Rubbing alcohol is a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water. It comes in various strengths that range from 50% to 90% isopropyl alcohol and is best known for its disinfecting powers. Isopropanol is a clear, colorless liquid that smells slightly fruity and has a bitter taste, and it’s the main ingredient in rubbing alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol is used for various things, such as bathroom cleaners, face wash, deodorant, hand sanitizer, cleaning cuts or piercings, and more. Although many cases of people drinking rubbing alcohol occur in children and adolescents, some people may consume this intoxicating agent for a new kind of buzz.
Some people drink rubbing alcohol because it’s significantly stronger than ethanol, which is the intoxicating agent in alcohol that’s produced by sugar fermentation and distillation. In other words, you can get drunk off rubbing alcohol, and some people actually drink rubbing alcohol to become intoxicated more quickly or, in some cases, to harm themselves.
People suffering from alcoholism may turn to stronger substances, such as rubbing alcohol, or even antifreeze, to achieve a certain level of intoxication or drunkenness more quickly. What’s more, two enticing differences between drinking isopropyl alcohol and ethanol are the price and side effects. Rubbing alcohol often replaces ethanol because it’s cheaper and more readily available.
For instance, a 16-ounce bottle of rubbing alcohol costs a little over a dollar and can be purchased at any 24-hour drug store. Rubbing alcohol is also significantly more potent and is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. This means that side effects like sedation and relaxation will not only be more intense, but they’ll also kick in quicker.
Research shows that nearly 80% of rubbing alcohol that’s consumed is absorbed into the bloodstream within 30 minutes of ingestion.1 For someone who suffers from alcohol addiction, this is enticing.
To be clear, you cannot drink rubbing alcohol. It’s a toxin that’s designed to disinfect things, not be consumed. It’s significantly more dangerous than drinking ethanol. Getting “rubbing alcohol drunk” versus becoming intoxicated from ethanol consumption occurs more rapidly and in fewer doses.
This means that while getting buzzed or intoxicated from rubbing alcohol is easier, it’s also easier to experience poisoning and lethal intoxication. Additionally, the normal effects of ethanol, while severe when consumed in large doses, are elevated when a person drinks rubbing alcohol.
When it comes to drinking rubbing alcohol, the digestive tract is the area of the body that suffers the most severely and immediately, even after ingesting a small amount. Due to the chemical makeup of rubbing alcohol, the body metabolizes it into acetone, a toxic chemical found in nail polish remover.
Like ethanol, rubbing alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant (except stronger), meaning the usual side effects one would experience from heavy ethanol consumption would be intensified when consuming rubbing alcohol.
Overall, some common side effects of drinking isopropyl alcohol include:
Because rubbing alcohol heavily attacks the digestive tract, bleeding within the intestines and stomach is also a possible risk. Massive ingestion of rubbing alcohol can also lead to depressed cardiovascular function, internal bleeding, organ damage, shock, and coma.
In addition to adverse side effects and overdose, you can also die from drinking rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol). The lethal dose of rubbing alcohol is only 160 to 250 millimeters or 5.4 to 8 ounces, depending on the percentage of isopropanol.1 To put it into perspective, the average shot glass holds 1.5 ounces, and a can of Coke holds 12 ounces. Ingesting only 8 ounces of rubbing alcohol can kill you, or a little over 5 shot glasses worth.
For a person with alcohol addiction, 8 ounces isn’t much, and it’s certainly far less alcohol than they normally drink. Again, although many cases of rubbing alcohol poisoning are reported in children and adolescents, they also occur in people who drink rubbing alcohol to get drunk or harm themselves. Therefore, it’s important to keep rubbing alcohol out of children’s and adolescent’s grasps and to watch out for any misuse of rubbing alcohol in your home.
If a person drinks even the smallest amount of rubbing alcohol, call 9-1-1 right away. Do not induce vomiting, as isopropyl alcohol can cause chemical burns in the esophagus. Under no circumstances is rubbing alcohol safe to consume.
If you or someone you know is struggling with heavy drinking, even something as toxic as rubbing alcohol can become a temptation. Our Palm Springs, California drug rehab offers alcohol treatment among a variety of other addiction services that help patients recover from the physical and mental impact of substance abuse.
Patients usually begin with medical alcohol detox to safely recover from withdrawals without relapsing, which is followed by counseling and evidence-based therapy treatment. From cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to aftercare services, we provide all the resources our clients need to recover from addiction and learn how to live sober lives.