Mouthwash, Rubbing Alcohol, and Other Household Items of Risk


Common household items like mouthwash and rubbing alcohol may seem innocuous enough to most people, but for recovering alcoholics, they pose significant risks. Ingesting mouthwash or rubbing alcohol might make a recovering alcoholic feel inebriated initially, but the ethyl alcohol these substances contain is not meant to be consumed. Swallowing it can result in hospitalization and even death.

Mouthwash: 54 Proof

Manufacturers add alcohol to mouthwash because it helps to dissolve other key ingredients and make a more consistent product. It also helps to penetrate plaque that might be built up on teeth.

To avoid the federal excise tax that the government levies on all alcoholic beverages, manufacturers modify the ethanol before adding it to mouthwash and convert it to specially denatured alcohol. Denatured alcohol isn’t fit to be consumed, but that doesn’t deter those who are struggling with sobriety from drinking it.Mouthwash bottle on bathroom counter

Original Listerine Antiseptic Mouthwash contains 26.9 percent alcohol, which means it is 54 proof and more potent than wine, beer, and some liquors.1 Because mouthwash is fairly cheap and easy to purchase without arousing suspicion, many people who struggle with addiction to alcohol find themselves turning to it when they feel as though they have run out of options.

Abusing Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol, is a common staple that many people stock in their medicine cabinets at home. It’s often used as an antiseptic for cuts and scrapes. For someone with an addiction to alcohol, rubbing alcohol might seem like a tempting way to curb their cravings for alcohol.

Signs of Isopropyl Alcohol Overdose

Consuming isopropyl alcohol carries with it several risks, including fatal alcohol poisoning. The signs of overdosing on isopropyl alcohol include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Coma
  • Decreased body temperature
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hypotension
  • Slow breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Throat pain
  • Vomiting

People who drink rubbing alcohol likely do so for the same reasons that they drink mouthwash: it’s cheap, inconspicuous, and readily available. However, it’s also incredibly dangerous. The US National Library of Medicine directs people to call the National Poison Control Center at the first sign of isopropyl overdose because if left untreated, isopropyl poisoning can lead to brain damage, bleeding, and kidney failure.2

In addition to consuming mouthwash or rubbing alcohol, someone struggling with sobriety may also abuse other household items. For example, certain cleaning supplies, paint thinners, and perfumes contain isopropyl alcohol and can result in feelings of inebriation, followed by dangerous side effects. Other items that pose a risk include cough and cold medications. Family members should be aware of the potential for relapse even if there is no alcohol in the house and should take measures to make sure these kinds of items aren’t in the house.

Abusing mouthwash and rubbing alcohol in the workplace

Many people who abuse alcohol, including mouthwash and other non-beverage alcohols, might think that no one is noticing they’re using alternative liquids to search for a feeling of inebriation. However, that’s rarely the case. Drinking mouthwash is an easy way to abuse alcohol in the workplace. Employees may also use mouthwash after drinking other alcoholic beverages to cover up the smell, so this is something that all supervisors should be aware of. Family members should also keep an eye on recovering loved ones because excessive use of mouthwash could indicate that they are not fully committed to sobriety just yet.Man addicted to alcohol

The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reports that the effects of alcoholism manifest themselves in various ways in the workplace.3 For example, absenteeism is roughly four to eight times higher among employees who abuse alcohol. Even more alarming is that on-the-job injuries are more prevalent among this demographic as well. For all of these reasons, seeking treatment for alcoholism helps the individual as well as employers and society in general. Family education on issues like use of mouthwash and rubbing alcohol in recovering addicts can help those struggling with their addiction to remain safe and sober.

References

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What Is A Standard Drink?
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017). Isopropanol Alcohol Poisoning.
  3. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Work-Life Reference Materials. Alcohol in the Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors.


About The Contributor

BRIAN WU, MD
BRIAN WU, MD

Psychiatrist

Brian Wu is an MD/PhD graduate and current psychiatrist. He is interested in transforming complex medical topics into material accessible for all. He is interested in systems based care and helping those through education and quality improvement... Read More


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