Drinking Rubbing Alcohol: The Dangers Of Consuming Isopropyl Alcohol

Drinking a bottle of rubbing alcohol or other products like mouthwash for their alcohol content can be dangerous. This can lead to serious side effects, including rubbing alcohol poisoning, hematemesis, and coma. This behavior can also be a sign of substance abuse, which may require professional treatment.

Dangers Of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is a common household product that contains a type of alcohol that is different from what is found in alcoholic beverages like beer, liquor, and wine.

Unlike alcoholic beverages, which contain ethanol (ethyl alcohol), rubbing alcohol contains isopropanol (isopropyl), which is much more potent and can be more toxic in small amounts. 

Drinking rubbing alcohol can be dangerous, and may be a sign of alcohol abuse or addiction. 

What Are The Dangers Of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol?

Although it looks harmless, rubbing alcohol is not meant for human consumption. Rubbing alcohol products typically contain 70 to 90 percent isopropyl, along with other ingredients.

When it is consumed, isopropyl is broken down into acetone. That’s a toxic chemical and potent central nervous system depressant that is commonly found in nail polish remover.

Drinking isopropyl-containing products, like rubbing alcohol, can cause rapid intoxication in small amounts. According to Poison Control, this can also severely irritate the digestive tract. 

Side effects of drinking a small amount of rubbing alcohol may include:

  • vomiting
  • sedation
  • slurred speech
  • unsteadiness

Drinking large amounts of rubbing alcohol can lead to more severe side effects that may indicate rubbing alcohol poisoning/overdose.

Those side effects can include:

  • vomiting of blood
  • chemical burns to the esophagus
  • abdominal pain
  • internal bleeding
  • dehydration
  • diarrhea
  • low blood pressure
  • respiratory depression
  • coma

If you or someone you know is experiencing severe side effects after drinking rubbing alcohol, seek medical attention immediately. 

Can Drinking Rubbing Alcohol Be Lethal?

Drinking enough rubbing alcohol can have fatal consequences. Because it is so potent, the ingestion of isopropyl can cause severe alcohol overdose (poisoning) in fairly small amounts.

A potentially lethal dose of isopropyl alcohol (which makes up about 70 percent of rubbing alcohol) is 2 to 4 mL/kg, although humans have survived after ingesting a larger amount.

Can You Get Drunk Off Of Drinking Rubbing Alcohol?

Yes. Rubbing alcohol contains 70 to 90 percent isopropyl, which is a type of alcohol that can cause rapid inebriation (drunkenness) in small amounts.

Other common products that contain isopropyl include:

  • nail polish remover
  • paint thinner
  • antifreeze
  • hand sanitizers
  • solvents
  • disinfectants

According to the National Poison Control Center, although it’s not meant to be consumed, this type of alcohol is sometimes abused by those with alcohol dependendence and/or addiction.

Abusing rubbing alcohol, by drinking it to get drunk or stave off withdrawal, is a sign of alcohol use disorder. Both addiction and drinking rubbing alcohol can have serious effects on health.

Why Do People Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol is cheap and easily accessible. It also contains a high concentration of alcohol, as well as a type of alcohol that can cause intoxication very quickly.

Drinking alcohol that’s found in common products, like rubbing alcohol or mouthwash, can be a sign of alcohol use disorder, also known as alcohol addiction. 

A person with alcohol use disorder may drink rubbing alcohol if they:

  • don’t have access to alcoholic beverages
  • are going through alcohol withdrawal
  • are trying to surreptitiously consume alcohol (e.g. avoid detection by family)
  • lack the financial means to buy alcohol

What Is The Best Treatment For Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol use disorder can be successfully treated. The first step of treatment often involves detoxification (detox) to get the alcohol out of your system. This should not be attempted alone.

After alcohol detox, an addiction treatment plan may include:

  • addiction counseling
  • medication
  • behavioral therapy
  • group therapy
  • recovery support groups
  • mental health treatment (dual diagnosis)
  • relapse prevention planning
  • aftercare

Alcohol abuse treatment can be sought through an inpatient addiction treatment center, or through an individual outpatient treatment provider, such as a substance use counselor. 

Find Affordable Drug Addiction Treatment Today

Drinking rubbing alcohol can be a sign of alcohol abuse. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol abuse, we may be able to help you find an affordable addiction recovery program.

Recovery is possible. Call our helpline today to find alcohol treatment options near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.


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