Ethyl alcohol, also commonly referred to as ethanol, is a colorless liquid that has many uses. Aside from being the most common type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages and certain recreational drugs, it is often used in medicine as an antidote to combat the effects of other types of drugs or alcohol. Since it is considered a volatile chemical, it should only be used with the supervision of a medical professional.
The fermentation of sugar into ethanol is one of the earliest known organic reactions used by man. Early medical uses of this alcohol were primarily for pain relief in the form of liquors. This was before the use of anesthesia, and these methods were effective because of alcohol's intoxicating and sometimes numbing effects on the body. This use is well known and often conjures images of war with physicians giving patients a shot of whiskey before performing surgery or removing limbs injured in battle.
Physicians also used to prescribe ethyl alcohol as a form of antidepressant, due to its effects on the brain. Although alcohol does produce a temporary "high" in humans, commonly referred to as "being drunk," the feelings of euphoria do not last and are not useful in treating depression. Modern medical professionals now understand that alcohol consumed in an effort to numb uncomfortable feelings eventually leads to a dependency and addiction. In fact, it is a depressant rather than the opposite, and can lead to depressive thoughts and feelings with extended use.
In more modern times, ethyl alcohol can be used for its antiseptic properties, and it's often found in antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers. It is effective at killing most bacteria, fungi, and many viruses on the hands and skin, and it is a useful alternative to hand soaps. Medical professionals often use gel sanitizers before treating patients to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
Ethyl alcohol can also be used as an antidote to help reverse or lessen the effects of certain chemicals, primarily other alcohols like methanol. Once ethanol is added to the system, it competes with the other alcohols to be broken down by the body, and slows down the metabolism of other chemicals in the bloodstream where they typically become toxic.
Side effects of ethanol include irritation to the eyes and skin. When ingested, it can cause stomach irritation resulting in nausea and vomiting. Since it is an intoxicating agent, those who consume alcohol may experience dizziness, feelings of euphoria or an alcohol induced “high,” and loss of consciousness if ingested in large enough amounts. Long-term consumption may cause serious liver damage and depression, as well as leading to alcohol dependency.