In general usage, alcohol refers almost always to ethanol, also known as grain alcohol, and often to any beverage that contains ethanol (see alcoholic beverage). This sense underlies the term alcoholism (addiction to alcohol). Other forms of alcohol are usually described with a clarifying adjective, as in isopropyl alcohol or by the suffix -ol, as in isopropanol.

In chemistry, alcohol is a more general term, applied to any organic compound in which a hydroxyl group (-OH) is bound to a carbon atom, which in turn is bound to other hydrogen and/or carbon atoms.

Alcohols are in wide use in industry and science as reagents, solvents, and fuels. State-of-the-art engineering has achieved replacement of gasoline (and other hydrocarbons which produce toxic fumes) with forms of alcohol such as ethanol or methanol (which burn more cleanly). Because of its low toxicity and ability to dissolve non-polar substances, ethanol is often used as a solvent in medical drugs, perfumes, and vegetable essences such as vanilla.

Alcohols often have an odor described as 'biting' that 'hangs' in the nasal passages. Ethanol in the form of alcoholic beverages has been consumed by humans since pre-historic times, for a variety of hygienic, dietary, medicinal, religious, and recreational reasons. While infrequent consumption of ethanol in small quantities may be harmless or even beneficial, larger doses result in a state known as drunkenness or intoxication and, depending on the dose and regularity of use, can cause acute respiratory failure or death and with chronic use can cause severe health problems, such as liver and brain damage.

Alcohol Nutrition Facts: Calories, Carbs, and Health Benefits