Medical Uses of Alcohol

Alcohol (ethanol, ethyl alcohol), we commonly know as substance of abuse. Chronic alcoholism or excessive and regular drinking of alcohol (ethyl alcohol) is a common problem throughout the world. Alcoholism can be considered as an important social evil. Alcohol is such as substance, which is consumed for celebrating as well in sad situations. Although most of us know alcohol as a substance of abuse or as a social evil, alcohol has several medical uses.ID-100132162

Various properties (alcohol is colorless liquid and a versatile solvent, many drugs are soluble in alcohol, which may not be soluble in water or other commonly used solvents) of alcohol are used in medical field. Alcohol is used as antiseptic, as antidote, as a solvent and in many other purposes.

Alcohol as antiseptic:

Many antiseptic preparations contain alcohol (Pharmacy grade alcohol, pharmaceutical ethanol or disinfectant ethanol). Alcohol is effective against most bacteria, fungi and viruses and it kills germs/organisms by denaturing their protein and dissolving their lipids. Ethanol based antiseptic preparations include hand sensitizers, medical wipes etc. are commonly used.

Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) as antidote:

Ethanol is used as antidote in poisonings due to toxic alcohols such as methanol and ethylene glycol. Ethanol compete for the same enzymes (aldehyde dehydrogenase and alcohol dehydrogenase) that metabolizes methanol into toxic formaldehyde and formic acid (responsible for optic nerve damage and blindness) and delay metabolism of methanol and prevents its toxic effects.

Various other uses of alcohol (ethanol) are:

  • Alcohol is used as rubificient and counterirritant for sprains and joint pains.
  • Alcohol (rubbed over skin) is used for preventing bedsores. It should not be used in already formed bedsores.
  • Alcohol is used as appetite stimulant and carminatives (remove gas or bloating from stomach).
  • Alcohol can be used for cold sponging to reduce fever, instead of cold water.
  • Alcohol is injected round the nerve to cause permanent loss of transmission in case of severe pain due to cancer or neuralgias.
  • Alcohol is used in anti-perspirants and aftershave lotions.
  • Alcohol is used as solvent in various pharmaceutical preparations such as cough syrups.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong /

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