Mouthwash and Alcoholism: Can Drinking Mouthwash Derail Your Recovery?

Mouthwash and Alcoholism: Can Drinking Mouthwash Derail Your Recovery?

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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 the alcohol in mouthwash can cause intoxication. Here is what anyone battling an addiction should know about the alcohol in Listerine and other brands.

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Learn about dangers of mouth hygiene products:

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 you 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 need. Alcoholics drinking mouthwash are in very grave danger, not only for a relapse but adverse effects on their health. Can drinking mouthwash kill you? 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.

Find the Help You Need

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If you or someone you love has questions concerning the abuse of oral hygiene products, call our free helpline (888)-459-5511 for more information. Helpful advisors are available to answer your questions, provide you with information about de-addiction programs, and, ultimately, guide you towards the help you need to achieve and remain in recovery from alcohol addiction. Calls are always confidential, private, and secure.

View Sources
  1. https://extension.illinois.edu/ethanol/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1115472/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19133944

Mouthwash and Alcoholism: Can Drinking Mouthwash Derail Your Recovery?

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  • 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!!!
  • 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.