Drinking Rubbing Alcohol Can Have Deadly Results

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When an alcohol-dependent person cannot obtain beer, wine, or liquor, they may resort to using similar substances. This is especially prevalent among minors experimenting with alcohol or drug use. Rubbing alcohol is a common household product easily attainable in the home, pharmacy, or grocery store. Moreover, it might make logical sense to a young person to consume it if they assume it’s relatively safe and can produce effects similar to ethyl alcohol. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.

If you or someone you love has an alcohol use disorder or is consuming rubbing alcohol, you are encouraged to seek professional help before the situation becomes dire. At Guardian Recovery, we offer comprehensive programs for substance use and dual-diagnosis disorders at our Delray Beach, Florida, detox and addiction treatment center. 

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation assessment and health benefits check. A treatment advisor can explain our streamlined admissions process and help you determine the level of care most appropriate for your unique circumstances. We are here when you’re ready to get started on your recovery journey.

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What Is Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is typically found in a solution containing 70% isopropanol and 30% water. Isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol) (1) is a colorless, flammable liquid with a bitter taste and mild musty odor. It is used in many commercial products, including aftershave, cosmetics, lotions, cleaners, solvents, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, antifreeze, inks, and pharmaceutical drugs. l

Causes of Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning

Isopropyl alcohol can cause poisoning by ingestion or inhalation. Rubbing alcohol can be intoxicating, so some buy or obtain isopropyl alcohol-containing products and drink them intentionally.

Although rubbing alcohol ingestion is strongly discouraged, an adult human’s body can usually handle small amounts. The kidneys remove approximately 20-50% of rubbing alcohol through excretion. (2) The rest is broken down into acetone, a toxic chemical commonly found in nail polish remover, and filtered from the body through the kidneys or lungs. 

Isopropyl alcohol toxicity has been reported at oral doses of 0.5 to 1 mL/kg. Lethal ingestions have occurred with 200-250 mL volumes or just over one cup or eight oz. (3) People who take antidepressants may experience isopropyl alcohol poisoning more rapidly than others, particularly those who use monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). (4) 

In addition, children are much more susceptible to toxic effects. They often drink products they find around the house, so parents and caregivers must keep anything containing potentially poisonous chemicals out of their reach. 

Effects & Dangers of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol

Although rubbing alcohol, in many ways, mimics alcohol (ethanol), it is not a suitable substitute for beer, wine, or liquor and should not be consumed in any amount. Drinking too much can result in life-threatening health complications. In fact, according to data collected from U.S. poison control centers, isopropanol ingestion is the most common alcohol toxicity reported in the country annually. (5)

Although most isopropanol exposures are accidental and occur among children under six years, (6) a significant number of intentional isopropanol ingestion cases related to older minors and even adults continue to be reported. 

Due to its chemical differences, isopropanol is 2-3 times more potent as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant than regular drinking alcohol. It is also more intoxicating and can induce cardiac arrest, hypothermia, or hypotension, all of which are life-threatening and have a significant mortality rate. Isopropyl toxicity is strongly associated with rapid intoxication and hemorrhagic gastritis. (7) Because isopropanol is a gastrointestinal irritant, users may complain of stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and internal bleeding.

Symptoms of Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning Include:

  • Headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Stumbling.
  • Sedation.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dehydration.
  • Hypotension.
  • Difficulty breathing/pulmonary swelling.
  • Respiratory depression and failure.
  • Severe stomach pain.
  • Abdominal and intestinal bleeding.
  • Bladder rupture.
  • Organ damage.
  • Internal burning.
  • Coma.
  • Death.

Risks of Acetone as an Isopropanol Byproduct

Importantly, acetone, a byproduct of isopropanol metabolism, is a stomach irritant that can cause digestive issues such as stomach pain and bleeding, intestinal bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, and bladder rupture. Acetone is also an instigator of CNS depression. This can result in headaches, dizziness, extreme intoxication, coma, and death. (7)

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Why People Consume Rubbing Alcohol

As noted, rubbing alcohol is sometimes intentionally consumed by teens and adults because it is more potent than everyday alcoholic beverages. Moreover, individuals drink rubbing alcohol to become intoxicated or, in some cases, engage in self-harm. 

In addition, some people with severe alcohol use disorders may resort to more potent substances like isopropanol to experience intoxicating effects or because they cannot obtain regular alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, the same properties that increase the effects associated with being drunk are also responsible for the risks and dangers of its use.

Rubbing alcohol consumption may also appeal to some individuals due to its lower cost and greater availability than ethanol. For instance, a 16 oz. bottle of rubbing alcohol often costs less than two dollars and can be purchased anytime, day or night, at a 24-hour store.

Drinking Rubbing Alcohol Is a Medical Emergency

Rubbing alcohol should never be consumed in any amount, but drinking large amounts can be lethal and cause CNS depression, cardiovascular dysfunction, organ damage, internal bleeding, shock, and death.

If you or another person has consumed rubbing alcohol deliberately or accidentally, call 911 or immediately visit the nearest emergency department. You can also contact Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 for guidance from local poison control specialists near you. (8)

If you or someone you know is contemplating or has attempted suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 as soon as possible.

Treatment for Alcohol Misuse & Dependence

There are various levels of care available for alcohol dependence you can choose, depending on your particular needs. For example, treatment may involve detox, an outpatient program, or a residential stay. Cessation from alcohol use and preventing relapse long-term are the primary goals of treatment.

Forms of treatment intended to treat alcohol use disorders include the following:

Detox: Treatment often begins with a 24/7 medically-supervised detox program, typically performed at an inpatient treatment center or another clinical setting.

Developing a treatment plan: Alcohol treatment specialists can devise a plan that includes setting goals, strategies to change dysfunctional behavior, counseling, and follow-up care.

Psychiatric treatment: Behavioral therapy and counseling for individuals and groups to help you better understand your relationship to alcohol addiction and support recovery. Methods include identifying new ways of coping with stress and addressing psychological aspects of alcohol use.

Medically-assisted treatment: Medications such as disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate are all FDA-approved to treat alcohol use disorder and have various mechanisms that deter people from drinking and reduce cravings and urges. (9)

Long-term support. Aftercare programs, support groups, and ongoing therapy help individuals recovering from alcohol dependence quit drinking, prevent relapse, and cope with the necessary lifestyle changes to facilitate long-lasting recovery. This may include psychiatric care or attending a support group.

Treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions: Addiction commonly occurs alongside other psychological disorders. For example, you may need behavioral therapy, medications, or other treatment for depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.

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If you or a loved one has been consuming rubbing alcohol or considering doing so due to an ongoing struggle with alcohol or drug dependence, contact Guardian Recovery to discuss our available treatment options. Our comprehensive, evidence-based addiction recovery programs include several therapeutic approaches to substance misuse and mental health issues, including behavioral therapy, group support, aftercare planning, and much more.

If you are ready to start taking steps toward reclaiming your life free from substance misuse, contact us to learn more about our customized treatment plans and how we can guide and support you throughout the recovery process.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Isopropyl-Alcohol (2)https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Isopropyl-alcohol#section=Toxicity-Summary (3)https://empendium.com/mcmtextbook/chapter/B31.II.20.2.4. (4)https://www.drugs.com/pro/propranolol.html (5)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493181/ (6)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24815348/ (7)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7905865/ (8)https://dhss.delaware.gov/dph/files/acetonefaq.pdf (9)https://www.poison.org/ (10https://www.mcstap.com/Docs/Evidence-Based%20Pharmacotherapies%20for%20Alcohol%20Use%20Disorder-%20Clinical%20Pearls%202020%20Mayo%20Review.pdf

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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