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 risk. Though ingesting mouthwash or rubbing alcohol may result in inebriation initially, the ethyl alcohol it contains is not meant to be consumed, and swallowing it can result in hospitalization and even death.

Mouthwash: 54 Proof

Manufacturers add alcohol to mouthwash for two reasons: It dissolves other key ingredients to create a more consistent product, and it helps penetrate plaque buildup on teeth. Original Listerine Antiseptic Mouthwash contains 26.9 percent alcohol, which means it is 54 proof and more potent than wine, beer, and some liquors. 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.

In order 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 first. SDA is not fit for consumption, but that does not deter those who are struggling with sobriety from drinking it.

Many people who abuse alcohol, including mouthwash and other nonbeverage alcohols, believe they appear to be functioning just fine; however, that is rarely the case. According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, the effects of alcoholism manifest themselves in various ways in the workplace. For example, the OPM reports that absenteeism is an estimated 4-8 times higher among employees who abuse alcohol and that on-the-job injuries are more prevalent among them as well. Family members of people struggling with substance abuse also tend to have higher rates of absenteeism.

Drinking mouthwash is an easy way to abuse alcohol in the workplace. Employees may also use mouthwash after drinking other alcoholic beverages in order to cover up the smell, and it 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.

Abusing Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol, is another common staple that many people stock in their medicine cabinets at home. It’s often used as an antiseptic for cuts and scrapes, but someone with an addiction to alcohol may turn to it to curb their cravings. Consuming isopropyl alcohol carries with it a number of risks, including fatal alcohol poisoning. The signs of overdosing on isopropyl alcohol include:

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

People who drink rubbing alcohol likely do so for the same reasons that people 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.

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.

About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Greenhouse Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More
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