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Can You Drink Isopropyl Alcohol?

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What is Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol, is widely used in industrial and home-cleaning products. It has potent antiseptic properties. It's also highly toxic if consumed.

Rubbing alcohol is colorless and bitter-tasting. It emits an odor similar to acetone (paint thinner).

Rubbing alcohol is an active ingredient in:

  • Disinfectants
  • Skin lotions
  • Cosmetics
  • Antifreeze
  • Body rubs
  • Nail polish removers
  • Mouthwashes
  • Hand sanitizers
  • And many other products

Rubbing alcohol is twice as toxic as the ethyl alcohol contained in your favorite alcoholic beverages. You should never drink it. You also should never let it near children or an open flame.

Note: Isopropyl alcohol is also different than cetyl alcohol (another alcohol used in industrial products).

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Side Effects: What Happens if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol poisoning or overdose is very likely if it's consumed. Rubbing alcohol poisoning begins within 30 to 60 minutes after ingestion.

Side effects of consumption include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Stumbling
  • Sedation
  • Vomiting
  • Internal inflammation
  • Excess fluid in lungs
  • Low body temperature
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain in the gut
  • Bleeding in the stomach and intestines
  • Damage to organs
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hypothermia (leading to possible cardiac arrest)
  • Coma
  • Throat pain or burning

Consuming isopropyl alcohol can also lead to seizures.

What Percentage Alcohol is in Rubbing Alcohol?

Isopropyl alcohol can reach an alcohol percentage as high as 99%. However, it can also be as low as 60% alcohol, since it's commonly diluted with water.

Most rubbing alcohol is a combination of 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water.

The 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water combination works better as a disinfectant. With more water, it dissolves more slowly, penetrating cells, and killing bacteria.

Rubbing alcohol is less effective at disinfecting surfaces when its concentration is higher than 80 to 85%.

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Why Can't You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is highly toxic. Ingesting or inhaling it can lead to alcohol poisoning—or even death.

Isopropyl alcohol is created differently than ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Wine, beer, and liquor are fermented and distilled. Rubbing alcohol is produced in a laboratory specifically for sterilization purposes.

Rubbing alcohol

Despite this, some people, especially children, may accidentally consume rubbing alcohol. People struggling with alcoholism may also drink rubbing alcohol to get drunk. 

Drinking one 500 milliliter (17 ounce) bottle of rubbing alcohol in one 24-hour period may cause the same level of intoxication as consuming 30 beers. As little as 20 milliliters (1.3 tablespoons) of rubbing alcohol mixed with water can make someone sick.

The body absorbs rubbing alcohol very quickly. Approximately 80% is absorbed within 30 minutes of ingestion. Due to its chemical makeup, isopropanol is highly toxic to humans and does not metabolize as well as ethanol in the human body. People have died after drinking one pint of isopropyl alcohol. 

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Treatment for Rubbing Alcohol Poisoning

People who suffer from isopropyl alcohol poisoning may pass out quickly. If you or a loved one has ingested rubbing alcohol, it is essential to call 911 or the poison control center immediately.

Ingesting a small amount of rubbing alcohol accidentally may not lead to poisoning or death. But it is still vital to receive prompt medical attention.

If you or a loved one has swallowed rubbing alcohol, do not encourage vomiting. Isopropyl alcohol is caustic, so it can lead to chemical burns to the esophagus.

Vomiting isopropyl alcohol can allow it to enter the lungs and cause severe problems.

You may develop severe central nervous system depression and breathing issues that require essential life support measures, including intubation. Anyone with rubbing alcohol poisoning may also need IV fluids.

In some severe cases, potent drugs called vasopressors may be required to prevent cardiovascular collapse and death. 

Anyone with an alcohol addiction who turns to rubbing alcohol should seek help for their chronic alcohol use disorder. Rubbing alcohol should NEVER be substituted for ethyl alcohol.

Luckily there are many treatment options for those who suffer from alcohol abuse, including:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center.

These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to professional medical monitoring. The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced.

These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer. Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOP).

Compared to inpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs provide similar services. These include medical services, behavioral therapy, and support groups, along with other customized therapies. However, in a PHP program, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program.

PHPs accept new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program and still need intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs. These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment.

They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school. Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Sometimes, medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment.

Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions.

The most common medications to treat AUD are:

When combined with other evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.

Support Groups

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) are open to anyone with a substance abuse problem.

They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. They can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

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Updated on March 29, 2022
6 sources cited
  1. Isopropyl alcohol, Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, New Jersey Department of Health, February 2016.
  2. National Research Council (US) Committee on Toxicology. Emergency and Continuous Exposure Limits for Selected Airborne Contaminants: Volume 2. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1984. ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL.
  3. "Chemical Disinfectants." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 2016.
  4. Ashurst JV, Nappe TM. "Isopropanol Toxicity." [Updated 2020 Jun 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan.
  5. Wade, Leroy G. “Isopropyl Alcohol.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "PubChem Compound Summary for CID 3776, Isopropyl alcohol" PubChem.

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