Alcohol is perhaps the most widespread drug in use. It forms naturally by the fermentation process of plant materials and has been produced on purpose since at least neolithic times, when grains were first farmed, harvested, stored, and processed into gruels, porridges, puddings, and so forth. Often these spoiled, forming a fermented base. Alcohol is made as well from other starchy or sugary plant materials, such as fruits, canes, roots, and such. Fermentation (also called anaerobic respiration, or glycolysis) is the chemical process by which living cells, such as yeast, use sugar in the absence of air to produce part or even all of their energy requirements. In fermentation, sugar molecules are converted to alcohol and lactic acid. BEER, wine, and cheese production, as well as certain modern commercial processes require the fermentation by specific kinds of yeast, bacteria, and molds.

Ethyl alcohol, also called ethanol, is the type of alcohol that is usually produced for human consumption. In its pure form, alcohol is a clear liquid with little odor. People drink it primarily in three kinds of beverages: (1) beers are made from grains through brewing and fermentation and normally contain from 3 to 8 percent alcohol; (2) wines are fermented from fruits, such as grapes, and naturally contain from 8 to 12 percent alcohol (up to 21% when fortified by adding more ethanol); (3) beverages or spirits DISTILLED from a fermented base, such as whiskey, gin, or vodka, contain about 40 to 50 percent alcohol, on average (often expressed in proof, so that 40% equals 80 proof; 50% is 100 proof).

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