Drinking Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol – Risks and Dangers

It’s 2 AM, and the liquor stores are closed. You’ve just finished the last drop from your last bottle, but you’re not ready to call it a night. So in an already intoxicated state, you begin digging through your drawers to find something with alcohol in it. You see a bottle of Isopropyl rubbing alcohol in the medicine cabinet. It smells a lot like liquor, and it looks like harmless water, so it can’t be that dangerous, can it? Ask yourself: Do you think it’s not dangerous, or is alcohol use disorder thinking for you?

Alcohol use disorder is a brain disorder that impacts someone’s ability to stop drinking even though they can see terrible effects in their life. In the US, an estimated 15 million adults suffer from this medical diagnosis. Because they no longer have control over how, when, and how much they drink, they end up drinking dangerous levels of alcohol. When that runs out, they may turn to non-drinkable alcohols like isopropyl rubbing alcohol, which is especially dangerous.

What Is Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol?

Also called 2-propanol or just rubbing alcohol, this clear alcohol was first developed in 1920 when scientists discovered that if they mixed sulfuric acid with propylene (a fossil oil byproduct), they could produce this substance. While it may have some similarities to alcohol chemically, it’s not achieved through the sugar fermentation and distillation process used in beverages.

Rubbing Alcohol is used in homes, workplaces, and medical facilities as a disinfectant for cleaning surfaces and wounds. Because it helps water evaporate more quickly, it can be mixed with a carrier oil to “dry up” a part of the body with excess fluid. It is also found in some beauty products like nail polish remover.

How Much Alcohol Is In Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is at least 70% pure alcohol (140 proof) but can be as high as 91% (182 proof). This means ounce for ounce, at its lowest, it has:

  • Nearly 2x the alcohol of most liquors
  • Over 6x as much as a 5oz glass of wine
  • Almost 11x as much as a 12oz beer

This estimation may have much more depending on the brand.

What Are The Effects and Dangers of Consuming Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol?

The human body was not designed to consume alcohol at these high percentages. That’s why alcohol intended for human consumption is not brewed to achieve this alcohol content. The most immediate danger is organ damage. As the alcohol moves down the throat and into the stomach, it doesn’t just feel like your insides are burning; they are chemically-burned.

Some of the short-term effects of consuming rubbing alcohol include:

  • Rapid intoxication followed by severe stomach pain and discomfort
  • Slurred speech
  • Sedation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Vomiting, Nausea, and Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

The dangers of rubbing alcohol include:

  • Chemical-burning your insides, which can be as bad as a fire-burn
  • Internal bleeding from the burns
  • Lungs filling up with water, which makes breathing difficult or impossible
  • Shock
  • Coma
  • Bladder rupture
  • Acute kidney failure, even if you had healthy kidneys before
  • Liver damage
  • Death (as little as eight ounces can be fatal without treatment)

According to NCBI, 80% of rubbing alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream within 30 minutes, so the effects happen quickly, and the dangers appear with little warning. Even if instant death does not occur, repeated usage will cause many of the irreparable damages mentioned above, even if a person is careful.

Why Do People Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

NCBI points out that around 80% of rubbing alcohol consumption incidents appear to be accidents. Rubbing alcohol looks like water and smells similar to liquor, although much more potent. If someone drinks quickly without thinking, they could consume rubbing alcohol in error, especially if they are already intoxicated.

However, the other 20% intentionally drink rubbing alcohol because it is cheaper than ethanol (the intoxicating agent produced by sugar fermentation and distillation). People also choose to consume it because it is so much stronger than ethanol, allowing them to “drink less alcohol”. But they’re actually consuming more alcohol in a smaller package.

Is Rubbing Alcohol in Hand Sanitizer?

You probably think of rubbing alcohol as a liquid, but it can also come in the form of hand sanitizing gel. Hand sanitizer must legally contain at least 60% alcohol (120 proof). However, the CDC recommends 80% ethanol (160 proof) or 75% isopropyl alcohol (150 proof), the more common choice. Whether hand sanitizer is made from ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, it still carries the above risks but not just because of the high percentage of alcohol.

The travel-size bottles can be deceptive to those who may have alcohol use disorder. Because of the bottle’s size, someone could mistakenly think that one bottle equals one shot. There was a case in Australia where a man in residential treatment for alcohol use disorder found and consumed six travel-size bottles of hand sanitizer, the alcohol-equivalent to three bottles of wine. He likely would not have survived if he had not already been in a treatment facility since his blood-alcohol level reached nearly three percent.

Drinking Rubbing Alcohol as a Result of Alcohol Abuse

If you accidentally or intentionally drank rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer, you should call 911 now. If you have considered drinking or have been drinking non-drinkable alcohol for any reason, you may have an alcohol use disorder. Because you no longer have control over how, when, where, and what you drink, you need compassionate and effective treatment to overcome this condition and begin restoring your health and life.

Contact Riverside Recovery of Tampa’s admissions team to learn more about alcohol abuse and our available treatment options. Your New Life Starts Here!