Rubbing Alcohol Abuse: Is Drinking Rubbing Alcohol Dangerous?

What is rubbing alcohol? It is pretty much found in most home medicine cabinets and first-aid kits, but rubbing alcohol uses are a wide variety. Anti-freeze, body rubs, industrial solvents, skin lotions, cosmetics, aftershave lotions, and hand sanitizers all contain rubbing alcohol as a key or secondary ingredient.

The most important thing to stress here is how different it is from regular alcohol in terms of chemical composition and function. The uses for rubbing alcohol does NOT include ingestion – although emergency rooms still get loads of cases every year from people who disregard this essential instruction. Some of these cases were instances where rubbing alcohol was placed in an insecure place, and children got to it, but in some other cases, people have deliberately consumed the liquid. Common reasons for this are desperation from the unavailability of regular alcohol or suicide attempts.

Isopropyl Alcohol Vs. Rubbing Alcohol

Is Isopropyl alcohol rubbing alcohol? First of all, Isopropyl is not an antiseptic while rubbing alcohol is. The connection between these two is down to the fact that rubbing alcohol is 68% to 72% isopropyl alcohol. This makes up another difference in a “rubbing alcohol vs. isopropyl alcohol” comparison is that the rest of the content in rubbing alcohol is a mix of one or more of water, color additives, and perfume oils certified by the FDA. On the other hand, 90% isopropyl alcohol and above is limited in bactericidal efficiency, so it does not function very efficiently as an antiseptic.

Can You Drink Isopropyl Alcohol?

In isopropyl alcohol vs. ethanol comparison, regular drinking alcohol (or ethanol) is broken down into acetaldehyde while Isopropyl metabolizes into acetone, which is a central nervous system depressant. When a large amount of this is ingested into the system, serious damage can be done to nerves, kidneys, and liver. Hence, drinking isopropyl alcohol is extremely unsafe and lead to isopropyl alcohol intoxication.

Dangers of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol

What happens when you drink rubbing alcohol? Just like with ethanol, it is possible to become intoxicated on rubbing alcohol, but the intoxication is significantly more dangerous and lasts for a more extended period. Side effects such as slurred speech, vomiting, headache, and an unsteady gait are common with isopropyl intoxication – similar to intoxication on regular alcohol. However, severe side effects such as low blood pressure, a racing heartbeat, noisy/slow breathing, redacted pupils, persistent nausea, cold/clammy skin, pancreatitis, muscle tenderness, and a deep coma are all possible results of the poison ingested by drinking large amounts of regular rubbing alcohol or green rubbing alcohol.

Is rubbing alcohol toxic? The acetone content in the body when you drink rubbing alcohol can lead to severe central nervous system depression that may last up to 24 hours. This can lead to major brain, kidney, and liver damage. In fact, there are situations where the person experiences circulatory collapse or goes into respiratory arrest, which could be fatal.

Even when rubbing alcohol is not ingested orally, huffing or inhaling, it can still result in some side effects such as irritation of the lungs and nasal passages, nausea, vomiting, and headache.

Rubbing Alcohol Abuse

Rubbing alcohol abuse is a severe problem for healthcare facilities, and one of the reasons it is a problem is the fact that a lot of people do not have the proper information about what makes it different from regular alcohol. Individuals that have been hospitalized as a result of rubbing alcohol abuse sometimes require major life support such as intubation to alleviate breathing problems. Other times, intravenous fluids have to be supplied to deal with fluid loss and low blood pressure that occurs as a result of incessant vomiting. Some of the worst cases will require powerful drugs such as vasopressors to prevent death or cardiovascular collapse.

One of the mistakes that people make when they ingest rubbing alcohol is to try to induce vomiting – especially in cases where the liquid was accidentally swallowed. This is a bad idea because of the caustic nature of isopropyl alcohol, which chemicals can burn in the esophagus.

If you or anyone you know accidentally ingests rubbing alcohol, the best course of action is to reach out to your local poison center for help immediately. On the other hand, if the situation is a result of the absence of regular alcohol or just a strong need to try something different, you need to know that you may be addicted. Please reach out to a rehab facility near you and seek treatment for alcohol addiction as quickly as possible. 

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