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Can You Drink Rubbing Alcohol – The Dangers of Drinking Isopropyl

For many people, the idea of drinking rubbing alcohol might elicit shudders and grimaces (if it crosses their minds at all). But for someone struggling with alcoholism, the idea might be more than just a passing thought.

10 Minutes Read | Published Sep 05 2023 | Updated Feb 26 2024 Expert Verified
Emma Collins
Written by
Dameisha Gibson
Reviewed by
Emma Collins
Written by
Dameisha Gibson
Reviewed by

Drinking Rubbing Alcohol

Made famous by the well-documented alcohol addiction of former First Lady Betty Ford, drinking rubbing alcohol has become a common trope among alcoholics on TV and in the movies. But when someone struggling with alcohol addiction doesn’t have access to beer, wine, or liquor, he or she might even go as far as to try it for themselves.

Can you drink rubbing alcohol? In a word, no. Drinking rubbing alcohol is extremely dangerous and it can have devastating consequences.

If you or someone you love is drinking rubbing alcohol to feed an addiction, it is important that you get help from an alcohol rehab right away. Better Addiction Care can help you find the treatment that is right for you, so you can start the path to recovery, health, and happiness.

What Is Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol isalso known as ethyl alcohol or isopropyl. We are all familiar with rubbing alcohol. Most homes have at least one bottle of it under the bathroom sink or in the medicine cabinet. It is also the primary chemical makeup ingredient in other products, including:

  • Household cleaners
  • Skincare products
  • Lotions
  • Antifreeze
  • Acetone
  • Mouthwash
  • Nail polish remover
  • Chemical disinfectants
  • Paint thinners
  • Hand sanitizer

Rubbing alcohol is a household staple because of its versatility and usefulness. You can use it to clean and disinfect a wound, to remove ink marks from the kitchen table, or even deodorize your shoes! With its many uses, rubbing alcohol seems to be a product that offers consumers nothing but positive results.

Rubbing alcohol, also known as isopropanol alcohol, is between 68-99 percent isopropyl alcohol. It is a form of alcohol that acts as a central nervous system depressant, has blood-thinning properties, and has a toxic chemical effect on human bodies.

Rubbing alcohol solution is the equivalent of being a minimum of 140-proof, but it is not meant for human consumption. To put that in perspective, even hard liquor, classified as ethyl alcohol, is only about 40-proof. You can see when compared to typical types of alcohol like liquor and spirits, that rubbing alcohol is much more concentrated and should not be ingested due to the risks you take when you consume rubbing alcohol poisoning.

What Happens if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

Let’s say you have the ability to move beyond the eye-watering smell and the gag-inducing taste you get when you drink rubbing alcohol. Essentially, you are doing nothing more than ingesting poison. Consuming even the smallest amount can cause unbelievable trauma to the body, and you should contact the Poison Control Centers and seek medical attention immediately if you, a friend, or a family member have done so.

Can you die from drinking rubbing alcohol? Yes. In fact, there is a staggering list of known side effects that occur when an adult or child consumes rubbing alcohol. A few of these possible toxic side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Digestive tract abdominal pain
  • Throat pain
  • Irregular body temperature
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Internal Burns of mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract
  • Internal bleeding or chemical burns
  • Slow breathing
  • Fluid buildup on the lungs hindering breathing
  • Oxygen Deprivation
  • Fewer red blood cells
  • Kidney failure
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Organ damage
  • Brain damage
  • Coma
  • Death

Rubbing alcohol has an incredibly high alcohol content, which explains why someone struggling with alcoholism might be tempted to drink it. However, rubbing alcohol is very dangerous, and it’s essential to be aware of the hazards of taking a sip.

Can Rubbing Alcohol Get You Drunk?

If a person drinks rubbing alcohol, it is true that they will become highly intoxicated very quickly. A 17-ounce bottle dose of rubbing alcohol (roughly the equivalent of a pint of beer) has a similar level of intoxication effect to consuming 30 beers!

And that’s not all; the human body metabolizes isopropyl alcohol differently than other types of alcohol, which means a person will experience intoxicating effects very fast. A person who drinks rubbing alcohol and experiences isopropanol toxicity will exhibit symptoms like:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Slurred speech
  • Stomach pain
  • Staggering
  • Impaired judgment

It may sound like drinking rubbing alcohol products in place of alcoholic beverages is the way to go if you want to get drunk quickly and cheaply. However, there are many negatives involved with that decision.

Percentage of Alcohol in Rubbing Alcohol

You can purchase rubbing alcohol with a concentration that ranges from 70% to 99%. Most rubbing alcohol solution is the equivalent of being a minimum of 140-proof, but that does not mean it is meant for human consumption.

In contrast, hard liquor (classified as ethyl alcohol) is only about 40-proof. Compared to typical types of alcohol like liquor and spirits, rubbing alcohol is much more concentrated and should not be ingested due to the poisoning risk you take when you consume rubbing alcohol.

Why Do People Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

The very idea of drinking rubbing alcohol may be outlandish to most people. So, why are thousands of people each year sent to the hospital after drinking rubbing alcohol? What makes these people want to drink something so harmful? To answer that question, we need to look at the nature of addiction.

When someone becomes addicted to alcohol, their central nervous system gets used to having alcohol to calm it down. When alcohol is no longer in the person’s system, they can suffer from withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and more. These symptoms range from mild to severe — and if they get bad enough, a person might reach for any kind of alcohol they can find to end the discomfort.

But as we’ve already mentioned, rubbing alcohol has a very different effect on the body than beer, wine, or spirits. While someone struggling with alcohol addiction may feel like any alcohol in their system is better than none, drinking rubbing alcohol can lead to serious — and even fatal — consequences.

Dangers of Drinking Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol is incredibly concentrated and can make someone feel intoxicated very quickly. That can be dangerous, as drunk people have slower reaction times, impaired judgement, and tend to engage in risky behavior.

However, those are hardly the only dangers of drinking rubbing alcohol; the liquid also damages your body.

Body Damage from Overdosing on Isopropyl Alcohol

If as little as eight ounces of rubbing alcohol is ingested in a brief period, overdosing is almost a certainty. Because the body metabolizes this type of alcohol so quickly and absorbs so much of it. People who drink rubbing alcohol typically overdose rapidly, usually in less than an hour.

What does it look like when someone overdoses on rubbing alcohol? It often mirrors the symptoms of alcohol poisoning from drinking too much ethyl alcohol. Because alcohol is naturally a depressant, multiple bodily functions will begin to slow, including heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. The gag reflex can also stop working, causing death from choking on vomit. The heart slows, causing damage to itself as well as other organs in the body.

Once the body begins to overdose due to isopropyl alcohol, it is critical to get emergency treatment (not to mention help from a private, free, or funded rehab) immediately.

Some Symptoms of Isopropyl Overdose

If someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, it is crucial to be aware of the signs of isopropyl alcohol overdose. Some of these symptoms include the following:

  • Slurred Speech
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Passing or blacking out
  • A lack of oxygen and blood circulation causing organ failure
  • A thinning of the blood, which causes a lack of nutrients being delivered to the body
  • Shock
  • Hypothermia

Seek medical attention if you or someone you are with begins to exhibit these symptoms after drinking rubbing alcohol. This can help you avoid serious injury or even death.

Treating Rubbing Alcohol Poisoning

If someone you love has drunk rubbing alcohol and is now showing signs of overdose, call 9-1-1 or the poison control centers as quickly as possible.

While waiting for medical assistance, have the person who has overdosed drink milk (if they are able to swallow). Milk will help neutralize the rubbing alcohol in the person’s system, reducing or preventing burning of the throat, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. To avoid further internal burning, especially of the throat and esophagus, do not force regurgitation.

Once the patient is in the care of emergency professionals, treating isopropyl alcohol poisoning is similar to treating someone who overdosed on drugs or is suffering from ethanol alcohol poisoning. To get an accurate diagnosis of the issue, doctors will likely monitor vital signs, including:

  • Temperature
  • Heart rate
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood test
  • Urinalysis
  • Chest x-ray
  • Electrocardiogram

Virtually all who go to the hospital for isopropanol poisoning because of ingesting rubbing alcohol can expect to receive fluids through an IV. Depending on the severity of the situation and the amount of rubbing alcohol swallowed, doctors could insert a tube through the patient’s nose, introducing additives to help them safely expel the rubbing alcohol.

In extreme cases, the patient might be hooked up to a breathing machine to aid with respiration. If the alcohol toxicity causes organ damage, the patient might need supportive care such as kidney dialysis in the future. However, instances of needing this course of action are exceedingly rare.

These treatments will generally see the patient through overdosing on rubbing alcohol; however, to reiterate, isopropanol alcohol overdoses can also have long-lasting effects such as:

  • Multiple organ failure
  • Internal bleeding
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Coma
  • Death

While it is a rarity for these effects to occur, they still are a distinct possibility if a large amount of rubbing alcohol is consumed in a rapid amount of time.

Someone I Care About is Drinking Rubbing Alcohol. How Can I Help Them?

If you know someone who is drinking rubbing alcohol, it is critical to get them help. Some helpful advice to support your loved one includes:

  • Unless they are in immediate danger, address the issue with your loved one when they have not been drinking.
  • Approach them with love and positivity
  • Allow them to talk freely about their issues
  • Offer to assist them with creating a step-by-step plan of action about seeking help and beginning recovery programs
  • Stay with them as they make the initial call to seek assistance
  • Offer to go with them to appointments related to their treatment programs
  • Do not take offense if you’re met with hostility
  • Do not make excuses for their choices
  • Do not internalize their issue as having something to do with you

While the prospect of confronting your loved one regarding their alcohol addiction can seem both frightening and overwhelming, the satisfaction that will accompany knowing that you played a role in their road to recovery will be well worth overcoming the trepidation.

The risks involved with drinking rubbing alcohol are not worth the fast, excessive intoxication promised. While many alcoholics will resort to ingesting isopropyl alcohol when ethyl alcohol is not readily available, isopropanol alcohol is more likely to cause lasting, irreversible damage to the body in a much shorter period.

Educating yourself on the negative aspects of drinking isopropyl alcohol should serve as a natural deterrent from engaging in that destructive activity. If you witness a loved one exhibiting signs of consuming rubbing alcohol once they receive medical attention after the incident, it will benefit everyone who knows and loves that individual if you try to help them seek treatment for their alcohol abuse disease.

If you are suffering from chronic alcohol use disorder, lean on your loved ones as you find the correct path for overcoming your alcohol use disorder and begin the road to recovery. While the journey may be difficult, it will be much more fulfilling than drinking rubbing alcohol to fill the void.

Call Us Today For More Resources

Addiction can make people do dangerous things, and drinking rubbing alcohol is no exception. If you or someone you love is drinking isopropyl alcohol to feed their addiction, it is time to get help from an addiction specialist. The right program can help you take the first steps toward — Better Addiction Care can help you find the ideal treatment for you.

Our treatment advisors will help take the guesswork out of addiction care. We’ll work with you to find a rehab program that suits your situation, from your medical needs to your insurance provider. We’ll do everything we can to set you or your loved one up for success, so you can say goodbye to addiction.

Whether you’re looking for a facility to serve your court-ordered rehab, a place that offers rehab for veterans, a sober living house, or anything in between, Better Addiction Care can help you find exactly what you need to become stronger, sober you.

Call us today at (800) 429-7690 for help today.


bullet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021).
"Alcohol Poisoning Deaths."
Retrieved on June 05, 2022
bullet National Capital Poison Center. (n.d.).
"Isopropyl Alcohol."
Retrieved on June 05, 2022
bullet MedlinePlus. (2021).
"Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning."
Retrieved on June 05, 2022
bullet New York State Department of Health. (2017).
"Isopropyl Alcohol."
Retrieved on June 05, 2022
bullet National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021).
"Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much."
Retrieved on June 05, 2022
bullet World Health Organization. (2004).
"Isopropyl Alcohol."
Retrieved on June 05, 2022
bullet U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021).
"Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning."
Retrieved on June 05, 2022

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