Mouthwash is designed to spit out rather than swallowed, and ingesting even a small amount can be seriously dangerous. Alcohol (ethanol) isn’t the only potentially dangerous ingredient in mouthwash.
The chemicals in mouthwash may include chlorhexidine gluconate, hydrogen peroxide, or methyl salicylate, which are all toxic to ingest. Ingesting these ingredients by drinking mouthwash can cause mouthwash overdose, liver failure, and gastrointestinal damage. Drinking methyl alcohol can cause blindness, organ failure, or death.
“Swallowing large amounts of methyl salicylate and hydrogen peroxide may also cause serious stomach and intestine symptoms. It can also lead to changes in the body’s acid-base balance” (National Library of Medicine).
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Someone with an addiction to alcohol may try to conceal mouthwash that contains alcohol while they’re in the hospital. Some people who have been hospitalized are given blood thinners, which can have an adverse reaction with alcohol.
Can Mouthwash Get You Drunk?
Alcohol may be used in mouthwash to help with oral plaque, bad breath, and all-around good oral hygiene. A person can also get drunk from mouthwash. One of the most commonly abused brands of mouthwash is Listerine.
Listerine is 26.9 percent alcohol (54-proof), which is a higher alcohol content than found in most beer, wine, and even some liquors.
Most of the ethyl alcohol used in mouthwash has been specially denatured, meaning that the alcohol used has been altered by other chemicals to make the product undrinkable. Yet many mouthwash products can have the same intoxicating effect as beer, wine, or liquor.
An estimated 10 to 15 percent of people in detox treatment centers for alcoholism have used non-beverage alcohol (NBA) substances like mouthwash to get drunk. Half of these patients are estimated to be regular consumers.
There are many reasons that people abuse mouthwash instead of a standard alcoholic beverage, including:
- high alcohol content
- less expensive than standard alcoholic beverages
- suffering from an alcohol addiction
- normal alcohol may not be available
- less noticeable because of minty breath
- turned away at the bar or store because of intoxication
- there’s a cut-off time for liquor sales in most places, but mouthwash is always available
- may not be age restrictions for buying mouthwash—teens may buy mouthwash in an attempt to get drunk
United States law prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages to a person who is under the legal age for consumption. Furnishing alcohol to minors, or selling it to someone who’s visibly intoxicated, is also illegal.
A person who’s intoxicated may not be able to buy alcohol, but they’re most likely still allowed to buy mouthwash with alcohol in it.
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Signs Of Alcohol Intoxication
Understanding if someone needs help with an alcohol problem without first knowing what to look for may be difficult. Someone who’s been drinking mouthwash in secret may act strangely, seem off-balance, and potentially spend a lot of time in the bathroom. The person may be convinced that their drinking is a secret.
Some of the common signs of alcohol abuse are:
- droopy eyelids
- flushed face
- slurred speech
- loud, noisy speech
- talking faster than normal
- irrational thoughts and comments
- argumentative, belligerent, or aggressive behavior
- inability to sit up straight
- swaying, staggering and stumbling
- overly animated behavior
- difficulty standing up
- sweating profusely
- dry mouth
- smelling like alcohol
- excessive trips to the restroom
Alcohol may affect each person differently, so not everyone always shows all the signs of alcohol intoxication.
Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are each considered an alcohol use disorder.
Alcoholism is characterized by a person’s inability to quit or moderate their drinking no matter the consequences it has on their life. Stopping drinking without professional help may be risky for someone with alcoholism.
With alcohol abuse, a person is not addicted to alcohol, but their use of alcohol may cause other problems in their work, health, and relationships.
A person struggling with an AUD may have an increased tolerance to the effects of alcohol and may require more alcohol to get drunk than a person whose drinking is light or moderate. There are an estimated 16 million people in the United States with an AUD, and many of them are unable to stop drinking on their own.
Is It Possible To Recover From Alcoholism?
To recover means to return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. Recovery from alcoholism starts by admitting there’s a problem. For many people, the next step is asking for help.
For some, addiction recovery may necessitate an alcohol treatment, action steps, and a change in behavior. With the right help, a person suffering from alcoholism can overcome their obsession and compulsion to drink alcohol.
Years of alcohol abuse can cause a lot of damage to a person’s organs and mind. Medical detox can help an individual rid their body of unwanted chemicals like alcohol, while allowing them to safely manage withdrawal symptoms, and overcome the physical addiction to alcohol.
At an alcohol rehab center, people may benefit from medication-assisted treatment, along with behavioral therapy, to help them recognize and correct their problem behaviors. Behavioral treatment can help patients evaluate their alcohol abuse as problem behavior while learning new behaviors that will help them live a self-directed and healthy lifestyle.
The success of alcohol rehab is often determined by the length of time a person spends there, and how much effort they put into it. Recovering from alcohol addiction is possible with the right guidance, support, and treatment.