Mouthwash And Alcoholism: The Dangers Of Drinking Mouthwash To Get Drunk

Last Updated: April 2, 2021

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Mouthwash includes several chemicals which help in maintaining the oral health of the user. The various chemicals such as chlorhexidine gluconate, hydrogen peroxide, or methyl salicylate are toxic if ingested. They are supposed to spit out, not swallowed. However, since it also contains alcohol(ethanol), some people drink it in an effort to get drunk. Ingesting methyl alcohol along with the other toxic ingredients of Listerine can cause serious side effects such as overdose, liver failure, blindness, organ failure, gastrointestinal damage, and even death. Read along further to find answers to questions such as is mouthwash bad, is there alcohol in Listerine, can you get drunk on mouthwash, and what are the dangers of drinking mouthwash?

Alcoholics Drinking Mouthwash: A Real Danger

A person with alcoholism struggles with many demons. Drinking mouthwash to get drunk is not uncommon among them. Studies have shown that many alcohol abusers turn to non-beverage ethanol to feed their addiction. A one-year study conducted to describe the use of non-beverage alcohol consumption showed that 11% of inpatient alcoholics at a veterans hospital and 8.6% of alcoholics at a community hospital consumed non-beverage alcohol in the form of toiletries aftershave and organic solvents.

Man pouring mouthwash to drink it.

Another study describes the consultation of several alcoholic patients whose liquor consumption included non-beverage forms of alcohol. Alcoholics who drink Listerine are in great danger because of the adverse effects Listerine produce on their health.

Can drinking mouthwash kill? The answer is yes. By consuming Listerine to get drunk, an alcoholic is at risk of injury or death.

Is Mouthwash Bad? Why Do Some People Drink It?

Mouthwash with alcohol is dangerous for people with alcohol troubles because it can quickly become a secret vice. Alcoholics can conceal their addiction from family and friends. Personal care products are readily available at thousands of convenience stores and supermarkets in America and around the world. They provide inexpensive 24×7 access to liquor.

There Are Some Common Reasons Why People Opt for Drinking Listerine, Some of Which Are Listed Below:

  • Alcohol-containing Listerine is much cheaper than alcohol which makes it more affordable for some people.
  • It is easily accessible in certain situations where alcohol may not be available.
  • It is easy to obtain and hide from other people
  • It does not smell distinctively of alcohol, making it a right choice for individuals who do not want others to know about their liquor consumption.
  • People in alcohol recovery may relapse and start drinking mouthwash to keep their loved ones away from the knowledge of their relapse.
  • Oral hygiene products are not subject to the same restrictions as alcoholic beverages.
  • Underage drinkers can purchase them with no questions asked.

Who Is More At Risk To Drink Listerine For Getting Drunk

Can you get drunk on mouthwash? Yes, and some people are more at risk to drink Listerine in order to get drunk.

They Are:

  • Incarcerated individuals
  • People in the military
  • People who have been hospitalized
  • People in recovery from alcoholism or AUD

Listerine Ingredients: Are They Toxic?

Is mouthwash bad? The label on a bottle of Listerine 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 the Following:

  • Hydrogen Peroxide: this is a toxic ingredient that causes gastrointestinal tract damages and can result in symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other stomach issues.
  • Chlorhexidine Gluconate: this ingredient kills the good bacteria in the bloodstream, thus causing an increase in blood pressure and consequently heart problems.
  • Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol): Although ethanol is an ingredient in alcoholic beverages, the type of ethanol that is used in Listerine is not meant to be ingested as it can cause blood toxicity and overdose.
  • Methyl Salicylate: this ingredient is responsible for the minty fresh feeling one feels after using Listerine, but if it is ingested, it can lead to toxicity and salicylate poisoning.

Listerine Side Effects: what happens if you swallow hydrogen peroxide?

Can one die from drinking mouthwash with alcohol? If someone accidentally swallows a small amount of the product, it is not dangerous. But, ingesting a large amount of mouthwash or drinking Listerine can be lethal.

Some of the Side Effects of Drinking Mouthwash Habitually Include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low body temperature
  • Low blood sugar
  • Slurred speech
  • Sore throat
  • Changes in urination
  • Impaired coordination
  • Unconsciousness
  • Blindness
  • Multiple organ failure
  • Increased risk of oral cancer
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Shallow and fast breathing
  • Coma
  • Death (rare)

Listerine Overdose Symptoms

Research Suggests That the Symptoms of Overdose or Poisoning From Drinking 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
  • Euphoria
  • Giddiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Gastric lavage with demulcents
  • Complete loss of taste sensation
  • Stupor, unconsciousness, coma

According to a Case Study of an Adult Who Overdosed on Listerine, the Following Overdose Symptoms Were Observed:

  • Severe anion-gap metabolic acidosis
  • Osmolar gap
  • Multiorgan system failure
  • Death

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 Listerine. Does Listerine have alcohol? And, importantly for recovering alcoholics, can drinking Listerine cause a relapse?

Woman using mouthwash to get drunk.

The alcohol content in beer is 4-8 percent, wine 14-16 percent, and liquors about 15 percent

In Contrast, the Alcohol in Mouthwash or in Popular Oral Hygiene Products Is:

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

The alcohol in mouthwash 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 Oral Hygiene Products Include Alcohol in Mouthwash 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

Avoiding Listerine Addiction

Even a glimpse of the alcohol content on a bottle of Listerine 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
  • Complains 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.

Treating Mouthwash Addiction Or Overdose

If someone thinks that they have overdosed on Listerine or are in the habit of drinking Listerine or their loved one is going through this situation, they can call 911 or the Poison Help Hotline to get emergency help. Once the emergency has been resolved, patients can be treated at alcohol rehab and recovery centers, where they can be provided with the best medical care, information, and treatment. Treatment can include medical detox as well as therapeutic approaches to help patients start their life in recovery. Through personalized treatment approaches, patients can quit alcoholism and learn techniques to prevent relapse in the future.

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Page Sources

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Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: April 2nd, 2021

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.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.