Can You Die From Drinking Rubbing Alcohol?

Drinking Rubbing Alcohol, Risks, Dangers, Overdosing, & Alcohol Addiction Treatment

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.

You should never drink rubbing alcohol, use it on children, or use it near open flames. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information [1] (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.

Can You Die From Drinking Rubbing Alcohol
Drinking rubbing alcohol, just 8 ounces, or 240 milliliters, can be deadly— but as little as 20 milliliters mixed with water can make a person sick.

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 [2]. 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.

What Would Happen If You Drank Rubbing Alcohol?

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 is 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.

Drinking Rubbing Alcohol
Drinking rubbing alcohol has a high risk of poisoning. If someone you know has ingested rubbing alcohol, immediate medical attention is necessary.

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 Rubbing
Rubbing alcohol is very dangerous to consume at any quantity. Massive ingestion is especially risky and can cause depressed cardiovascular function, internal bleeding, organ damage, shock, and even death.

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.

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.

Overdosing on Rubbing Alcohol: Can You Die from Drinking It?

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.

Risks and Dangers of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol

Drinking rubbing alcohol is much more risky and dangerous compared to drinking ethanol. Ispropyl 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 ]3].

Acetone is a gastrointestinal irritant that can cause the following digestive tract issues:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting blood
  • Bleeding in the stomach and intestines
  • Diarrhea
  • Bladder rupture

Acetone also triggers severe depression of the central nervous system. This can result in the following dangerous conditions:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Inebriation
  • Coma

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Individuals who have ingested rubbing alcohol may develop a severe central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) depression and breathing trouble that needs aggressive life support measures, including intubation. People with rubbing alcohol poisoning may also need intravenous (IV) fluids to restore fluid loss and balance low blood pressure that results from vomiting. In some circumstances, powerful drugs called vasopressors may need to be administered to stop cardiovascular collapse and death.

If you or another person has been drinking rubbing alcohol, do not induce vomiting. Because isopropyl alcohol is caustic, it can cause chemical burns to the esophagus.

People who consume rubbing alcohol or are tempted to drink non-beverage alcohol should consider seeking professional help for alcohol addiction. Through monitored detox and comprehensive alcohol addiction care, you or your loved one can safely break free from the bonds of addiction and begin living a happier and healthier life.

If you’re looking for long-term solutions to staying sober, the alcohol rehab treatment at We Level Up NJ may be able to help. Accredited detox and rehab facilities might actually be the safest place for someone with a substance use disorder right now. Get started at the ideal location during the ideal time to get sober. Contact We Level Up NJ today. 

drinking rubbing alcohol
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Sources:

[1] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493181/

[2] NCBI – https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Isopropyl-alcohol#section=2D-Structure

[3] NCBI – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28632074/