Rubbing alcohol – otherwise known as isopropyl alcohol – is denatured alcohol that has a strong odor. That denatured part means it’s not just alcohol, but alcohol spliced with chemicals – compounds that are not safe for human consumption. This is actually done on purpose to deter individuals from trying to drink it. The added chemicals make it smell potent, taste awful, and seem wholly unappealing in most cases, but many who abuse alcohol will still attempt to drink rubbing alcohol if that’s all they can get their hands on.
Typically used as an antiseptic, people who abuse rubbing alcohol have been known to consume it when seeking intoxication. Individuals who consume rubbing alcohol can and do get drunk. The other kind of rubbing alcohol is ethyl alcohol, and it is akin to that which is found in alcoholic beverages. The National Capital Poison Center notes rubbing alcohol can range from 60 to 99 percent isopropyl alcohol, but the average is around 70 percent.
People who abuse alcohol usually don’t reach for rubbing alcohol regularly. Rather, they tend to turn to it to satisfy cravings, often when they’re going through withdrawal. A small amount of rubbing alcohol may help rid them of withdrawal symptoms, such as:
Other Alternatives to Typical Alcohol Abuse
Drinking rubbing alcohol isn’t the only behavior that people who abuse alcohol engage in when they’re feeling desperate. Others alternatives people may drink include:
- Hand sanitizer
- Cough syrup
- Vanilla extract
While some of these products certainly have lower alcohol contents than standard alcoholic beverages, they can induce intoxication in larger amounts. This is even more likely if they’re consumed on an empty stomach. Moreover, some of these substances will provide just enough alcohol to stave off withdrawal.
Dangerous Side Effects
Bottles of rubbing alcohol are generally labeled with a warning that they are for external use only or not for ingestion, and for good reason. There are very serious risks involved in consuming rubbing alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol – or ethanol – that is manufactured for consumption are not the same thing, despite their similar names. The Toxicology Data Network reports that 20-50 percent of isopropyl alcohol in the body is filtered out by the kidneys. So the body is capable of tolerating small amounts of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a given that it will. In addition, the amount of rubbing alcohol it takes to kill the average adult is quite small — just 8 ounces, according to LIVESTRONG.
Ingesting isopropyl alcohol can cause an individual to lose coordination. They may be unfit to drive, slur their speech, throw up, lose their balance, and behave in an overall drunken manner. When ingested in high quantities, isopropyl alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestines, and lead to an upset stomach, diarrhea, bleeding, and severe pain. In some instances, further adverse events may arise from this scenario, such as a drop in blood pressure, slowed breathing, shock, and even coma. If a loved one who is known to abuse alcohol is experiencing such symptoms and there aren’t any alcoholic beverages around, it is worth investigating whether they’ve been abusing rubbing alcohol.
It’s Never Too Late to Get Help