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What is Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is a common household liquid chemical. It is used for general cleaning purposes (disinfectants, hand sanitizers, solvents, etc.) and personal care. 

Rubbing Alcohol

In fact, rubbing alcohol has a number of uses:

  • Rubbing alcohol can be used to disinfect tick bites and other insect bites
  • Rubbing alcohol can help to disinfect piercings
  • Rubbing alcohol is known to reduce odor-causing bacterias
  • Rubbing alcohol can help to clean hard surfaces, sponges, devices, jewelry, and more

While rubbing alcohol has many useful purposes, you should never drink rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol and drinking alcohol are not the same. Rubbing alcohol, even in small amounts, is poisonous.

Another good option is to speak with your campus health center counselors or physicians. Many schools provide help for students who are suffering from alcohol use.

What is the Percentage of Alcohol in Rubbing Alcohol?

The number one ingredient in rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol typically makes up about 70 percent of rubbing alcohol, but that number can range from about 60 percent to 99 percent. The higher the percentage, the more toxic the rubbing alcohol is.

It’s important to note that isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol (also known as ethanol) are not the same. While ethyl alcohol is found in beer and cocktails, isopropyl is typically found in cleaning products. It is not safe to drink isopropyl like you might drink ethanol.

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Why Do People Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

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

Even small amounts of rubbing alcohol are poisonous to both children and adults. If you’ve accidentally consumed a little bit of rubbing alcohol, call Poison Control immediately. You’re better off safe than sorry.

Some people may substitute drinking alcohol with rubbing alcohol. This is because rubbing alcohol is easier to purchase (there’s no legal limit to purchase rubbing alcohol). It’s also cheaper to buy than liquor. And consuming rubbing alcohol can also cause a feeling of intoxication.

While most people who accidentally drink rubbing alcohol don’t drink enough to cause serious damage, isopropyl alcohol is much stronger than ethyl alcohol. So drinking isopropyl alcohol can be very toxic.

What Happens if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

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

It’s much easier to overdose on rubbing alcohol than on drinking alcohol because rubbing alcohol is much more potent. While moderately drinking ethanol (up to two drinks per day for men and up to one drink per day for women) is generally considered safe, no amount of rubbing alcohol is considered safe.

If you drink rubbing alcohol, you may experience side effects that range from uncomfortable to deadly. At first, you may feel drunk. But your symptoms can intensify (and will if you continue to drink rubbing alcohol) — and they can kill you.

Can You Die From Drinking Rubbing Alcohol (Overdose)?

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

How much rubbing alcohol you consume and other factors like your height, weight, age, gender, and more can affect you. For example, someone who is older and heavier may have an easier time metabolizing the rubbing alcohol than someone who is younger and lighter-weight. 

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

How much rubbing alcohol you’d have to consume before overdosing depends on several factors. Again, this includes your height, weight, gender, food intake that day, and hydration levels, among others. It also depends on what other substances you may have taken that could interact poorly with the rubbing alcohol.

It is never safe to drink any amount of rubbing alcohol. If you or someone you know has overdosed on rubbing alcohol, call Poison Control or 911 immediately. Immediate medical attention can save your or their life.

Causes of Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning

Your body can handle minimal amounts of IPA. Your kidneys can remove around 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, when you ingest more IPA than your body can handle, poisoning can happen.

The abuse of isopropyl alcohol that may result in poisoning includes ingestion and inhalation. IPA can make users feel drunk, so some people purchase products containing IPA to drink purposefully.

IPA is the primary ingredient in many household cleaning solutions. These items are readily available, so some may choose to ingest them when they want to commit suicide.

People who take antidepressants may experience IPA poisoning more easily than others. Specific antidepressants heighten the effects of IPA, so even a tiny amount can be poisonous. A class of antidepressants known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) can result in a particularly dangerous reaction.

Children are also more susceptible to IPA poisoning. They may chew on products containing IPA that they find around the house. It is always essential to put anything containing IPA out of the reach of kids.

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

If you drink too much rubbing alcohol, you could overdose and die. 

In fact, accidental deaths caused by alcohol poisoning may happen more often than you think. Data suggests that alcohol poisoning is the underlying cause or one of the underlying causes of a lot of deaths. On average, it’s at the root of 317 deaths per year. An additional average of 1,076 deaths include alcohol poisoning as a contributing cause.

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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 range from mild to deadly.

Drinking rubbing alcohol can do physical damage on your body. Like many poisons, rubbing alcohol can irritate your digestive tract. It can also cause issues with your breathing, make you nauseous, and cause internal bleeding.

If you’re drinking rubbing alcohol on purpose due to an alcohol addiction, you likely face other health complications. Health issues associated with alcohol misuse include increased risks of heart disease, liver disease, several different types of cancers, and more.

Drinking rubbing alcohol or becoming addicted to alcohol (and abusing rubbing alcohol) doesn’t only take physical tolls on your body. Addiction can also lead to mental health disorders, such as depression. Alcohol and substance use are both linked to depression. 

They also often co-occur with the following:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Psychotic illness
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Abusing rubbing alcohol and other substances can become a vicious cycle. You may drink rubbing alcohol as an escape or coping mechanism to self-medicate. And, in turn, drinking rubbing alcohol can intensify your mental illness. 

Treatment for Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning (Intoxication)

If you or someone you know has drank isopropyl alcohol, seek emergency medical attention immediately. A trained medical professional will be able to 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 on the mouth. You should also read the rubbing alcohol container’s label to follow any instructions for poisoning.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

  • Inpatient Programs — Inpatient treatment is the option for alcohol addiction treatment. These intensive programs are usually 30, 60, or 90 days but can be longer in certain cases. Throughout the duration of your stay at an inpatient rehab facility, you will live on site is a safe, substance-free environment. You will go through medically supervised detoxification first, then behavioral therapy and other services will be added to your regimen. Most programs will will help you set up an aftercare program upon completion.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) Partial hospitalization programs (also called intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs) are comparable to inpatient programs, but you return home after each session. Some PHPs provide food and transportation, but this varies by program. Their services may include detoxification, medical services, behavioral therapy, support groups, and other holistic or custom treatments. PHPs accept new patients, along with patients who have completed an inpatient treatment program and still require intensive care.
  • Outpatient Programs Outpatient programs are less intensive and offer a more flexible treatment schedule. They are best for people who have responsibilities at work, home, or school and are highly motivated to achieve sobriety. Outpatient treatment programs customize your treatment sessions around your personal schedule. Outpatient programs can help new patients achieve success, and may also be a part of aftercare program once a patient completes an inpatient or PHP.
  • Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) Certain patients with Alcohol Use Disorder will qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Medications can help you detoxify, reduce cravings, and normalize bodily functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol) are the most common medications used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder. MAT is most effective when combined with other treatment therapies.
  • Support Groups Support groups are peer-led groups that help people stay sober. They can be a first step in overcoming alcoholism or a component of an aftercare plan. Many of them follow the 12-step approach, however there are secular options that don't follow the 12-step approach as well.

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Resources

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“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

“Caring for Pierced Ears.” American Academy of Dermatology

“Chemical Disinfectants.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 Sept. 2016

“Ethyl or Isopropyl Alcohol?” Journal Online, 21 Feb. 2020

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Part 1: The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 16 Mar. 2021

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Part 1: The Connection Between Substance Use Disorders and Mental Illness.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 16 Mar. 2021

“Poisoning: First Aid.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Apr. 2020

“Rubbing Alcohol Only Looks Like Water.” Get Poison Control Help Online or Call 1-800-222-1222

“Rubbing Alcohol Uses: How to Use It, Safety, and What to Avoid.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International

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