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Article Summary

What is Alcohol

Introduction to What is Alcohol -- Beer -- Cider -- Wine -- Spirits -- Fortified Wines –

Colorants Introduction
The use of animal derived products in the production of alcoholic beverages is fairly widespread, not because no alternatives exist, but because they always have been used and there is little demand from the consumer for an alternative. The main obstacle when trying to judge the acceptability to vegetarians of any given product is a clause in the 1984 Food Labeling Regulations (UK) which exclude from the 1984 Food Act all drinks with an alcohol content exceeding 1.2% by volume (ABV), leaving only very low or non-alcoholic beers, wines and ciders being required to list all ingredients.

The main appearance of animal derived products is in the fining or clearing process, though others may be used as colorants or anti-foaming agents.

It must be pointed out that alcohol is routinely tested on thousands of animals each year (though this is not usually done directly by any individual company).

Types of Alcohol

What is Alcohol: Beer
Cask-conditioned ales need fining to clear the material, especially the yeast, held in suspension in the liquid. This is invariably done by adding isinglass, derived from the swim bladders of certain tropical fish especially the Chinese sturgeon. This acts as a falling suspension. If you were to hold a pint of real ale up to the light and see cloudy lumps swirling around, that would suggest that the cask had been recently disturbed and the isinglass shaken up from the bottom. Bottled and naturally conditioned beers will not always have been treated with isinglass. Keg Beers and Lagers are pasteurized and usually passed through Chill Filters, as are canned beers and some bottled beers. However, a considerable number of breweries still use isinglass to clear their pasteurized beers. Sometimes this is done only to rescue selected batches which are considered too hazy. Occasionally the sometimes animal derived additive Glyceryl Monostearate is used in place of 900 Dimethylpolysiloxane as a foam-control agent in the production of keg beers.

It is sometimes possible to buy barrels of cask-conditioned beer from a brewery before it has been fined. The beer would then have to be left for a considerable time to stand before consumption. To our knowledge, only one pub in England sells un-fined, real ale on draught: The Cumberland Arms in Byker, Newcastle on Tyne.

What is Alcohol: Cider
Most of the main brands of cider will have been fined using gelatin. Scrumpy type ciders are less likely to have been fined.

What is Alcohol: Wine
With wine, it is again in the fining process that animal derived ingredients make an appearance. Finings can be isinglass, gelatin, egg albumen, modified casein (from milk), chitin (derived from the shells of crabs or lobsters) or ox blood (rarely used today). But alternatives do exist in the form of bentonite, kieselguhr, kaolin and silica gel or solution. Also newer methods such as centrifuging and filtering are becoming more popular. The majority of organic wines do not use animal derived finings, but some do. Thorson's Organic Wine Guide by Jerry Lockspeiser and Jackie Gear lists those wines which are suitable. You might like to note that the Wine Development Board claim that the fining agents are removed at the end of the process with the possible exception of very minute quantities.

What is Alcohol: Spirits
Most spirits appear to be acceptable to vegetarians, with the possible exception of Malt Whisky. Some blended whiskies and Spanish Brandies which have been conditioned in casks which had previously held sherry which may have been treated with animal derived finings. (Brandy itself is not produced from wine which has undergone any fining processes). Also some imported Vodkas may have been passed through a bone charcoal filter.

What is Alcohol: Fortified Wines
All ports except crusted port are fined using gelatin. Sherry should be treated in a similar way to wine.

What is Alcohol: Colorants
E120 cochineal produced by extracting the red body material from pregnant scale insects of the species Dactilopius Coccus is used as a colorant in a small number of red wines, soft drinks and Campari.

What is Alcohol: Problem Drinking
Research has shown that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can have health benefits. For men over 40 and women after the menopause, having one or two small drinks a day can help prevent coronary heart disease.

However, it is estimated that a quarter of men and one in six women in Britain drink enough to put their health at risk.

The affects that alcohol has on the body are consistently predictable regardless of the use pattern. Alcohol is a mood altering depressant drug. The reason that alcohol can cause such extensive damage to the body is because it can go everywhere. There is no body cell resistant to alcohol. The first stop is the stomach, where without food; alcohol is absorbed directly into the blood stream. Food will actually slow the absorption of alcohol as will fruit juice and water. Vomiting, one of the body’s defenses against an alcohol overdose, is caused when you drink too much.

How Does Alcohol Effect The Body?

Alcohol moves quickly to the brain and passes the blood-brain barrier, which normally keeps harmful substances away from the brain. In the brain, alcohol affects the neurons, causing judgment problems, coordination problems, and a host of other problem.

Once in the blood stream, alcohol goes to the liver for detoxification, or break down, by the alcohol-attacking enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase. Eventually, the alcohol is broken down and excreted from the body.

Your Appearance - If you want to have clear skin and bright eyes, don’t drink alcohol. According to researchers, more than one or two drinks a week promotes aging. Alcohol is considered a food with non-nutritional calories that quickly add up. When you abuse alcohol, you tend to be undernourished, making your hair dry, giving you cracked lips, aggravating acne, making your eyes look glassy, and giving your skin a puffy, broken vein look.

Your Brain - Alcohol is a depressant that slows brain activity down. While one or two drinks makes most people feel relaxed, more alcohol may cause feelings of anxiety, depression, and often aggression. Alcohol’s first effect as it reaches the outer brain is to distort your judgment and lower you inhibition, while producing euphoria (a sense of pleasure.)

As you consume more alcohol, and it reaches the cerebellum, your coordination and perception are affected which can cause memory blackouts. As the alcohol reaches your mid-brain, reflexes diminish and you experience confusion, stupor, and may lapse into a coma. Once the alcohol finally reaches the medulla, or inner core of the brain, your heart rate drops and breathing ceases, resulting in death. Research suggests that continued alcohol use can cause depression. Alcohol robs brain cells of water and glucose, the brain’s food, contributing to a hangover the next day.

Your Gastrointestinal Tract - The stomach is irritated by alcohol, causing increased stomach acid production which leads to heartburn and eventually ulcers. Alcohol use is linked to cancer of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. The liver, due to its role in breaking down alcohol, suffers the most damage. Alcohol use leads to destruction of liver cells, fat accumulation around the liver, and cirrhosis which is a fatal condition. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which causes the kidneys to increase urinary output, contributing to dehydration and your hangover.

Your Reproductive System - Although the research here is new, it is know that alcohol decreases the male hormone testosterone. Long-term use causes not only decreased function, but size. The use of alcohol in men and women causes increased sexual desire, but decreased performance. Alcohol is toxic to unborn children causing permanent tissue and organ damage.

Other - Alcohol depresses the body’s immune system making it easier to get sick. It also disrupts your sleep patterns, further depressing the immune system. Alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, constipation, and strokes.

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