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Updated on September 26, 2023
7 min read

Can You Drink Isopropyl Alcohol?

Ellie Swain
Dr P. E. Pancoast, MD
Written by 
6 Sources Cited
Ellie Swain
Written by 
6 Sources Cited

Isopropyl alcohol, or rubbing alcohol, has long been a popular household product used for various tasks. But have you ever wondered about the dangers of drinking this common liquid?

Is it an alternative to other alcoholic beverages, or will you risk harming your health by drinking it? This blog post delves into the basics of isopropyl alcohol. It also answers whether or not it’s possible—and safe—to drink it.

What is Rubbing Alcohol?

Isopropyl alcohol, commonly known as rubbing alcohol, is a colorless and odorless liquid made from water and propene. It emits an odor similar to acetone (paint thinner) and has a bitter taste.

Rubbing alcohol possesses potent antiseptic properties. This makes it an active ingredient in many products, such as:

  • Disinfectants
  • Skin lotions
  • Cosmetics
  • Antifreeze
  • Body rubs
  • Nail polish removers
  • Mouthwashes
  • Hand sanitizers
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How Does It Compare to Other Alcohols?

Isopropyl alcohol is the technical name for rubbing alcohol. It’s not the same as other forms of alcohol, like beer, wine, or hard liquor.

Isopropyl alcohol contains three carbons instead of the two in ethanol (ethyl alcohol). This difference gives it its antiseptic properties and makes it unsafe for human consumption.

Moreover, isopropyl alcohol is also much more volatile than ethanol. This means it evaporates much faster and can be flammable at a lower temperature.

Can You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

No, isopropyl alcohol is a potent central nervous system depressant and is toxic when ingested. Drinking it can lead to serious and even fatal health complications. It’s extremely dangerous for children and infants as their bodies are still developing.

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Why Can’t You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

Isopropyl alcohol is created differently from ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Unlike fermented and distilled alcohol, people produce rubbing alcohol in a laboratory specifically for sterilization.

Due to its chemical makeup, consuming rubbing alcohol is highly toxic to humans. Moreover, it doesn’t metabolize as well as ethanol in the human body.

The body can absorb approximately 80% of isopropyl alcohol within 30 minutes. Ingesting or inhaling rubbing alcohol may lead to alcohol poisoning or even death.

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Why Would People Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

Despite rubbing alcohol being potentially fatal, some people, particularly 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.

What are the Side Effects of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol?

If you drank rubbing alcohol, poisoning or overdose is very likely. 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 the lungs
  • Low body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain in the gut
  • Internal bleeding in the stomach and intestines
  • Damage to organs
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hypothermia (leading to possible cardiac arrest)
  • Coma
  • Throat pain or burning
  • Low blood pressure

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 because water typically dilutes it.

Most rubbing alcohol combines 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water. This 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%.

Rubbing alcohol

How to Help Someone With Rubbing Alcohol Poisoning

People who suffer from isopropyl alcohol poisoning may pass out quickly. If you or a loved one has consumed rubbing alcohol, call 911 or the poison control center immediately. Receiving prompt medical attention is vital, even if the person has only ingested a small amount of rubbing alcohol.

If you or a loved one has swallowed rubbing alcohol, don’t encourage vomiting. Isopropyl alcohol is caustic. This means 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 (CNS) depression and breathing issues that require essential life support measures, such as intubation. Anyone with rubbing alcohol poisoning may also need IV fluids. In some severe cases, vasopressors may be necessary to prevent cardiovascular collapse and death. 

What are the Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse?

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 Treatment

Inpatient treatment is typically a live-in facility that allows you to detoxify from alcohol in a controlled environment. At the same time, you receive 24/7 medical and therapeutic care from healthcare professionals.

This type of treatment is highly effective for those seeking an intense recovery program. Moreover, inpatient treatment centers offer a more personalized recovery approach, allowing for better patient outcomes.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient care is typically an option for those who don’t need the intensity of inpatient care. As such, outpatient treatment focuses on providing support and resources during recovery.

Typically, this includes individual counseling sessions, group therapy, and 12-step programs. They’re ideal for those with busy schedules who can’t take time away from their daily obligations.

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) provide a type of treatment that combines medical and therapeutic support. You benefit from the expertise of a team of doctors and recovery professionals almost daily.

During the recovery process, you’re not required to remain in hospital residence for the duration of your care. Instead, when it is time to rest or recuperate, you can go home afterward.  As such, it can enhance comfort levels while ensuring a holistic approach to healing and health.

With this form of outpatient care, you may partake in additional specialist treatments during evenings or weekends. You can also join activities that involve family members.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) is a program that uses medical assistance and therapeutic methods to assist with detoxification and withdrawal. It eliminates the use of certain medications while utilizing substitute replacements that possess fewer side effects than other treatment methods.

The program aims to counteract chemical addictions and psychiatric disorders resulting from prolonged drug abuse. MAT intends to increase feelings of stability, reduce relapse tendencies, and supplement the support that therapy provides when going through the harrowing experience of withdrawal.

Support Groups

Support groups provide a unique opportunity for those recovering from addictive behaviors. These peer-led organizations promote sobriety before, during, and after rehab programs.

Knowing you have the support of others providing help and guidance can be more than pivotal in encouraging adherence to long-term health gains. Experienced leaders:

  • Build a foundation of trust within a group
  • Motivate members to seek further treatment
  • Help prevent relapse into negative coping habits

These groups remind members of their inner courage, previously successful efforts, areas for growth, and responsibility to make amends – all vital elements on the journey toward recovery.

What Are the Precautions and Uses of Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is a highly toxic chemical. The following household items also incorporate it in their ingredients:

  • Cleaning supplies
  • Pesticides
  • Medicines
  • Paints
  • Dyes

It’s important to note that isopropyl alcohol differs from cetyl alcohol, another type used in industrial products. In fact, it’s twice as toxic as the ethyl alcohol found in drinking beverages.

How Should You Safely Handle Rubbing Alcohol?

Due to rubbing alcohol toxicity, handling it with care is essential. Follow these tips to remain safe:

  • Never drink it or use it as a recreational drug.
  • Don’t leave it near children.
  • Don’t place it near an open flame.
  • Store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
  • Always read product labels and instructions before using any product containing rubbing alcohol.

While many products may have isopropyl alcohol as an ingredient, it’s not always safe for consumption or direct skin contact. It can cause severe internal and external damage to the body.

Summary

Isopropyl alcohol is a highly toxic substance that can cause severe harm if ingested or applied to the skin. Ingesting rubbing alcohol can result in chemical burns to the esophagus and severe respiratory depression, requiring intubation.

When handling rubbing alcohol, never drink it or use it as a recreational drug. Store it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, and always read product labels for proper directions on handling the product safely.

If you or a loved one have ingested rubbing alcohol, seek medical attention immediately. Treatment options for those with an alcohol addiction include inpatient and outpatient programs, medication-assisted therapy (MAT), and support groups.

Updated on September 26, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on September 26, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. “Isopropyl alcohol, Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet.” New Jersey Department of Health, 2016.

  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Isopropyl Alcohol.” PubChem, 2023.

  3. Chemical Disinfectants.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016.

  4. Ashurst et al. “Isopropanol Toxicity.” StatPearls Publishing, 2020.

  5. Wade, L. “Isopropyl Alcohol.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2023.

  6. National Capital Poison Control. “Rubbing Alcohol Only Looks Like Water.” Poison Control,

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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