• Written By Sushmita Rout
  • Last Modified 24-01-2023

Uses of Alcohol In Daily Life, Medicines, Pharmacy


Uses of Alcohol: During the coronavirus pandemic, sanitisers and masks rose to fame overnight. We were and still are advised to wash and apply sanitisers to our hands continuously. But did you know that these sanitisers contain 99.5% alcohol? The alcohol present in sanitisers is isopropyl alcohol.

Uses of Alchohol are plenty and they are used in a diverse range of applications from medicine to cooking. In this article, let us look at some of the most important uses of alcohol. Scroll down to know more interesting facts about alcohol and its applications.


Alcohols belong to a special class of organic compounds. These have a similar general formula as alkanes except that they have the functional group –OH, called the hydroxyl group. Some of the most common alcohols are-

1. Methyl alcohol or methanol
2. Ethyl alcohol or ethanol
3. Propyl alcohol or propanol
4. Butyl alcohol or Butanol

Though most people drink alcohol as a social drink, that is not the only use for alcohol. Alcohol plays a variety of roles in our lives.

In naming alcohols, the name -ol’ suffix is added to the parent chain of the alkane name. The position of the –OH functional group is indicated in the name. The numbering of the parent chain is done at the end closest to where the –OH is located.

The general formula of alcohols homologous series is \({{\rm{C}}_{\rm{n}}}{{\rm{H}}_{{\rm{2n + 1}}}}{\rm{OH,}}\) where \({\rm{n = 1,2,3}}..\)

What are the Uses of Alcohols?

Different alchohols are different types of applications. The various types of alcohols and their uses are explained in detail below:

Methanol \(\left( {{\rm{C}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{3}}}{\rm{OH}}} \right)\)

What are the Uses of alcohols?

1. As a Chemical Feedstock

Methanol is widely used as a chemical feedstock in the production of methanal or formaldehyde by catalytic oxidation. It is also used in the manufacture of acetic acid. Formaldehyde or \({\rm{HCHO}}\) is used in the manufacture of plastics, paints, explosives, textiles and cosmetics.

2. As a Solvent

Methanol is used as a solvent for inks, adhesives, resins and dyes. Methanol is often added to ethanol to discourage overconsumption of alcohol. It is also used as a solvent in the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, it is used in antifreeze for automotive radiators and screenwash.

3. As a Fuel

Methanol is used as an additive in petrol to improve combustion. It can be used as a fuel in several internal combustion engines. The equation for the combustion of methanol is given by-
\({\rm{2C}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{3}}}{\rm{OH + 3}}{{\rm{O}}_{\rm{2}}}{\rm{\;}} \to {\rm{4}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{2}}}{\rm{O + 2C}}{{\rm{O}}_{\rm{2}}}\)


Biodiesel is produced by reacting vegetable oils with methanol. The main product is a methyl ester of a long-chain fatty acid, which is used as biodiesel. Glycerol is produced as a by-product in the reaction. Biodiesel can be used as a replacement fuel in most modern diesel engines – unlike raw vegetable oil, which can only be used in converted or old-fashioned diesel engines.

Advantages: Methanol can be stored easily compared to hydrogen gas or natural gas. It is biodegradable and has a very short half-life in groundwater. Methanol easily blends with gasoline/diesel and has the potential to substitute them altogether. This feature of methanol can reduce the high import dependence on crude oil (\({\rm{82\% }}\) of the crude requirements were met through imports in \(2016-17\)) of India.

Methanol as fuel is cleaner than gasoline or LPG. Hence, methanol cookstoves can help in achieving the objective of access to clean cooking fuels in India.

Disadvantages: Methanol tends to corrode aluminium and some other metals. Its energy density is approximately half of the energy density offered by gasoline.

Ethanol \(\left( {{{\rm{C}}_{\rm{2}}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{5}}}{\rm{OH}}} \right)\)

What are the Uses of alcohols?

1. As an Ingredient in Alcoholic Beverages

Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) is the type of alcohol that over two billion people drink every day. This type of alcohol is produced by the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starch. Though it is being consumed by humans for centuries, its overconsumption adversely affects the human body. The human liver can metabolise ethanol, but only in limited quantities. It also impairs cognitive and motor functions and acts as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant.

There are two categories of alcoholic beverages:

a. Distilled alcohol: Distillation converts a fermented substance into another substance with an even higher concentration of alcohol. It concentrates alcohol by separating it from the water and other components of a fermented substance. Liquors and spirits are distilled alcoholic beverages. They contain more alcohol by volume than undistilled drinks. In general, a distilled alcoholic beverage will have a higher alcohol proof.

b. Undistilled alcohol:  Undistilled alcohols are also called fermented drinks. Fermentation is the process by which bacteria or yeast chemically converts sugar into ethanol. Wine and beer are both fermented, undistilled alcoholic beverages. Wineries ferment grapes to make wine, and breweries ferment barley, wheat, and other grains to make beer.

2. To Produce Methylated Spirit (meth)

To discourage the overconsumption of alcohol, ethanol is often mixed with methanol. This process is known as Denaturing of ethanol. The resulting mixture is also called methylated spirit, which is poisonous, making ethanol unfit for consumption.

Methylated spirit is combustible; hence it can be used in lamps and stoves made for camping.

Methylated spirit is used to remove ink from various kinds of surfaces, such as metals and plastics.  Methylated spirit is used as a component of household cleaning products, usually glass cleaners.

3. As a Solvent

Ethanol is used as a solvent to dissolve many organic compounds that are insoluble in water. It is used in perfumes, cosmetics, paints, detergents and inks.

Ethanol has antibacterial properties as it slows or stops the growth of micro-organisms (germs). It alters the shapes of proteins in the micro-organisms preventing them from functioning effectively. The loss in shape of a protein is called denaturation, and it happens when the bonds that hold the protein together to maintain its specific shape are broken. For this reason, ethanol is used in hand sanitisers and hand wipes.

Ethanol (in concentrations ranging from \({\rm{1\% }}\) to \({\rm{25\% }}\)) is used as a solvent for some analgesics and mouthwashes. Since it has a melting point of \({\rm{ – 114}}{\rm{.}}{{\rm{1}}^{\rm{o}}}{\rm{C,}}\) ethanol is used as an ingredient in cooling baths in several laboratories. It also serves as the active fluid in many spirit thermometers.

4. Used as a Fuel

With fossil fuels being non-renewable and contributing to global warming, biofuels are increasingly considered possible alternative fuels for the future.

Ethanol acts as a clean fuel because it undergoes complete combustion. Therefore, it does not contribute much to pollution. It burns with a clean, smokeless flame to produce carbon dioxide and water.

\({\rm{2}}{{\rm{C}}_{\rm{2}}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{5}}}{\rm{OH + 6}}{{\rm{O}}_{\rm{2}}}{\rm{\;}} \to {\rm{6}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{2}}}{\rm{O + 4C}}{{\rm{O}}_{\rm{2}}}\)

Ethanol is usually mixed with gasoline to produce ‘gasohol”, which is about \({\rm{10\% }}\) ethanol.

Using ethanol as a fuel reduces our dependency on natural fossil fuels such as petrol. In countries like Brazil with limited natural oil supplies, sugar cane is grown on a large scale. Fermentation of sugar cane is carried out to produce ethanol. The ethanol produced by fermentation is used as an alternative source of fuel.

It is renewable because the sugar cane can be replaced or grown again. It is also a more environment friendly source of fuel. This is because the glucose provided for the fermentation is produced by the plants by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Ethanol combustion produces carbon dioxide that returns to the atmosphere and is used by the green plants to produce glucose necessary for ethanol fermentation.

What are the Uses of alcohols?

Disadvantages of Bioethanol

There are some disadvantages of growing biofuel crops (such as sugar cane and maise) to be used as bioethanol:

  1. The demand for biofuel crops means greater demand on rainforest land. This leads to clearing rainforests into agricultural land, which may not consume carbon dioxide as efficiently as rainforests do.
  2. The conditions required for growing biofuel crops may not be adequate in many parts of the world. This discrepancy would not satisfy the demand for fuel.
  3. Modern petrol engines cannot use biofuels. Therefore, modification in petrol engines would lead to additional manufacturing costs.
  4. Although biofuels are theoretically carbon-neutral, this does not account for the carbon dioxide emissions associated with growing, harvesting and transporting the crops or producing ethanol. Therefore, overall, more carbon dioxide is emitted than is absorbed, which means that it contributes to global warming.
  5. Some people morally object to using food crops to produce fuels. For example, it could cause food shortages or increases in food prices.

Propanol \(\left( {{\rm{C}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{3}}}{\rm{C}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{2}}}{\rm{C}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{2}}}{\rm{OH}}} \right)\)

Propanol is short-chain alcohol with three C atoms. \(1\)-propanol (\({\rm{n}}\)-propyl alcohol, \(1\)-propyl alcohol, or \({\rm{n}}\)-propanol ) has a linear structure, whereas \(2\)-propanol or isopropanol are branched. Due to their properties (high volatility, rapid effect, and low toxicity), both \(1\)-propanol and \(2\)-propanol are often used in hand disinfectants. Here, they have excellent bactericidal activity.

1. As a Solvent / Intermediate

One of the most common uses of propanol is that it is used as a solvent. It is used to produce other solvents such as antifreeze, lacquer formulations, soaps, dye solutions, window cleaner and more. Propanol like isopropanol or isopropyl alcohol is most commonly used in the printing industry, especially flexographic ink. It is used as a cleansing agent in floor polishes and metal degreasers. Propanol acts as a chemical intermediate in the process of creating halides, propyl amines and propyl acetate.

2. Medical Use

Propanol, being alcohol, exhibits antibacterial properties. Bottles of rubbing alcohol and sanitisers contain isopropyl alcohol. It is also used as a depressant or pain reliever. It is found in alcoholic beverages as a by-product of fermentation.

3. Cosmetics

Propanol also finds its use in different cosmetics. For example, acetate is used as a remover for acrylic nails and fingernail polish. It is also used in perfumes.

4. As a Fuel

It has been found that propanol has a high octane number and is quite suitable for engine fuel usage. But it is not commonly used because its manufacturing process is not economical. Its primary use is to act as a chemical solvent to a major organic compound. It is much safer to use than other synthetic alcohol solutions.

Butanol \(\left( {{\rm{C}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{3}}}{\rm{C}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{2}}}{\rm{C}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{2}}}{\rm{C}}{{\rm{H}}_{\rm{2}}}{\rm{OH}}} \right)\)

\({\rm{n}}\)-butanol, also known as \(1\)-butanol, or butyl alcohol, is four-carbon linear chain alcohol. It is produced by petrochemical processes or fermentation of sugars derived from corn.

1. In the Manufacturing Industry

  1. Butanol is primarily used to manufacture plastics, polymers, lubricants, brake fluids, and synthetic rubber.
  2. Butanol is an environment friendly and powerful solvent for cleaning and polishing products.|
  3. Butanol can also be used as a fuel.
  4. \({\rm{n}}\)-Butanol is present in numerous beverages and food, and it is used as an artificial food flavouring agent.

2. In Cosmetic and Laboratory Industry

  1. Butanol is used as a humectant for cellulose nitrate
  2. It is used as a chemical feedstock for butyl ethanoate, a synthetic food flavouring agent in the food and confectionary industry.
  3. They are used in the cosmetic industry in products such as shampoo, shaving products and soaps.
  4. It is used as a chemical intermediate to create other vital compounds such as Glycol Ether, Acrylate Esters, Amino Resins, Acetates, and Amines.

3. As a Source of Fuel

\({\rm{n}}\)-butanol has a  higher energy content than ethanol. It is more compatible with the gasoline structure and does not absorb water from ambient air. Biobutanol can be used as a transportation fuel.

Uses of Alcohols in Pharmacy

Every time we walk into a doctor’s office to receive a jab, we see that the cotton used to clean the area to be inoculated and stem bleeding after the injection is usually soaked in a solution. The solution used in this cleaning process is alcohol.

Doctors, nurses and medical practitioners disinfect their hands in alcoholic solutions before handling patients. During surgery, the surgical area is cleaned with alcohol to stem infections.

Let us see how alcohol is used in life-saving situations in the medical field;

1. Wound Dresser

Earlier, alcohol was used as an antiseptic, poured over wounds, and antidote for snake bites. In addition, patients were given a drink of whiskey before an operation. More recently, alcohol is used as a mild sedative.

2. Cough and Cold Remedy

Alcohols are a popular cough remedy commodity. It is believed to clear minor colds and congestion and is found in most cough syrups.

3. Hand Disinfectant

It is the most common use of alcohol we are experiencing nowadays. Alcohols exhibit antifungal, antibacterial properties. It is used as a disinfectant where soap and water are not readily available.

4. As a Local Rubefacient

Alcohol is applied to the skin leads to the dilate of blood vessels. As a result, the skin area becomes tender and absorbent to medicinal ointment application.

5. Used as a Diluent

Alcohols act as a diluent for many drugs, especially in homoeopathy treatment. A small number of drugs can be diluted in low quantities of alcohol. In these low quantities, alcohol is harmless to the body and increases the drug’s volume.

6. Used as a Solvent

Alcoholic ethanol is an excellent solvent for many drugs as it increases the concentration of solid drug matter. This can also be used for filtration, distillation, and removal of impurities from the drug.

7. Used as a Pain Reliever

Alcohol is used as a pain reliever to subsidise acute pain. For example, in cancer patients, alcohol is usually injected near the affected area to deaden the nerve endings. This leads to pain reduction.

8. As an Antiseptic

Alcohol is used to sterilise medical equipment like needles injections, surgical blades, forceps, etc. Alcohol acts as an antiseptic to clean scratches and mild wounds.

9. As a Preservative

In the laboratory, plant and animal specimens are usually preserved in alcohol. This is because the bactericidal properties of alcohol destroy microbes and other harmful bacteria.

10. Crystallisation and Extraction

Alcohol is employed for the extraction of active ingredients from plants and other specimens. The extraction is done by steam distillation. Due to the low boiling point, alcohol quickly evaporates and then percolates through the solid material. Alcohol is also used in the crystallisation of compounds which is an essential step in the purification process.

11. As a Cleaning Agent

Alcohol is used as a cleaning agent in hospitals and medical facilities, and cleaning laboratories to eliminate microbial contamination.

12. Laboratory Staining

While carrying out experiments on plant tissue and animal tissue, staining of the specimen is essential. This staining is done with alcohol that helps highlight the specimen under the microscope.

13. Solvent for Analysis

Chemistry analytical processes like Chromatography analysis use Ethanol, Methanol, and Isopropanol as solvent. Alcohol plays a vital role in the separation process using these analytical techniques.

14. Lighting Laboratories

Laboratories use ethanol lamps to light up. Ethanol burns cleanly and does not leave soot.

Uses of Alcohol in Medicine and Pharmacology

Alcohol is an essential ingredient in medicines like cough syrups, respiratory treatment drugs. Pain relievers also contain a high percentage of alcohol. Here is a list of several drugs that have alcohol as an essential ingredient.

1. Amoxicillin Trihydrate

Amoxicillin is used to treat bacterial infection and endocarditis prevention. It treats anthrax prophylaxis, actinomycosis, and dental abscess. It contains alcohols, isopropanol, and propanediol as active ingredients.

2. Atazanavir Sulfate

Atazanavir contains isopropyl alcohol and propylene glycol, which is used in the treatment of HIV infections.

3. Bupropion Hydrochloride

Bupropion acts as a miscellaneous antidepressant used in the treatment of depressive disorders.

4. Phentermine Hydrochloride

Phentermine used in the treatment of obesity contains isopropyl alcohol, butyl alcohol, and propylene glycol.

5. Temazepam

Temazepam is used in the treatment of insomnia, and it contains isopropyl alcohol and butyl alcohol.

6. Tizanidine Hydrochloride

Tizanidine is a relaxant used in the treatment of muscle spasm. It contains isopropyl alcohol and butyl alcohol.

7. Zonisamide

Zonisamide is an inhibitor anticonvulsant that contains isopropyl alcohol and butyl alcohol. It is used in the treatment of seizures.

8. Benadryl

Benadryl is an antihistamine used to relieve symptoms of allergy, hay fever, and the common cold. It contains alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, butyl alcohol.

9. Codimal DM

Codimal is used to treat symptoms caused by the common cold, flu, allergies, or other breathing illnesses. It has isopropyl alcohol and butyl alcohol.

10. Decaprin

It is a combination of drug-containing expectorants and nasal decongestants used to treat cough and nasal congestion. It contains isopropyl alcohol and butyl alcohol.

11. Vicks Cough \({\rm{5}}{\rm{.0\% }}\)

Vicks cough contains alcohol used for the temporary treatment of cough, blocked nose, sinus pressure caused by infection or other breathing illnesses.

12. Anbesol Gel

Anbesol Gel contains benzocaine and is used as a local anaesthetic. It blocks nerve endings and numbs the skin and mouth surface. Anbesol Gel is made of almost \({\rm{70\% }}\) alcohol.

13. Dent’s Toothache Drops

Dent’s Toothache Drops are used to lessen toothache pain. It comprises almost \({\rm{60\% }}\) alcohol.

14. Dental Gel

Corsodyl Dental Gel is used to treat gum disease, control recurring mouth ulcers, prevent cavities and maintain mouth hygiene. It is made of \({\rm{7}}{\rm{.5\% }}\) alcohol.

15. Toothache Drops

Tooth Drops have almost \({\rm{20\% }}\) alcohol and Benzocaine. It is used for toothache, canker sores, sore gums, throat, mouth, and gum injury. It is a local anaesthetic that works by numbing the painful place.

Uses of Alcohols and Hydrocarbons

The major difference between an alcohol and a hydrocarbon is that alcohol has a hydroxyl functional group \(\left( {{\rm{ – OH}}} \right)\) bound to a saturated carbon atom and hydrocarbon is an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon.

Hydrocarbons are the principal constituents of petroleum and natural gas. They serve as fuels and lubricants and are a precursor to the production of plastics, fibres, rubbers, solvents, explosives, and industrial chemicals.

Hydrocarbons are also found in plants, animals, and their fossils. The familiar plastics polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene are also hydrocarbons. 

Polymers are large molecules of hydrocarbons made up of repeating units, referred to as monomers. They can be natural such as starch, or synthetic, like polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polystyrene.  Most of these plastics are recycled and reprocessed into useful products. For example, soft drink bottles are melted down and used for plastic furniture, carpets, or other applications.

Uses of Alcohol in the Human Body

Moderate alcohol use has possible health benefits, but it is not risk-free.
The potential benefits of alcohol are relatively small and may not apply to all individuals. Therefore, one should not begin drinking alcohol based on potential health benefits. For many people, the possible benefits do not outweigh the risks and avoiding alcohol is the best course.

Uses of alcohol in the human body

Let us take a closer look at alcohol and our health.

Defining Moderate

Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults generally means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Examples of one drink include:

1. Beer: \(12\) fluid ounces (\(355\) millilitres)
2. Wine: \(5\) fluid ounces (\(148\) millilitres)
3. Distilled spirits (\(80\) proof): \(1.5\) fluid ounces (\(44\) millilitres)

Pros and Cons of Moderate Alcohol Use

Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, such as reducing the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes etc. But eating a healthy diet and being physically active have much greater health benefits. However, moderate alcohol use is not risk-free either. For example, prolonged drinking may cause oesophagal cancer.

Risks of Heavy Alcohol Use

Excessive drinking can increase your risk of severe health problems, including:

  1. Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and liver
  2. Pancreatitis
  3. Sudden death if you already have cardiovascular disease
  4. Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
  5. Stroke
  6. High blood pressure
  7. Liver disease
  8. Suicide
  9. Accidental severe injury or death
  10. Brain damage and other problems in an unborn child (Alcohol withdrawal syndrome).


Through this article, we learnt the different types of alcohol commonly used in our daily lives. From sanitisers to perfumes, all contain alcohol. In addition, we looked at the uses of alcohol in pharmacy and its importance in medical science. Although alcohol is used widely as a relaxing drink, it should be used judiciously. If not, it can pose a severe health threat to human beings.

FAQs on Alcohol Uses

Some of the most commonly asked queries about uses of alcohol are addressed here:

Q.1. What are the two uses of alcohol?
The two uses of alcohol are – solvent in medicines and cosmetics (cough syrup and perfumes) and biofuel.

Q.2. What are the uses of ethyl alcohol?
Ethyl alcohol is used as a biofuel. It is widely used as a solvent for medicines and in the cosmetic industry. Its primary use is that it is widely consumed for drinking purposes.

Q.3. What are the uses of alcohol solution?
The alcohol solution is used as a solvent in medicines and cosmetics. A solution of methanol is used to denature ethanol.

Q.4. What are the common uses of alcohol?
The common uses of alcohol are – used in hand sanitisers, perfumes, drugs and medicines.

Q.5. What are the risks of heavy alcohol use?
Heavy alcohol use can lead to various health risks including cancer, pancreatitis, heart damage or failure, stroke, high blood pressure, liver diseases, brain and mental problems, and death.

We hope this detailed article on Uses of Alcohol is helpful to you. If you have any queries on this page, ping us through the comment box below and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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