Isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol) is most commonly found in a solution containing about 70% isopropanol and 30% water. Isopropanol is a colorless liquid with a mildly fruity odor and bitter taste. It is used in various commercial products such as aftershave, cosmetics, lotions, cleaners, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, antifreeze, inks, solvents, and pharmaceutical drugs.
Under no circumstances should this substance be consumed in any amount. It is incredibly toxic and can lead to severe health complications up to and including death. In fact, according to poison control centers, isopropanol ingestion is the most common alcohol toxicity reported in the U.S. each year. Although most isopropanol exposures are accidental and occur among children less than six years of age, thousands of deliberate isopropanol ingestion cases also continue to be reported.
Causes of Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning
While the ingestion of isopropyl alcohol is never recommended, an adult human body can handle small amounts. The kidneys remove approximately 20-50% of rubbing alcohol by excreting it. The rest is broken down into acetone and then filtered out of the body through the lungs or kidneys.
However, when a person drinks more rubbing alcohol that his or her body can handle—which occurs at around 200 milliliters for an adult—poisoning can occur.
Abuse of isopropyl alcohol may cause poisoning by ingestion or inhalation. Rubbing alcohol can make people feel drunk, so some people buy isopropyl alcohol-containing products and drink them intentionally.
Isopropyl alcohol is the main ingredient in many household cleaning products that are readily available. People who take antidepressants may get experience isopropyl alcohol poisoning more easily than others, particularly those who use a class of antidepressants known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
Furthermore, children are also more vulnerable to rubbing alcohol poisoning. They often drink products that they find around the house, and for this reason, it is critical to keep anything containing potentially toxic chemicals out of their reach.
Reasons Why People Consume Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing alcohol is sometimes intentionally consumed by teens and adults because it is much more potent than ethanol, the intoxicating agent produced by sugar fermentation and distillation found in most common alcoholic beverages. Moreover, individuals drink rubbing alcohol to become intoxicated, or in some cases, to engage in self-harm. People suffering from severe alcoholism may resort to more potent substances, such as rubbing alcohol, to get more intoxicated.
The consumption of rubbing alcohol may also appeal to some due to its lower cost and widespread availability than ethanol. For instance, a 16 oz. bottle of rubbing alcohol often costs less than two dollars and can be purchased anytime day or night at a 24-hour store.
Rubbing alcohol is significantly more potent than ethanol and is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, however, the same properties that allow a person to get more intoxicated on rubbing alcohol are also responsible for the extreme dangers and risks associated with its consumption.
Risks and Dangers of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol
Drinking rubbing alcohol is much more hazardous and intoxicating compared to drinking ethanol at comparable levels. It is more likely to produce impaired consciousness, hyperthermia, perilously low blood pressure, and even cardiopulmonary collapse.
As noted, rubbing alcohol is rapidly absorbed by the body, with blood concentrations peaking between 30-180 minutes after ingestion. Due to the chemicals in rubbing alcohol, it is broken down differently than ethanol, causing the body to become inundated by toxins. Essentially, rubbing alcohol is metabolized into acetone, the toxic chemical commonly found in nail polish remover.
Acetone is also a stomach irritant that can cause digestive issues such as abdominal pain, bleeding in the stomach and intestines, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and bladder rupture. Acetone also initiates severe central nervous system (CNS) depression. This can result in headaches, dizziness, extreme intoxication, coma, and death.
Rubbing alcohol is very dangerous to drink at any quantity. Massive ingestion is extremely risky and can cause depressed cardiovascular function, internal bleeding, organ damage, shock, and death.
Rubbing alcohol is not a suitable substitute for beer, wine, or liquor. If you suspect you or someone has consumed rubbing alcohol, either deliberately or accidentally, call 911 or immediately visit the nearest emergency department. You can also call the American Association of Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 to receive guidance from local poison control specialists near you.
If you or someone you know is considering consuming rubbing alcohol as a result of an ongoing struggle with alcoholism, please contact Just Believe Detox or Just Believe Recovery center to discuss available treatment options to help you on your path to recovery. Our comprehensive, personalized treatment programs include therapeutic services and activities vital for the recovery process, including psychotherapy, 12-step program group support, individual and family counseling, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and much more.