Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, and liquor, but there are several other types of alcohol as well. These other types of alcohol can be found in various products beyond beverages, such as cleaning solutions, mouthwash, and rubbing alcohol.
Unlike alcoholic beverages, rubbing alcohol contains isopropanol, or isopropyl alcohol. This type of alcohol is much more toxic than ethanol in small amounts. Drinking even an ounce of isopropyl can have harmful effects on health and may require immediate medical attention.
Other common products that contain isopropyl include:
- alcohol swabs
- nail polish remover
- paint thinners
- cleaning supplies
Although it is more common for someone to drink an alcoholic beverage than rubbing alcohol, one study found that 10 to 15 percent of hospital patients in a medical detox unit had at some point consumed at least one form of non-beverage alcohol (NBA).
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Drinking NBA products like rubbing alcohol to get drunk has become a rising trend among teens and young adults, and can also be more common in chronic alcoholics. This dangerous behavior can lead to serious physical and cognitive effects, and in severe cases be deadly.
Can You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?
Unlike ethanol, rubbing alcohol and other products containing isopropyl are considered unsafe for drinking.
Drinking isopropyl can lead to rapid absorption of the substance in the body, leading to quick and toxic effects. Due to differences in chemical makeup, however, isopropyl is not metabolized as quickly or as efficiently as ethanol. Through the metabolizing process, the body breaks down isopropyl into formate, carbon dioxide, and acetone, a toxic chemical found in nail polish.
According to research, drinking as little as 20 ml (less than an ounce) of rubbing alcohol can lead to noticeable side effects within 30 to 60 minutes. Larger amounts can be even more harmful and potentially lead to life-threatening consequences.
Additional exposure of rubbing alcohol to the eyes, skin, or through excessive inhalation can also cause harmful side effects requiring medical attention.
Side Effects And Dangers Of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol
Isopropyl is toxic to drink and can result in moderate to severe side effects. Drinking large amounts can have dangerous consequences, including death. According to the National Toxicology Network, the fatal dose of rubbing alcohol for an adult is 250 ml (8.4 oz). For a child, the dose may be smaller.
Reactions to the ingestion of rubbing alcohol can vary for each person. Although small amounts may not have life-threatening consequences for some, it can still have toxic effects and cause serious damage to various functions in the body.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following side effects after drinking rubbing alcohol, call 9-1-1 or your local poison control center immediately:
- stomach pain
- small pupils
- slowed breathing
- decreased coordination
- unresponsive reflexes
- low blood pressure
- low body temperature
- throat pain
- skin redness
- low blood sugar
- rapid heartbeat
- loss of consciousness
Drinking rubbing alcohol while pregnant can also have toxic effects in the womb. Newborn infants exposed to isopropyl through their mother may experience low blood pressure, floppy baby syndrome, and seizures within weeks of birth.
How To Treat Isopropyl Poisoning
The first step to get help for someone with isopropyl poisoning is to call 9-1-1 or the national toll-free Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222. This can direct you to your nearest poison control center.
The phone operator will ask several questions regarding the incident.
Information that may be requested by a poison control phone operator or emergency medical technician (EMT) include:
- amount of rubbing alcohol drunk
- height and weight
- how much time has passed since drinking the rubbing alcohol
- other medical conditions
Unless a health professional or poison control specialist has directed you to do so, do not make the person with isopropyl poisoning vomit. This can cause even more harm. If the person is having difficulty or pain swallowing, do not give them anything to drink.
If someone is experiencing negative symptoms after drinking rubbing alcohol, poison control or 9-1-1 will likely recommend seeking immediate medical attention. Hospitalization may be required, depending on how much was consumed and the severity of symptoms.
Rubbing Alcohol (Isopropyl) Abuse And Addiction
Drinking rubbing alcohol or other non-beverage alcohol products to get drunk is a sign of alcohol addiction and severe dependency.
Other common NBAs of abuse include:
- hand sanitizer
- rubbing alcohol
- cleaning products containing alcohol
In many cases, these products are not the first choice for someone addicted to alcohol. Some people may resort to drinking rubbing alcohol if they don’t have access to an alcoholic beverage. Products like rubbing alcohol are also cheaper to buy than alcoholic beverages, and can result in intoxication in smaller amounts.
Most of the rubbing alcohol a person drinks will be absorbed in the body within 30 minutes of drinking. Side effects can occur within a couple hours of drinking, and may last up to 24 hours. More serious harm to internal organs, or other serious side effects such as coma, may last longer.
Get Help For Your Alcohol Addiction
Drinking rubbing alcohol is very dangerous. If you’re deliberately drinking rubbing alcohol to stave off withdrawal effects or to get drunk, help for alcohol abuse is available.
At Vertava Health, we offer several alcohol and drug addiction treatment programs to help people overcome their addiction and work towards a balanced and more satisfying future.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, don’t wait. Contact us today.