MCAT Organic Chemistry Review

Alcohols

Introduction

Alcohols are probably the most popular chemicals you’ll encounter in organic chemistry. Ethanol has been popular with humans for more than 10,000 years. It’s not just humans, either: many animals are known to seek out rotten fruits that have fermented enough to contain moderate levels of ethanol. Note that when we talk about consuming “alcohol,” we are referring exclusively to ethanol (grain alcohol). In fact, consuming other alcohols can have drastically negative effects. Methanol (wood alcohol), for example, is oxidized by the body to formic acid, which is extremely toxic to the optic nerve and retina and can cause blindness when ingested. Isopropyl alcohol, commonly used as an antiseptic, can cause severe central nervous system depression. For organic chemistry purposes, of course, we do not restrict ourselves to only one type of alcohol—many are used synthetically and in analytic techniques.