EtOH – What does it stand for & how is it used in medicine?

In medicine, knowledge of chemicals and chemistry is vital. Understanding how chemicals affect the body, mix in the body, and how certain chemicals break down, all help medical professionals treat patients safely and appropriately.

What does EtOH stand for?

EtOH is the chemical label for ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, which is considered an organic compound. This chemical compound is made up of two carbon atoms, six hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom. That combination is written in a format called a chemical formula, which looks like this: CH3CH2OH. EtOH is colorless, flammable, is considered a toxic chemical, and is commonly known as the form of alcohol that is in alcoholic drinks.

How is it used in medicine?

In several fields, including healthcare, the term “EtOH” is used to describe alcohol and alcohol-related conditions. Like many abbreviations in medicine, this shorthand was used because it was easier to write. And even in modern medicine with most, if not all, medical records being typed and digital in nature, EtOH continues to be used.

A variety of conditions related to EtOH in medicine are used, for example:

  • EtOH intoxication – a condition where a patient behavior is altered due to consuming alcohol, symptoms can include slurred speech, unsteady gait, and mental confusion.
  • EtOH use – a person who uses alcohol, this can be a wide range from daily drinkers to social drinkers.
  • EtOH withdrawal – a person who drinks so often that when they stop drinking, their body “withdrawals” from lack of alcohol, which can cause serious symptoms like seizures.
  • EtOH test – a test to determine the level of alcohol in your body, can be done by testing blood, your breath (breathalyzers that police use), or urine.
  • EtOH abuse – also called alcoholism, a chronic disease of uncontrollable drinking that can cause series health issues, including liver failure.

The phrase “EtOH intoxication” is used in medicine instead of the more common phrase “drunk” because it is more professional and is the official name. Official names, such as chemical names, are used for medical documentation because these records are considered both official medical records as well as legal records.

EtOH Testing

An EtOH test will look for what is called a BAC, which stands for a Blood Alcohol Content. BAC measures the percentage of EtOH in your blood and is placed on numeric scale from 0.0% – 0.4%. Below is a quick breakdown of BACs.

  • BAC of 0.0% > zero EtOH, no symptoms, patient is sober
  • BAC of 0.01% – 0.02% > symptoms include altered and relaxed mood, and possible slight loss of judgement
  • BAC of 0.02% – 0.05% > symptoms include inhibition, impaired judgement, and alertness
  • BAC of 0.05% – 0.08% > symptoms include reduced muscle coordination and impaired judgement (0.08% or higher is considered legally impaired in the US)
  • BAC of 0.08% – 0.1% > symptoms become more severe and include severely impaired speech, reduced reaction time and more impaired judgement
  • BAC of 0.1% – 0.15% > symptoms include nausea and vomiting, loss of balance, and loss of muscle control
  • BAC of 0.15% – 0.3% > symptoms of vomiting, extreme drowsiness, and confusion will worsen
  • BAC of 0.3% – 0.4% (or higher) > symptoms of alcohol poisoning, severe nausea and vomiting, loss of consciousness (passing out) and possible coma. A BAC this high can be fatal.

EtOH abuse

EtOH abuse, also referred to as alcoholism, is a serious medical disease causing the death of several million worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that around 140,000 Americans die annually from alcohol use. The group highest at risk from an alcohol related death are men between the ages of 17 and 52 years old. Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. One in 12 men and one in 25 women have a problem with EtOH abuse. Every day in the United States approximately 30 people die from an alcohol related car accident.

EtOH withdrawal

EtOH withdrawal is a very serious medical condition. EtOH withdrawal happens when a patient who is a daily and heavy drinker stops drinking abruptly. This causes the body to react negatively to the lack of EtOH in the system and causes a variety of series symptoms. These symptoms include nausea and vomiting, sweating, and shaking, hallucinations and seizures. Often heavy drinkers who want to stop must enter an in-patient rehab center to be monitored closely and receive medications to help the EtOH withdrawal symptoms.


To review, EtOH is an expression used in the medical field to describe a patient’s alcohol use. EtOH use, EtOH abuse, and an EtOH test are all ways the expression might be used by medical professionals. EtOH can be measured in your body by a test called a Blood Alcohol Content, or BAC. As the level of alcohol in your system increases, so do the symptoms, such as slurred speech, impaired judgement, and impaired coordination. EtOH is the chemical label for an organic compound called ethanol, which is the type of alcohol found in most alcoholic beverages.

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