Can You Drink Rubbing Alcohol? Dangers and Effects
Drinking rubbing alcohol can quickly lead to alcohol poisoning – even death. People have died after drinking one pint of isopropyl alcohol. The human body absorbs rubbing alcohol very quickly. Approximately 80 percent is absorbed within 30 minutes of ingestion. Because of its chemical makeup, rubbing alcohol does not metabolize in the human body.
People struggling with alcoholism or addiction might see that rubbing alcohol has “alcohol” in its title, know that it’s cheaper than distilled or fermented ethanol, it’s widely available over the counter (and under-the-counter, as many people store it under bathroom or kitchen sinks, particularly when there’s no risk of small children accidentally drinking it), and drinking rubbing alcohol can lead to intoxication.
The side effects of rubbing alcohol poisoning are the same as those of a drunk person. However, it’s not even close to being the same alcohol you purchase at liquor stores. This substance is a poison. Drinking just a small amount can result in life- threatening consequences.
What is Rubbing Alcohol?
Rubbing alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol, is widely used in home-cleaning and industrial products. It has powerful antiseptic properties. An antiseptic is a substance that stops or slows down the growth of microorganisms. It is an active ingredient in disinfectants, cosmetics, skin lotions, antifreeze, nail polish removers, body rubs, mouthwashes, and many other products. It is also the primary component in many hand sanitizers.
While the word alcohol is in its name, rubbing alcohol is different from the ethyl alcohol contained in most alcoholic beverages. Rubbing alcohol is colorless and bitter tasting. It is twice as toxic as ethanol and emits an odor that is similar to acetone.
What Happens If You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?
You should never drink rubbing alcohol, use it on children, or use it near open flames. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information  (NCBI), drinking rubbing alcohol is the second most common alcohol ingestion following ethanol but is the most common toxic alcohol ingestion reported to the United States poison control centers each year. In 2009, more than 20,000 cases were reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, with more than 80% of these cases being unintentional. Although typically used as an ethanol substitute, accidental exposures have been reported when large amounts of rubbing alcohol were used transdermally or children ingested it.
Isopropyl Alcohol vs Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing alcohol is a mixture of water isopropyl alcohol. Sometimes, it contains additional ingredients. By contrast, isopropyl alcohol is pure alcohol with no other ingredients. Because this substance contains isopropyl alcohol, the two liquids have similar properties, but they are not the same. For example, both are disinfectants and have antibacterial properties.
However, because it is undiluted, isopropyl alcohol is too hazardous to use as a disinfectant for the skin or home. Companies use isopropyl alcohol in industrial settings to manufacture products while rubbing alcohol is for at-home use.
Isopropyl alcohol is pure alcohol and is a colorless liquid with a musty, sharp odor. There are no other ingredients in a bottle of isopropyl alcohol. By contrast, rubbing alcohol contains isopropyl alcohol, among other ingredients, such as water. Most rubbing alcohol brands contain 70% isopropyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol is also not the same substance as ethyl alcohol, which is the type of alcohol in beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages.
What is Rubbing Alcohol Used for?
Rubbing alcohol is a relatively recent invention, as the term was only fully realized in the 1920s. It was first used as a lining or soaking solution for bandages.
Since that time, rubbing alcohol has become a standard inclusion in most medical kits and hospital environments. It’s capable of thoroughly disinfecting any surfaces in just seconds, so it’s frequently used on open wounds and for surgical instruments.
Rubbing Alcohol vs Drinking Alcohol
Whats the difference between rubbing alcohol and drinking alcohol? Rubbing alcohol is made mostly from isopropyl alcohol and a little water. Other alcohols, such as methanol, are often mixed with it at very high concentrations to produce a distinct smell and deter its consumption. It is denatured, which means that it has been made poisonous. The concentrations and types of alcohol used are very toxic to humans and can quickly cause brain damage or death.
Alcohol that is relatively safe for human consumption is ethanol based and contains much less alcohol produced by distillation or the fermentation of sugars. This keeps the amount of alcohol in a drink much lower than the concentration found in rubbing alcohol.
is rubbing alcohol the same as drinking alcohol? Rubbing alcohol is close to 100% alcohol. Both kinds of alcohol are toxic to the human body, however. Because of the much lower concentrations found in beverages, the effects are rarely life threatening. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation to prevent alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.
The mixture of alcohols found in rubbing alcohol is what produces its odor. This can be used to identify the liquid, acting as a warning to those handling it that it is not consumable. Methanol is very poisonous to humans, even in small concentrations. Ethanol found in beer is produced as a byproduct of the reaction between sugars found in the yeast and malt used in the brewing process.
When the yeast is added, it feeds off of the sugar, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol. Once the alcohol gets to a certain level, there will not be enough sugar left to continue feeding the yeast, which can then be filtered out of the mixture. This keeps the amount of alcohol between 4 and 12% by volume.
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Rubbing Alcohol Facts
Rubbing alcohol is either an isopropyl alcohol or an ethanol-based liquid, with isopropyl alcohol products being the most widely available. The comparable British Pharmacopoeia is surgical spirit. Rubbing alcohol is denatured and undrinkable even if it is ethanol-based, due to the bitterants added.
The term “rubbing alcohol” came into prominence in North America in the mid-1920s. The original rubbing alcohol was literally used as a liniment for massage, hence the name.
All rubbing alcohols are volatile and flammable. Ethyl rubbing alcohol has an extremely bitter taste from additives. The specific gravity of Formula 23-H is between 0.8691 and 0.8771 at 15.56 °C
Isopropyl rubbing alcohols contain from 50% to 99% by volume of isopropyl alcohol, the remainder consisting of water. Boiling points vary with the proportion of isopropyl alcohol from 80 to 83 °C (176 to 181 °F); likewise, freezing points vary from −32 to −50 °C (−26 to −58 °F). Surgical spirit BP boils at 80 °C (176 °F).
To protect alcohol tax revenue in the United States all preparations classified as Rubbing Alcohols (defined as those containing ethanol) must have poisonous additives to limit human consumption in accordance with the requirements of the US Treasury Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, using Formula 23-H (8 parts by volume of acetone, 1.5 parts by volume of methyl isobutyl ketone, and 100 parts by volume of ethyl alcohol). It contains 87.5–91% by volume of absolute ethyl alcohol.
The rest consists of water and the denaturants, with or without color additives, and perfume oils. Rubbing alcohol contains in each 100 ml more than 355 mg of sucrose octaacetate or more than 1.40 mg of denatonium benzoate. The preparation may be colored with one or more color additives. A suitable stabilizer may also be added.
Is it safe to drink rubbing alcohol? Product labels for rubbing alcohol include a number of warnings about the chemical, including the flammability hazards and its intended use only as a topical antiseptic and not for internal wounds or consumption. It should be used in a well-ventilated area due to inhalation hazards. Poisoning can occur from ingestion, inhalation, absorption, or consumption of rubbing alcohol.
Why Do People Drink Rubbing Alcohol?
Rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol is consumed because it is much more potent than ethanol (the intoxicating substance produced by sugar fermentation and distillation) which is found in most common alcoholic drinks. Individuals drink rubbing alcohol to become intoxicated, or in some cases, to do self-harm. In addition, individuals suffering from alcoholism may turn to more potent substances such as rubbing alcohol to reach a certain level of drunkenness.
Rubbing alcohol is sometimes substituted for ethanol due to its much lower cost and widespread availability. For instance, a 16-ounce bottle of rubbing alcohol costs little more than one dollar and can be bought pretty much any time of the day at a 24-hour drug store. Rubbing alcohol is also more powerful than ethanol and is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream . But these same characteristics that allow someone to get more intoxicated more quickly are also responsible for the extreme risks and dangers of drinking rubbing alcohol.
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Types of Alcohol
There are three types of alcohol classified by chemists: methyl, isopropyl, and ethyl alcohol. Most types of rubbing alcohol are made from isopropyl alcohol, with concentrations of 68-99 percent alcohol in water. It’s tastes horrible, colorless, smells like fingernail polish remover, and can be found in antifreeze, antiseptic hand sanitizers, paint, household cleaners, thinner, sterilizers, and personal care products in order to make this substance unpleasant to drink, isopropyl alcohol is mixed with chemicals in a laboratory to give it a bitter taste.
Methyl alcohol, methanol, and wood alcohol—named because it was once produced as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood—are all the same type of alcohol. Methyl alcohol is commonly found in paint remover, antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, copy machines, carburetor fluid, octane boosters, canned fuels for boats or camp stoves, or—very commonly—converted to formaldehyde. It’s strong, flammable, and colorless and can be absorbed through the skin, eyes, lungs, and digestive system. Symptoms of ingesting Methyl alcohol include low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, blurred vision or blindness (formaldehyde can damage optic nerves), fatigue, and damage to the nervous system, stomach, and intestines.
Ethyl alcohol, commonly known as ethanol, drinking alcohol, or grain alcohol, is found in most alcoholic beverages. It’s flammable, colorless, and—when denatured (think: chemicals added to discourage recreational abuse)—can be used as a topical antiseptic or fuel additive. Ethanol is the scientific name for the intoxicating agent produced when sugar is fermented by yeast.
Dangers of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol
Drinking rubbing alcohol can lead to the fast absorption of the substance in the body, leading to quick and toxic effects. Because of the differences in chemical composition, isopropyl is not metabolized as quickly or as efficiently as ethyl alcohol. Through the metabolizing process, the human body breaks down isopropyl alcohol into formate, carbon dioxide, and acetone, a toxic chemical found in nail polish.
Drinking as little as 20 ml (less than an ounce) of rubbing alcohol can lead to evident side effects within 30 to 60 minutes. Larger volumes can be even more harmful and potentially lead to life-threatening consequences. Additional exposure to rubbing alcohol to the skin, eyes, or through excessive inhalation can also cause harmful side effects needing medical attention.
Can I drink rubbing alcohol? Isopropyl alcohol 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 lethal dose of rubbing alcohol for an adult is 250 ml (8.4 oz).
Reactions to the ingestion of isopropyl alcohol can vary for each person. Although small amounts may not have life-threatening results for some, it can still have toxic consequences and cause severe damage to different functions in the body.
Can Drinking Rubbing Alcohol Kill You?
Drinking rubbing alcohol won’t only get someone drunk on this dangerously toxic beverage, they’ll black out and possibly even die. The estimated lethal dose of 90 to 100 percent isopropyl alcohol for human adults is only 250 milliliters, or about 8 ounces.” Eight ounces. To put it in perspective: the average shot glass is 1.5 ounces. A can of Coke is 12 ounces. Ingesting only eight ounces of rubbing alcohol can kill you.
If a person drinks even a small amount and has any of the above-mentioned side effects, call 911—medical attention is necessary fast. Do not induce vomiting. The caustic nature of rubbing alcohol can cause chemical burns to the esophagus. If rubbing alcohol was inhaled, move to fresh air. If the substance is on the skin, flush with water. Before calling 911, know the person’s age, weight and condition; name of the product; time it was swallowed and how much was swallowed.
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Effects of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol
What happens when you drink rubbing alcohol? Drinking rubbing alcohol is much riskier and more dangerous compared to drinking ethanol. Isopropyl alcohol is more intoxicating than ethanol at the same concentrations and is more likely to produce impaired consciousness (such as stumbling, slurred speech, and sedation), dangerously low blood pressure, decreased body heat production, and even cardiopulmonary collapse. In addition, rubbing alcohol is rapidly absorbed by the body, with blood levels peaking between 30 minutes and 3 hours after ingestion. Finally, due to the chemical makeup of rubbing, alcohol is metabolized much differently than ethanol, causing the body to become overwhelmed by toxins. Essentially, rubbing alcohol is broken down into acetone, the toxic chemical found in nail polish remover .
Acetone is a gastrointestinal irritant that can cause the following digestive tract issues:
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting blood
- Bleeding in the stomach and intestines
- Bladder rupture
Acetone also triggers severe depression of the central nervous system. This can result in the following dangerous conditions:
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First and foremost, if you think a loved one is abusing alcohol, you should research the substances and their associated addiction to understand better what your loved one needs. Next, you must plan an intervention to provide your loved ones with options to battle the effects of alcohol addiction in a safe and supportive environment. During this intervention, offer compassion and support instead of judgment. Lastly, show your support throughout the entire treatment process.
In addition, prolonged drug use can have severe physical and psychological effects on you, so it is essential to seek treatment as soon as possible. Inpatient drug rehab offers intensive care that can help you promptly get through the early stages of alcohol withdrawal.
Medical detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated alcohol withdrawal but doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior contributing to drug use. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete the alcohol detox.
Cravings are very common during alcohol detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can give medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
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There isn’t one treatment approach or style that will suit everyone. Treatment should speak to the needs of the individual. Inpatient rehab and addiction treatment aren’t just about drug use. the goal is to help the patient stop using alcohol and other substances, but alcohol rehab should also focus on the whole person’s needs.
Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior. When someone or their family is considering different treatment facilities, they should account for the complexity of addiction and the needs of the individual. The objective of attending an inpatient rehab center for addiction treatment is to stop using the drug and re-learn how to live a productive life without it.
Following a full medical detox, most people benefit from inpatient rehab. Inpatient drug rehab can last anywhere from 28 days to several months. Patients stay overnight in the rehab facility and participate in intensive treatment programs and therapy. Once someone completes rehab, their addiction treatment team will create an aftercare plan, which may include continuing therapy and participation in a 12-step program like Narcotics Anonymous.
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Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of mental health disorders along with addiction, including:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves changing both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.”
- Solution-focused therapy is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.
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