Drinking Rubbing Alcohol: What Happens If You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

Last Updated: May 28, 2024

Dr. Norman Chazin Reviewed by Dr. Norman Chazin
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Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects 28.8 million adults in the U.S. Given the complexity of this disorder, individuals sometimes seek risky substitutes for traditional alcoholic beverages when they are unable to obtain alcohol.

Isopropyl alcohol, a readily available household disinfectant, may be tempting due to its universal presence at home. However, isopropyl alcohol (IPA) is not a safe substitute for alcoholic drinks. Unlike ethanol, which the body can process to some degree, isopropyl alcohol is highly toxic and can cause severe health complications, even in small amounts.

Continue reading to learn the dangers of drinking rubbing alcohol, its effects on the body, and the importance of seeking professional help for those struggling with alcohol dependence.

Is Isopropyl Alcohol Rubbing Alcohol?

Before diving into the topic, it’s important to clarify terms. For educational and technical purposes, isopropyl alcohol is often called rubbing alcohol or isopropanol.

Isopropyl alcohol is a common disinfectant used for various purposes, such as cleaning wounds or sanitizing surfaces. Rubbing alcohol typically contains 70% to 99% isopropyl alcohol, a colorless, flammable chemical compound with a strong odor. The remainder of the content is usually water or other additives to prevent skin dehydration.

However, not all rubbing alcohol is made from isopropyl alcohol. Some may be made from ethanol (ethyl alcohol), though isopropyl-based is more common for household use due to its effectiveness and lower toxicity.

Is Isopropyl Alcohol Toxic?

Rubbing alcohol ingredients are considered toxic when ingested, inhaled in large quantities, or when in prolonged contact with the skin.

It can cause intoxication, similar to ethanol (the type of alcohol typically consumed in beverages), but with much more harmful effects. When applied to the skin, it can cause irritation and dryness due to its dehydrating properties, especially with frequent use. However, in controlled amounts, such as in hand sanitizers or as a disinfectant, isopropyl alcohol is considered safe for topical use.

What Happens When You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

Although it’s strictly advised not to drink rubbing alcohol, accidents can happen, and it is crucial to know the symptoms to watch for and the steps to take if accidental ingestion occurs.

Side effects of drinking rubbing alcohol are:

  • Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting (in some cases, blood)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Throat pain
  • Painfully reddened skin
  • Dizziness and headache
  • Respiratory depression (severe)
  • Vision problems
  • Central nervous system depression (confusion, difficulty walking, sedation, coma)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Throat and mouth irritation
  • Skin irritation
  • Lactic acidosis
  • Organ damage

Since isopropanol irritates the gastrointestinal system, the digestive tract suffers the most damage when it is ingested. The body breaks down isopropanol into acetone, harming the digestive system and resulting in the gastrointestinal symptoms listed.

Since isopropyl alcohol resembles ethanol from alcoholic beverages, can you get drunk off rubbing alcohol? As we mentioned above, isopropanol intoxication can mimic ethanol intoxication but is more severe. It can cause altered mental state, low blood pressure, low body temperature, and potentially lung and heart failure.

Can Drinking Rubbing Alcohol Kill You?

While the outcome depends on the quantity consumed and individual factors such as body weight and tolerance, drinking rubbing alcohol can potentially be lethal, and ingesting even a tiny amount can lead to alcohol poisoning.

The toxic effects on the central nervous system and vital organs when consuming a larger quantity can cause more severe issues and have a 45% mortality rate. Despite these consequences, individuals still misuse isopropanol. Among various methods of abuse, sniffing/inhaling is one-way users take advantage of rubbing alcohol euphoria.

Can Inhaling Rubbing Alcohol Kill You?

Inhaling rubbing alcohol in large amounts can be dangerous and lead to serious health problems, but death is less likely from inhalation alone compared to drinking it.

Yet, inhaling rubbing alcohol can:

  • Irritate your nose, throat, and lungs, causing coughing, difficulty breathing and burning sensations.
  • Inhaling high concentrations for an extended period can lead to alcohol poisoning.
  • Inhaling high concentrations may slow breathing and heart rate.

Inhaling rubbing alcohol is not a safe practice and can have serious consequences. If you or someone you know has accidentally inhaled a large amount of rubbing alcohol fumes, seek medical attention immediately.

Rubbing Alcohol Overdose

Take into account that just 8 ounces of rubbing alcohol can be deadly. If someone drinks rubbing alcohol and doesn’t get immediate medical attention, the risk of death increases.

If a person ingests this amount through accidental or intentional ingestion, an overdose may happen. Symptoms of an overdose are more severe and can include abdominal pain, drowsiness, coma, and, in extreme cases, respiratory arrest or death.

If you suspect someone is having an overdose, follow these steps:

  • Call emergency services (911) immediately.
  • Be prepared to answer questions (amount, time, medical history, symptoms).
  • Don’t try to induce vomit unless instructed by the poison control center.
  • Wait for emergency services or transfer the person to the nearest hospital.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Rubbing Alcohol Poisoning

Doctors will diagnose isopropyl alcohol poisoning based on several factors:

  • They are reporting nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, confusion, dizziness, or difficulty breathing.
  • Informing the doctor about the ingestion of rubbing alcohol is vital for diagnosis and treatment.
  • Blood and urine tests to detect the presence of isopropyl alcohol and its breakdown products in the body.

Treatment of Rubbing Alcohol Poisoning

There is no specific antidote for isopropyl alcohol poisoning. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and preventing complications following the standard procedure of:

  • Supportive care to manage nausea and vomiting, maintaining hydration with intravenous fluids
  • Dialysis might be necessary to remove isopropyl alcohol and its toxic byproducts from the bloodstream.
  • Oxygen therapy to clear the lungs from isopropyl alcohol.
  • Doctors will address any specific complications that arise, such as seizures, coma, or respiratory depression.

Rubbing Alcohol Safety Tips

Almost every American household and surely every hospital or care setting has a bottle of rubbing alcohol. While its efficacy in disinfection is well-established, considering its easy access, safe practices when handling this substance is imperative to avoid accidents.

Use this guide to ensure the responsible use of isopropyl alcohol and minimize potential risks:

  • Store rubbing alcohol out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Keep rubbing alcohol in its original container, and don’t rip the label.
  • Don’t mix rubbing alcohol with other cleaning products.
  • Use rubbing alcohol in a well-ventilated area.
  • Avoid getting rubbing alcohol in your eyes.
  • Wash your hands after using rubbing alcohol.
  • Call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 (US) in an emergency or visit their website.

What Happens If You Drink Isopropyl Alcohol? − Bottom Line

Ingesting isopropyl alcohol is extremely dangerous and can lead to severe poisoning, with symptoms ranging from nausea and vomiting to coma and potentially fatal outcomes.

Rubbing alcohol is not a safe substitute for alcoholic beverages and should never be consumed. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol dependence or has ingested isopropyl alcohol, seek professional medical assistance immediately to prevent life-threatening consequences. Professionals at a reputable rehabilitation facility can help individuals recover from alcohol abuse with strategies to prevent relapse, ensuring a lasting recovery.

People Also Ask

How is isopropyl made?

Isopropyl alcohol is mainly produced by combining propylene gas (a petroleum byproduct) with water in an industrial reaction.

Is smelling isopropyl alcohol harmful?

Briefly smelling rubbing alcohol is unlikely to cause harm. However, inhaling concentrated fumes for extended periods can irritate your lungs, eyes, and nose.  If you experience dizziness or coughing, move to fresh air immediately.

What happens if you put rubbing alcohol in your mouth?

Ingesting rubbing alcohol is extremely hazardous. It can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and even lead to seizures, coma, or death. If someone drinks rubbing alcohol, call emergency services right away. Do not wait for symptoms to appear.

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Page Sources

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  2. Boyce, J. M. (2018). Alcohols as surface disinfectants in healthcare settings. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, 39(3), 323–328. https://doi.org/10.1017/ice.2017.301
  3. Ashurst, J. V., & Nappe, T. M. (2023, March 13). Isopropanol toxicity. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493181/
  4. Kumar, S., Dabbas, S., Manisha, F., Akta, H., & Jaber, E. A. (2024). Isopropyl Alcohol Intoxication Treated With Hemodialysis: A Case Report and Short Review. Cureus, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.52580
  5. National Academies Press (US). (1984). ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL. Emergency and Continuous Exposure Limits for Selected Airborne Contaminants - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK208299/
  6. Kumar, S., Dabbas, S., Manisha, F., Akta, H., & Jaber, E. A. (2024). Isopropyl Alcohol Intoxication Treated With Hemodialysis: A Case Report and Short Review. Cureus, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.52580
Retrieved on May 28, 2024.

Published on: November 30th, 2018

Updated on: May 28th, 2024

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