Poison Warning: If you have accidentally ingested rubbing alcohol, please stop reading and contact your local poison control center immediately. You can also call 911 for help.
Isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, is a denatured type of alcohol that has a strong odor. It comes in different strengths, and because it has alcohol in its name, many people, including teenagers who might be looking for household highs, believe you can drink it, but this is not the case.
Rubbing alcohol is denatured, which means it’s altered to make it unfit for drinking. Rubbing alcohol contains toxic poisons and chemicals, which are added on purpose to deter people from trying to drink it.
The added chemicals in rubbing alcohol make it taste awful, have a potent smell and seem generally unappealing. Some people who abuse alcohol may attempt to drink if they think it’s all they can manage to obtain.
Can You Get Drunk Off Rubbing Alcohol?
The answer is yes, you can get drunk off rubbing alcohol, but the poisons added to it might kill you in the process.
Of course, all alcohols are potentially deadly if you drink enough of them, but because isopropyl alcohol is metabolized differently in your body from the type you find in drinkable alcohol like beer, wine or liquor, ingesting even a small amount of it can be fatal.
Rubbing Alcohol vs Drinking Alcohol
To discover the reasons why rubbing alcohol is so dangerous, it’s important to understand the chemistry behind the types of alcohols.
Three types of alcohol exist: isopropyl, methyl and ethyl. While all of them are technically toxic, only ethyl alcohol, or grain alcohol, is fit for human consumption. Find out why isopropyl alcohol is far more deadly than the other types.
Isopropyl alcohol has a several purposes in health care settings, since doctors, surgeons, nurses and other medical workers use it to disinfect surfaces, medical tools and even human bodies, such as before administering a vaccination.
Isopropyl alcohol is also found in many consumer products, including cosmetics and lotion. It’s produced by combining water and propylene and evaporates quickly, which makes it a popular choice for cleaning electronics.
As mentioned already, it’s not suitable for drinking — many bittering agents are added to it to prevent people from consuming it, which might include benzene, formaldehyde and iodine.
This type of alcohol, methyl alcohol, is primarily used as an industrial solvent. It’s contained in paint remover, for instance, and many photocopier developers make use of it. Other by-products and chemicals can be formed from methyl alcohol — formaldehyde forms from a degraded form of methyl alcohol, for example.
Interestingly, methyl alcohol has a very low freezing point of -143.68 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s often used in fuel additives to prevent fuel lines from freezing.
Ethyl alcohol is the type of alcohol people consume. It’s contained in beer, wine and liquor. In this form, it’s consumed as a diluted concentration. The liver is usually able to process ethyl alcohol properly, but it’s still considered a toxic substance, especially when alcohol is consumed faster than the liver can metabolize it — this is what happens when you feel drunk.
What Happens When You Drink Rubbing Alcohol
Isopropyl alcohol comes in different concentrations — one of the most common is 70%, or 140 proof. Since it’s so potent, it causes your body to become overwhelmed by the toxins.
When you swallow rubbing alcohol, your digestive tract is most affected, even if you only drink a little bit. When your body metabolizes these high levels of alcohol, acetone is the by-product. When enough is consumed to the point of intoxication, it can lead to organ damage.
Other side effects of swallowing large amounts of rubbing alcohol include dizziness, headaches and feeling drunk. And since it irritates your digestive system, it can also cause nausea, vomiting blood and severe abdominal pain.
According to a report published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, isopropyl alcohol can produce other severe consequences, including:
- Altered sensorium
- Cardiopulmonary collapse
It also notes that hypotension in particular is associated with a 45% mortality rate.
Other Reasons Why Isopropyl Alcohol Can Be Dangerous
In addition to the harmful effects felt when ingested, isopropyl alcohol can be toxic when inhaled and should be used in a well-ventilated area. It’s also flammable, so it should never be stored or used near an open flame.
Parental Advice: How to Prevent Curious Teens From Drinking Isopropyl Alcohol
If you’re worried about curious teens trying to consume isopropyl alcohol directly or concerned about them attempting to mix it with other things, like soda or fruit juice, to try to hide the taste, explain to them how poisonous it is and that it’s a lot different from the alcohol that’s part of beer, wine or hard liquor.
You can also ask them what they know about alcohol to find out what their views or perceptions are — they might think it’s perfectly fine to try to drink rubbing alcohol and might not even know about its harmful effects.
Taking this approach, listening without interrupting, can help your child feel heard and respected and can also serve as a lead-in to discussing other topics related to alcohol.
Other possible topics to discuss with them include debunking common myths teens often have about alcohol. For example, they may think beer or wine is safer to drink compared to hard liquors such as gin and rum when in fact, in different amounts, they all have the same effects on the body and mind.
When to Seek Help
If you’ve considered drinking isopropyl alcohol because you think it might be an affordable way to get high or drunk, it might be time to seek professional help. At FHE, we have a compassionate team of counselors and medical staff ready to help you on your road to recovery. Give us a call today at (844) 299-0618 — we’re standing by to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Start your journey towards a healthier you today.