Mouthwash And Alcoholism: Can Drinking Mouthwash Derail The Recovery?

Last Updated: April 10, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Overcoming alcoholism takes a great deal of determination and tenacity. Recovering alcoholics must do everything in their power to avoid falling off the wagon. Yet, something that is found on nearly every bathroom shelf in America could easily derail recovery from alcoholism. Many people are surprised to learn that alcohol in mouthwash can cause intoxication. Here is what anyone battling an addiction should know about the alcohol in Listerine and other brands.

How Much Alcohol is in Listerine?

Alcoholic beverages contain a type of alcohol called ethanol. Ethanol is also found in many commercial products such as hairsprays, hand sanitizers, perfumes, cough and cold remedies, and mouthwash. Does Listerine have alcohol? And, importantly for recovering alcoholics, can drinking Listerine cause a relapse?
The alcohol content in beer is 4-8 percent, wine 14-16 percent, and liquors about 15 percent. In contrast, the alcohol content in popular oral hygiene products is:

  • Listerine 26.9 percent
  • Scope 18.9 percent
  • Cepacol 14 percent

The alcohol content in Listerine is higher than many popular alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and liquors, making it extremely potent. In fact, a 30-60 second swish of an oral hygiene product can trigger a positive breathalyzer test without actually consuming an alcoholic beverage. People recovering from alcoholism may not know the effects of drinking mouthwash. The truth is that a recovering alcoholic can quickly become addicted to drinking mouthwash to get drunk.

Alcohol in Mouthwash: What Does It Do?

Manufacturers of mouthwash include alcohol in their product because it:

  • helps to make a smooth liquid by dissolving other ingredients
  • allows it to penetrate the plaque on the teeth
  • has an antibacterial effect
  • acts as a carrier of flavors
  • gives a refreshing tingle that makes the user believe it’s working

Listerine Side Effects: What Recovering Alcoholics Should Know

woman reading mouthwash label
The label on a bottle of mouthwash contains stern warnings. Keep out of reach of children. If swallowed accidentally, contact a poison center. This is because, in addition to ethanol, oral hygiene products contain a number of potentially toxic ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide, chlorhexidine gluconate, and methyl salicylate.
Can one die from drinking mouthwash? If someone accidentally swallows a small amount of the product, it is not dangerous. But, ingesting a large amount of mouthwash can be lethal. Some of the side effects of drinking mouthwash habitually include:

The symptoms of overdose or poisoning from ingesting an oral hygiene product such as Listerine include:

  • Stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Dizziness, drowsiness, headache, slurred speech

Low blood pressure, changes in heartbeat

  • Low blood sugar
  • Fall in body temperature
  • Dry mouth, sore throat, shallow breathing
  • Loss of coordination
  • Red and painful skin
  • Stupor, unconsciousness, coma

Alcoholics Drinking Mouthwash: A Real Danger

girl in bathroom using refreshing mouthwashA person battling alcoholism struggles with many demons. Drinking mouthwash to get drunk side effects is not uncommon. Studies have shown that many alcohol abusers turn to non-beverage ethanol to feed their needs. Alcoholics drinking mouthwash are in very grave danger, not only for a relapse but adverse effects on their health. Can drinking mouthwash kill? The answer is yes. By consuming Listerine to get a fix, an alcoholic is at risk of injury or death.
Mouthwash with alcohol is dangerous because it can quickly become a secret vice. Alcoholics can conceal their addiction from family and friends. Personal care products are easily available at thousands of convenience stores and supermarkets in America and around the world. They provide inexpensive 24×7 access to alcohol. They are easy to buy and hide. They do not give the user a distinct smell of alcoholic drinks. Oral hygiene products are not subject to the same restrictions as alcoholic beverages. Underage drinkers can purchase them with no questions asked.

Avoiding Mouthwash Addiction

Even a glimpse of the alcohol content on a bottle of mouthwash can be a temptation for a person in recovery. Family and friends should watch out for red flags that a person in recovery from addiction may be abusing an oral hygiene product.

  • Fresh minty breath all day long
  • Inordinately large number of empty Listerine bottles in the trash
  • Vocal complaints when the family switches to a non-alcoholic brand

People in recovery who do not have easy access to traditional alcoholic beverages, such as individuals who are incarcerated, serving in the military, or hospitalized long-term, are at increased risk of abusing oral hygiene products.
If a recovering alcoholic wants to maintain oral hygiene and avoid tooth decay, bad breath, and plaque build-up, an alcohol-free product is a good choice as it does not put the user at risk of relapse.

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Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: April 10th, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


Leave a comment

  • Sarah
    Can an alcoholic have “zero alcohol” listerine? I don’t want to trigger anything.
    • Stan
      Hi Sarah. Yes, believe it’s okay. When I first quit, I got too tempted to swallow when I used mouthwash with alcohol in it, so I switched to the non alcoholic kind for a year or two. Now, I can use the kind with alcohol and it’s okay, but it can still be risky if you still get cravings. If you stick with mouthwash with no alcohol, you should be fine as it’s the flavor of the alcohol that can be a trigger.
  • sthembiso mlungisi zuma
    I used my mouthwash today and the breatherlizer at work tested me possive for alcohol
  • Stacy Fontana
    I don’t know if anyone will see this but, my husband drinks listerene everyday throughout the day. Can you please tell me how bad withdrawal symptoms are? I have looked through so may websites but I CAN NOT find this information anywhere. Please if anyone sees this can you please, please let me know if there are and how bad the withdrawal is from mouthwash? Thank you so much!!!
    • LindaRose
      My husband died from drinking Listerine! He was a recovering alcoholic for over 15 years, then found out he could get drunk drinking Listerine! He was drinking a liter of Listerine every 4 to 5 days and nights. He started drinking it in June of 2002, and died from it on April 10, 2003 . . . His liver specialist doctor said he had never seen a liver in such bad condition, it was cooked! Stacy your husband will die from drinking Listerine if he doesn’t stop ASAP. The withdrawal has to be as bad as the withdrawal from regular drinking alcohol! Good luck. . . .
      • Crystal
        My ex husband is drinking a big bottle of Listerine a day he was already put on a ventilator and almost died now he is drinking it again. He was in rehab for 2 months and did great now he’s back to his old ways. I keep praying he will stop drinking this I try to be there for him I’ve takin him to meetings and multiple rehabs What else can I do. I’m sos scared
    • Rick
      The withdraw from mouthwash is going to be the same as a withdraw from store bought liquor. If “he” is legitimately drinking mouthwash my bet is “he” has been through WD’s before. Nothing will change though detox and withdraw tends to get worse every time you go through it. It’s not fun, its gonna be a horrible 3-5 days but it’s worth it. I’ve detoxed myself from alcohol many times, almost died twice, i would highly suggest going to a hospital that has a medical detox facility. They can medicate “him” so if seizures do happen, its not going to be life threatening. Best of luck.
    • Anne
      My brother was an alcoholic and was sober for a year. He passed away 2 months ago, today, at the age of 42. My sister and I found many caps to bottles of mouth wash and one of his co- workers said he was drinking it daily. To keep the edge off from picking up the bottle. I sat with him for almost a week while he was on life support. Acute liver failure, acute kidney failure, septics. That’s what his death certificate says. DO NOT DRINK MOUTHWASH! I don’t want another person or family go through the heartache we are going through.
      • Crystal
        I’m going through the same thing with my ex-husband right now he is drinking The big bottles of Listerine a day he’ll pass out he was just on a ventilator for over a week not even two months ago he almost died your story sounds just like what he’s going through I don’t know what else to do we did multiple rehabs meetings doctors and he keeps going back to it he doesn’t even want beer or liquor anymore he just wants the mouthwash all the time it’s going to kill him I told him I don’t know what else to do or how to help him Other than to pray.( I am so sorry for you and your family and all the heart ache, our condolences, I just wish they did not have to face these awful battles. May god comfort you and give you strength
  • Humberto
    so I accidentally drank some mouthwash when i was using i freaked out for a moment and some was swallowed, do i need to seek medical attention or is it safe i only drank a portion of it while it was in my mouth not all of it.
  • IRA Dorsey
    This was needed, thank you.
  • Shea
    As a still ongoing alcoholic. I had to stop buying listerine. I wasnt addicted to it, but it was there on sundays. It took me googling it before I even tried it. I honestly think the bad thing about mouthwash is, as an alcoholic, I want that taste and feel. You have to drink a toxic amount of listerine to get that. Something that has helped me is non alcoholic beer. I always keep it hidden and use a Koozie around friends. Part of the thing about alcoholism is being embarrassed amongst drinking friends. I dunno if this helps, but that’s what helped me
  • Jess
    Hi, what happens when someone was using listerine you know to not have a smelling breath and while gurgling the listerine and accidently swallow the large amount of Literine and now have the feeling that its at the heart area burning ?
  • Mr. Hiroo Sakai
    In an article published by Johns Hopkins Univ. regading the Coronavirus they say “Listern” is effective to kill the Coronavirus because it has 65% alcohol. I have no idea to drink “Listerine” but use it for sanitation of masks, if it is 65% alcohol as the Univ. has said. Does it contains 65% alcohol ?