Alcohol (or more scientifically, ethanol ), according to The Other Wiki, is one of the world's oldest psychoactive substances (alongside cannabis and various fungi from ergot to cubensis). It is traditionally found in the form of a beverage such as beer, wine, or liquor, although in some contexts it can be inhaled to produce similar intoxication, and some people prefer another way of consuming beverage-form alcohol.
Alcoholic beverages are many and varied, due to production methods (fermentation or distillation), source materials (grains, fruits, vegetables, other plants), added substances such as flavorings, and many more ways of defining different forms of alcoholic beverages.
There are three main categories of alcohol: beer, wine, and distilled. Each state in the United States has different liquor laws (which you can read here): Louisiana, for instance, is a place where supermarkets and convenience stores can sell beer, wine, and distilled alcohol, all night long. Texas, however, bans supermarkets from selling distilled liquor (you'd have to go a specialized liquor store for that), as well as banning sales of alcohol after 2 a.m. Distilled spirits include gin, whiskey, vodka, anything with a very high alcohol percentage.
You can find technical information on alcohol here and here. Hard-Drinking Tropes links to common alcohol-related tropes on this Wiki. Most of this article itself will be notes on where these tropes can and do differ from reality, rather than a rehash of information that can be found at both links.
- Alcohol Hic: Happens to some people, that said, hiccups or burps are not a universal sign of being drunk or even using alcohol. Most cases of hiccups are entirely unprovoked, and other people burp or get hiccups when hungry, when consuming caffeine, from medical conditions, and many other reasons. A far more reliable sign of being drunk is a wobbly, stumbling (or alternately, a slow and overcompensating) gait. (Of course that can be due to other conditions too - such as hypoglycemia or stroke - but it is a far more reliable indicator of something being physically wrong with the brain - whether it be acute intoxication or something worse - than burping or hiccups.)
- The Alcoholic: The media depiction of alcoholics as obvious failures with obvious problems is only one "form" of how alcoholism presents. Some alcoholics are, indeed, the obvious case that is never seen without a drink, acts drunk, has problems holding onto work, drinks cheap booze constantly, passes out at inopportune times. Other alcoholics (and this is especially common the higher pay or prestige a position or an individual's life has, lawyers, doctors, and successful entertainers tend toward it) are highly intense, driven personalities with no obvious problem with work or learning (or who can easily conceal said problems), tend to indulge their addiction "off-hours," and/or have such high tolerance that what would get most people buzzed does not affect them. These are defined as functional alcoholics. These alcoholics also are usually very aware that their drinking is seen as problematic, even if they don't consider it such themselves, and will often conceal addictive drinking as social drinking/liking to party, stress relief, appreciation for fine alcohols, or simply just conceal it entirely, drinking in secret. Also see Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.
- Booze-Based Buff: Generally, in Real Life, alcohol would be considered a "debuff" so to speak - it is a sedative, lessens intellectual capacity, makes fine motor skills far more difficult and so on. That said, as the article notes, chronic alcoholics often perform better while intoxicated enough to hold off withdrawals. For those who suffer from crippling anxiety or phobias (or several other mental conditions) a drink can provide some degree of temporary relief - and would therefore enhance their ability to publicly speak, publicly perform, experience sexual responses, or any number of other things, as well as easing a panic attack or such. This is why such individuals must be careful with such self-medication, because it can easily become alcoholism - but at the same time, it is roughly on the same level as taking an "as needed" prescribed medication for such. Whether you find a drink or a Valium/Klonopin/Xanax/etc (though NOT BOTH!) better for relief from such conditions is an individual decision, but both require the same level of care to avoid addiction.
- Designated Driver: If you're consuming alcohol in any amount more than the amount in one serving away from home, plan to have one of these in advance - or use public transportation, walk, take a taxicab or call a car service. Don't drive yourself (see Drunk Driver below for why). If you originally drove to the bar/party/restaurant without a designated driver and are afraid for your car being left alone, most major cities have a "Tipsy Tow" and/or volunteer designated driver service, especially on major holidays. (Even if there IS no such service, the odds of your car being damaged/stolen are far lower than those of your getting into an accident or being arrested.)
- Drunk Driver: On a technical level. .08 is the legal limit for drunk driving for adults in the US. (The limit is zero for minors and those in certain driving capacities - e.g. public transportation, commercial driving). In other countries it may be lower or higher - Sweden is known for zero tolerance, for example, while there are still some places that use .12 or visible intoxication as the standards. Generally, a rule of thumb is that one standardized "drink" = one hour = no exceptions. If you've had a glass of wine with dinner, for example, you should be okay to drive once dinner's over - but if you've had a bottle of wine, you will be a Drunk Driver unless you wait at least six hours and possibly slept somewhere in those hours.
- Some places (especially in the US) have what is called an "open container" law in regard to drunk driving. In these places, woe be to you if someone has opened a container of alcohol in your vehicle, even if you yourself are not drinking it as the driver or only had one drink and are firmly at or below .08. Whether this law is in existence to catch more drunk drivers or simply to make more money for police is a matter for debate, but if you live in such a place and are transporting alcohol, make damn sure the containers are closed, preferably originally sealed, until you reach your destination.
- How does excessive alcohol actually affect a driver? It has several effects, none of them good. See above under Booze-Based Buff. It makes a driver sleepy and confused, as well as reducing their skills at actually operating the vehicle, while at the same time giving them false confidence in their ability to drive and heightening emotion. A drunk driver, may, for example, drive way too fast thinking he or she is going too slow. He or she may not be able to keep his or her car on the road or within lanes on the road. He or she may overestimate or underestimate a "safe" lane change or take a curve at the wrong distance or speed. He or she may not have the reaction time to make a sudden emergency stop or swerve to avoid danger. That most drunk drivers don't get into fatal accidents immediately as per the trope is NOT a reason to drive drunk - it is simply luck, and any time one chooses to drive drunk can be the time one is not lucky. Getting behind the wheel drunk is Russian Roulette that can not only kill you but others as well.
- according to IUPAC, alcohol refers to any carbon based molecule that contains a hydroxy (-OH) group, of all the alcohols, only ethanol is really fit for human consumption and serves as a psychoactive drug. E.g. methanol will give you the buzz of a glass of hard liquor, but it will also destroy your eyes and lungs and, most likely, kill you. Isopropyl ant butyl alcohols (fusel oils) are much less toxic than methanol and even more psychoactive than ethanol, but they taste and smell really nasty and still are somewhat toxic