Updated on April 3, 2024
4 min read

Is It Harmful to Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

What Happens if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

If you drink rubbing alcohol, you may experience side effects that range from uncomfortable to deadly. You may feel drunk at first, but your symptoms can intensify and kill you, especially if you don't stop.

It’s much easier to overdose on rubbing alcohol than on drinking alcohol because rubbing alcohol is much more potent. While moderately drinking ethanol is generally considered safe, no amount of rubbing alcohol is considered safe.

If you or someone you know drank rubbing alcohol, call Poison Control immediately. You can contact Poison Control for free online or by phone at 1-800-222-1222.

Can You Die From Drinking Rubbing Alcohol (Overdose)?

Yes, you can die from drinking rubbing alcohol. Ingesting just eight ounces of isopropyl alcohol can kill you. This may be even less for some people, especially children. 

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How Much Rubbing Alcohol Do You Have to Drink to Overdose? 

Ingesting 8 ounces of rubbing alcohol not only causes an overdose, but it can kill you. However, how much you can drink depends on several factors, including:

  • Age
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Food intake
  • Hydration levels
  • Other medications that can interact with alcohol

Symptoms of Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning

The symptoms of isopropyl alcohol poisoning will vary depending on how much rubbing alcohol was consumed. The symptoms include the following:

  • Sedation
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteadiness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding in the stomach
  • Bleeding in the intestines
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Shock
  • Coma

Causes of Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning

Your kidneys can remove approximately 20 to 50 percent of IPA from your body. The rest breaks down into acetone by enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenases.

The acetone filters out of your body via your lungs or kidneys. However, poisoning can happen when you ingest more IPA than your body can handle.

People who take antidepressants may experience IPA poisoning much faster. Mixing monoamine oxide inhibitors (MAOIs) with IPA can result in a dangerous reaction.

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Treatment for Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning (Intoxication)

If you or someone you know has drunk isopropyl alcohol, seek emergency medical attention immediately. A trained medical professional can determine the best next course of action. For example, depending on how much rubbing alcohol you have consumed, they may decide to pump your stomach.

While you wait for help to arrive, you should remove any remaining rubbing alcohol from the mouth. You should also read the rubbing alcohol container’s label to follow any instructions for poisoning.

Other Health Risks of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol

Drinking rubbing alcohol is not safe for anyone in any amount. Inhaling rubbing alcohol can also be toxic.

The health risks of drinking rubbing alcohol range from mild to deadly. Like many poisons, drinking rubbing alcohol can physically damage your body.

Side effects include:

  • Digestive tract irritation
  • Breathing problems
  • Nausea
  • Internal bleeding

If you're drinking rubbing alcohol because of an alcohol use disorder (AUD), you may experience addiction-related complications. These include:

  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Mental health disorders

What is Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol is a common household liquid chemical. It has many useful purposes and is often used for:

  • General cleaning
  • Hand sanitizers
  • Disinfectants
  • Solvents
  • Personal care

It's important to know that rubbing alcohol differs from drinking alcohol or ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Ethanol is found in beers, spirits, and liquors. Meanwhile, rubbing alcohol is poisonous, even in small amounts. 

What is the Percentage of Alcohol in Rubbing Alcohol?

The number one ingredient in rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol (IPA), which typically makes up about 70% of rubbing alcohol. However, the percentage can range from about 60 to 99 percent. The higher the percentage, the more toxic the rubbing alcohol is.

Rubbing Alcohol

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Why Do People Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

People who struggle with AUD may substitute drinking alcohol with rubbing alcohol. This is because rubbing alcohol is cheaper and easier to buy.

Some people may accidentally consume rubbing alcohol because it looks just like water. Rubbing alcohol is a clear, unassuming liquid. 

Most people who accidentally drink rubbing alcohol don’t drink enough to cause serious damage. However, isopropyl alcohol is still dangerous if you drink any amount. So if you accidentally drink rubbing alcohol, call for help immediately.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Here are some of the best treatment options for alcohol use disorder (AUD):

Summary

Rubbing alcohol is commonly used as a disinfectant or cleaning product. Its main ingredient is isopropyl alcohol which differs from drinking alcohol (ethyl alcohol).

You shouldn’t drink rubbing alcohol because it’s poisonous, even in small amounts. Drinking rubbing alcohol can cause isopropyl alcohol poisoning and other adverse side effects.

Drinking too much rubbing alcohol can be fatal. Seek emergency medical care immediately if someone you know has drunk rubbing alcohol.

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Updated on April 3, 2024
8 sources cited
Updated on April 3, 2024
  1. “Accidental* Alcohol Poisoning Mortality in the United States, 1996·1998.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. “Caring for Pierced Ears.” American Academy of Dermatology.
  3. “Chemical Disinfectants.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016.
  4. “Ethyl or Isopropyl Alcohol?” Journal Online, 2020.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Part 1: The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Part 1: The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.
  7. “Poisoning: First Aid.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2020.
  8. “Rubbing Alcohol Only Looks Like Water.” Get Poison Control Help Online or Call 1-800-222-1222.

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