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Old 08-10-2004, 09:46 AM
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: VT
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Is ethanol the only safe alcohol to drink?

Well, is it? I know that methanol is really bad to drink, as is rubbing alcohol (isopropyl, right?) but what about butyl? Or isobutyl? Or any one of the number of glycols? My organic chemistry knowledge is severly lacking, so I don't even know if everything I named is an alcohol or not. But anyways, all I want to know is can I drink alcohol other than ethanol and not die? I don't plan to do this anytime soon, just something I've been wondering.
Old 08-10-2004, 10:15 AM
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Ethanol is the only one safe to drink.

From this site:

Ethanol is the only alcohol safe for consumption. Other types of alcohol are not safe to drink. They can be toxic and even fatal is consumed. They include:

Butyl alcohol, or butanol. This type of alcohol, derived from butane, is commonly used in products such as adhesives and varnishes.
Methyl alcohol, also known as methanol or wood alcohol. It is used in the manufacture of formaldehyde and as industrial solvent. During Prohibition wood alcohol gained notoriety as a mixing agent with ethyl alcohol to make liquor. Several people became blind after drinking this toxic mixture, as methyl alcohol causes swelling of the optic nerve, an irreversible condition.
Isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, is a common household product. It is used as a disinfectant and as an ingredient in cologne and after-shave lotion.
Ethylene glycol, also known as antifreeze, is the most harmful type of alcohol. It should never be consumed, as it is deadly.
Old 08-10-2004, 10:18 AM
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Isn't propylene glycol supposed to be a non-toxic replacement for ethylene glycol antifreeze?
Old 08-10-2004, 10:20 AM
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Just to mention in passing that some "rubbing alcohol" alcoholic products, such as "Witch Hazel" (a tincture of the witch hazel plant), are composed largely of denatured ethyl alcohol -- ethanol with additives to make it undrinkable -- because it remains safe as a topical substance and disinfectant, though not for internal consumption, when denatured.
Old 08-10-2004, 10:28 AM
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I have known people that got desperate and drank isopropyl alcohol (aka rubbing alcohol). While the results are not always disasterous, it is know to cause severe gastric disturbances.
Old 08-10-2004, 10:35 AM
Join Date: Jun 1999
Posts: 2,076
Depends on what definition of "Alcohol" you use.

If you use the "clear colorless liquid that gets you stupid when you drink it" definition, then, yes, ethanol is the only one that's not likely to cause grievious ill effects if consumed regularly.

However, if you use the more general OChem definition of "almost anything with an -OH" dangling off one end... there are a lof of alcohols that you can eat/drink without dying in a fortnight. Many popular artificial sweetners are alcohols- xylitol and sorbitol, to name a couple. Menthol is another alcohol you'll probably recognize. I doubt you'd respond well to a big frosty mug of menthol (you'd chip your teeth most likely- it's a solid), but I don't think it would kill you outright.
Old 08-10-2004, 10:59 AM
Join Date: Mar 2002
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The "basic" alcohols are named according to their number of carbon atoms -- methanol (1C), ethanol (2C), propanol (3C), butanol (4C), pentanol (5C), hexanol (6C), etc. What I recall from organic chemistry 30+ years ago is that the body metabolizes alcohol in pairs of carbon atoms, so to speak. Thus the ones with an even number of carbon atoms are less toxic than the ones with an odd number, and butanol and hexanol would'nt be as harmful as propanol and pentanol (in the same quantity), just as ethanol is less harmful than methanol.
Old 08-10-2004, 11:06 AM
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Ethanol isn't safe to drink, either. It's toxic - that's why you get intoxicated when you drink it. It can kill you. It damages your stomach and hurts your nervous system, both in acute and in chronic modes. Isn't ethanol the second biggest toxic killer of humans?

As I understand it, isopropanol is more toxic than ethanol, and methanol is more toxic than isopropanol, and butanol (IIRC) is more toxic than methanol.
Old 08-10-2004, 11:42 AM
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: VT
Posts: 12,872
Well, yeah, ethanol is toxic too, I guess a better thing to say would be to call it the safest, or least dangerous, at least. I mean, anaverage person can have one drink and feel no ill effects. An average shot is 1.5 oz of 40% ethanol...that's 0.6 oz of pure ethanol per drink, roughly. How much harm would 0.6 o of methanol cause? I'm assuming a lot. So I guess ethanol is one of the few alcohols that can be consumed in such a way that the minor effects (i.e.m being drunk) will occur before the serious effects (i.e. liver damage, death, etc...) I mean, I can't get drunk on methanol, can I? Wouldn't I die, or at least go blind, long before I get a "buzz"?
Old 08-10-2004, 12:31 PM
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You can get drunk on isopropyl alcohol too. Many late-stage alcoholics have done it when there is nothing else available. However, your body, particuarly your gastric system, isn't going to be too happy about it so don't try this at home.
Old 08-10-2004, 12:31 PM
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: KCMO
Posts: 11,216
From here:
"As little as four milliliters can cause blindness and 80 to 150 milliliters can be fatal; about half a milliliter per kilogram of weight is deadly.

Drinking methanol causes effects similar to common alcohol, such as an upset stomach and dizziness, with the addition of pronounced vision problems. After these effects disappear, they reappear six to 30 hours later, only with much greater severity. severe symptoms tend to appear 18 to 24 hours after consumption. the relapse time makes it imperative to seek medical help as soon as possible."

So you might get a buzz before blindness or death, but you can look forward to those symptoms popping up afterwards.

More info here:

Also Google on "drinking methanol" -aspartame for more sites.
Old 08-10-2004, 12:41 PM
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Location: California
Posts: 8,099
No, methanol and isopropanol actually are both very intoxicating before the lethal point is reached; you can get quite buzzed just from breathing them.

Incidentally (and more to the OP), the heavier n-alkyl alcohols are waxier solids, and are relatively non-toxic -- the oral LD-50 for cetyl alcohol (in rats) is 5 grams per kg.

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