Why is ethyl alcohol poisonous?

1 Answer
Jan 5, 2016


Ethanol undergoes many reactions in the body that make it both a chronic and an acute poison.


Chronic poisoning by ethanol

Ethanol is metabolized in the liver, where it generates NADH, acetaldehyde, and other reactive molecules.

Excess NADH causes formation of fat, while acetaldehyde and the other molecules react with (and damage) liver tissues.

The long-term effects include potentially fatal fatty liver disease, hepatitis, and cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver.

Acute poisoning by ethanol

At high concentrations, ethanol is a depressant.

It stimulates inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain.

This makes ethanol a central nervous system (CNS) depressant — it hinders the transmission of nerve signals.

In many jurisdictions, a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% (0.08 in legal jargon) constitutes intoxication.

At a BAC of 0.40 to 0.50, you will probably be in a coma.

The nerve centres controlling your heartbeat and respiration will be slowing down, and it will be a miracle if you survive.