Alcohol in general means ethyl alcohol with a chemical formula of C2H5OH.
Ethanol is widely used as a part of hot drinks and beverages by man.
It is obtained by fermentation of sugar molasses in large scale.
When consumed, it reaches the brain and creates a sense of well being and excitement.
See the article on positive and negative effects of alcohol.
So, people consume ethanol on regular basis which could lead to health problems.
However, besides drinking there are many use of alcohol in medicine, industry, research etc.
Uses of alcohol in medicine
Alcohol is being used in medicine since ages. It has powerful antimicrobial, astringent, sedative and rubefacient property.
In methanol poisoning: When excess methanol is consumed, the person will have terrific symptoms leading to death. The methanol in the body converts to formaldehyde and formic acids which causes pain and irritation all over. The sting of ants has formic acid. So, we can imagine the extent of damage when formic acid is formed in the body due to methanol poisoning.
In this emergency, giving ethanol acts as an immediate anti-dote.
As seen in the picture above, Methanol is broken down into formaldehyde and then formic acid. Both of them are toxic to the body. But when ethanol is given, the rate of methanol is reduced. Ethanol has higher affinity for the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase. So, it competes for the enzyme in place of methanol. Decreased formation of formaldehyde reduces the toxic effects on body and helps to sustain life and give more time to remove it from the body.
Other anti-dote like Fompezole can be used as it does the same function. But ethanol is inexpensive, easily available and also more compatible in the body.
As rubefacient: 70% ethanol and even Isopropanol have rubefaceint character. When applied to skin, it leads tp dilation of blood vessels and then redness. In this condition the applied skin area is tender and has greater absorption property. This can be used to enhance drug absorption from ointment applied to skin. Further, this relieves acute pain locally where applied.
To reduce pain: In case of sever pain as cancer, alcohol is injected near the nerve endings to destroy the nerve. This leads to lack of pain from that nerve.
Antiseptic: When an injection is to be made, a cotton swab soaked in alcohol is used to clean the surface. Then after injection, it is left there to see that there is no bleeding. This is done to clear the area of injection from any bacteria or microbes. Further, this cleaning removes any dirt in the site of injection.
Further, any surgical blades, needles, forceps can be cleaned with ethanol to remove microbes over them.
Diluent: Tinctures are alcoholic extracts of drugs. When a substance is in low concentration, it cannot be given as such for the person. Hence, to enhance the volume of drug, alcohol is used as a diluent. Since, alcohol at such low doses is safe to the body and also sterile, it is acts as a safe diluent. Especially, in homeopathy, drugs are extracted with alcohol . Further, they are diluted with it for easy administration. Besides alcohol, lactose is also used as a diluent. However, alcoholic extract tinctures are also administered to patients.
Preservative: The tinctures which are alcoholic extracts of plant and animal material have long half life. This is because, alcohol is a good preservative.
Uses of alcohol in industry
1. As a solvent: Ethanol like water is good solvent for many polar compounds. This helps the solid material to be concentrated into a solution of desired concentration. This solution is used for further processing like filtration, distillation or removing impurities.
2. For extraction: Alcohol being a good polar solvent can be used for extraction of active ingredient from any raw material like the plant or other solids. This extraction is usually done by use of steam distillation connected to a soxhlet extractor. Due to low boiling point, alcohol easily evaporates and then percolates again through the solid material. In this way there can be effective extraction.
3. Cleaning: Alcohol is one of the best solvent used for cleaning in industry. Its properties of antimicrobial effects and solubility are effective used.
4. Sterilization: Alcohol is one of the good chemical sterilizing agent used for sterilization.
5. De-staining : When any cloth material in industry is caught by stains, alcohol is used to remove stains.
For Staining: In plant tissue and animal tissue staining alcohol is used frequently.
Sanitation: Since, biological substances are prone to microbial contamination, use of alcohol clears them of microbes.
Ethanol uses in chemistry:
Alcohol is also widely used in chemistry for
1. Crystallization and extraction: When a compound is prepared by chemical reaction, it is in liquid mixture. To extract it out in solid form, it is recrystallized and dried. This re-crystallization for some compound require ethanol.
2. Solvent for Analysis: Chemistry employs many analytical techniques like chromatography, hplc analysis etc. These analytical techniques requires separation of component of mixture. Ethanol, methanol and isopropanol are widely used as different combinations of mobile phases.
Uses of alcohol in daily life:
Besides above technical uses, alcohol is also widely used in daily life.
1. Clean marker stains: We tend to use markers often. These marker stains can be easily removed by use of alcohols.
2. As automobile fuel:
3. In lamp: Alcohol lamps are used in laboratories due to their non-suit flames.
4. Beverages: Alcohol is used for recreation in the form of alcoholic beverages. It is a type of social lubricant.
5. Alcoholic inks: These inks have a pigment or dye dissolved in alcohol. When these inks are put on a tile, metal or other surface, the mark is left. Alcohol dries quickly leaving the pigment behind. These alcohol inks are used in making background of stamping and cards.
6. Nail polish remover: Nail polish is easily removed by ethyl acetate or acetone. But if you do not find it at home or cannot tolerate odor of ethyl-acetate, then ethanol is best. It takes a longer time to remove but it definitely removes alcohol. Though i have never seen it, but some claim to do so.
7. Rocket Propellant: Previously ethyl alcohol was used as a combination of rocket fuels. It was used along with liquid oxygen diluted with water. But now, due to availability of new and more efficient fuels, it is no longer used.
So there are many uses of alcohol and this list may not be exhaustive.