How many different types of Alcohol are there and Which Alcohols are Safe to Drink?

Even though they are members of the same chemical family, there are vast and crucial differences among the alcohols, and it can be a matter of life and death to be aware of them.

Alcohols are a large family of organic (carbon-containing) chemicals that are related in two ways: their molecules contain one or more hydroxyl groups (OH), and they react with organic acids to form chemicals known as esters.

Scientists classify everything from animals to chemicals according to their shared characteristics, characteristics that may be of no practical interest, or even downright misleading, to non-members of the science guild.

Fret not, therefore, that eggplant (Solanum melongena) and potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are in the same botanical family as the poisonous deadly nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), or that lobsters and wood lice both belong to the family of Crustacea. But don’t we all have strange relatives? Take my uncle Leon. Please. (Apologies to Henny Youngman.)

Similarly, alcohols include the highly poisonous methyl alcohol, CH3OH, a.k.a. methanol or wood alcohol; the somewhat less toxic isopropyl alcohol, C3H7OH, a.k.a. isopropanol or rubbing alcohol; and the even less toxic, but still potent, ethyl alcohol, C2H5OH, a.k.a. ethanol or grain alcohol, the alcohol in beer, wine, and spirits.

That’s not to mention alcohols that we never think of as alcohols, such as cholesterol , CH450H, and glycerol or glycerin, C3H5(OH)3.

(As you have noticed, chemists name all alcohols with the suffix -ol.)

So, don’t let the name “alcohol” fool you into thinking that a chemical is relatively harmless. Dead is a lot worse than drunk.