While drinking rubbing alcohol would not cross the mind of most rational individuals, anyone suffering from alcoholism might have looked at the idea as more than just a passing thought. An alcoholic without access to beer, wine, or liquor might have even gone as far as to indulge in the act. Made famous the well-documented alcohol addiction of former First Lady Betty Ford, drinking rubbing alcohol is extremely dangerous, even for a practiced alcoholic.
What Is Rubbing Alcohol?
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.
Rubbing alcohol is a household staple because of its versatility and usefulness. Its uses are vast. From cleaning and disinfecting a wound to removing ink marks from the kitchen table, rubbing alcohol seems to be a product that offers consumers nothing but positive results. It is also the primary chemical makeup ingredient in other household cleaning products, skincare products, lotions, antifreeze, acetone, mouthwash, nail polish remover, chemical disinfectants, paint thinners, and, genuinely relevant during the COVID-19 outbreak, hand sanitizer.
But what is rubbing alcohol?
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, rubbing alcohol is much more concentrated and should not be ingested due to risks you take when you consume rubbing alcohol poisoning.
What Happens if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?
Due to its incredibly high alcohol content, it is clear why it could be tempting to drink rubbing alcohol for someone suffering from alcohol withdrawals. However, you must be informed about the dangers of drinking it. If consumed, the person will become highly intoxicated very quickly.
Astonishingly, drinking a 17-ounce bottle dose of rubbing alcohol, roughly the equivalent of a pint of beer, will have a similar level of intoxication effect to consuming 30 beers.
That staggering statistic lets us know that a person under the effects of isopropyl alcohol consumption (isopropanol toxicity) will exhibit symptoms of rapid intoxication such as low blood pressure, slurred speech, stomach pain, staggering, and impaired judgment (isopropyl alcohol poisoning).
In addition, because of how the human body metabolizes this type of alcohol, the harmful effects come on extremely fast after you’ve consumed rubbing alcohol.
While 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, there are many negatives involved with that decision.
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, making the consumption of rubbing alcohol exceedingly hazardous to your health.
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 has done so.
There is a staggering list of known side effects when an adult or child did consume rubbing alcohol. In addition to mirroring intoxication from ethyl alcohol, rubbing alcohol consumption causes detriment to the body.
A few of these possible toxic side effects that could happen to a person who drank rubbing alcohol include:
- 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
Learning that a liquid used regularly to clean medical laboratory and surgical equipment or prevent cuts from becoming infected has the potential to cause death, the well-documented effects prove the dangers associated with substituting isopropyl products for alcoholic beverages.
Body Damage from Overdosing on Isopropyl Alcohol
If as little as 8 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, overdosing is not only a high probability, but it will also happen rapidly, usually in less than an hour.
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. Because the heart slows, it can cause damage to itself as well as other organs in the body. Once the body begins to overdose due to isopropyl alcohol, the effects can become devastating if emergency treatment is not obtained.
Some symptoms of isopropyl overdose
- Slurred Speech
- Abdominal Pain
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Passing or blacking out (preventing the sufferer from being able to verbalize that they need medical assistance)
- A lack of oxygen and blood circulation causing organ failure
- A thinning of the blood causing a lack of nutrients being delivered to the body
Seek medical attention if you or someone you are with begins to exhibit these symptoms after drinking rubbing alcohol or risk death.
Treating Rubbing Alcohol Poisoning
Once someone is identified as overdosing on or being poisoned from consuming rubbing alcohol products, call 9-1-1 or the poison control centers as quickly as possible.
While waiting for medical assistance, if the person can swallow, it is advisable to have the inflicted individual drink milk. Much like if someone ingests bleach, milk will help neutralize the rubbing alcohol in the person’s system. Done quickly enough, burning to the throat, esophagus, stomach, and intestines can be reduced.
Again, like someone who drank bleach, to prevent further internal burning, especially of the throat and esophagus, do not force regurgitation.
Once in the care of emergency professionals, the patient is treated for isopropyl alcohol poisoning like 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:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Blood test
- Chest x-ray
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 swallowed rubbing alcohol, 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
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, whether related to withdrawals from ethyl alcohol or not, there are some things you can do to help them.
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.
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