19,2013). Men’s Journal. from https://www.mensjournal.com/food-drink/the-worlds-strongest-spirits-20130619/hapsburg-absinthe-premium-reserve/

Here's How Much You Can Legally Drink Before Driving if the Blood Alcohol Limit Is Lowered to .05. (May 14, 2013). Business Insider. from https://www.businessinsider.com/drinks-before-driving-if-bac-is-05-2013-5

Blood Alcohol Concentration. (2018). Student Well-Being, McDonald Center, University of Notre Dame. from https://mcwell.nd.edu/your-well-being/physical-well-being/alcohol/blood-alcohol-concentration/

Alcohol Poisoning. (January 19, 2018). Mayo Clinic. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354386

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