Due to many circumstances —being underage, having a severe addiction, lacking money, etc.— people have turned to drinking isopropyl (AKA rubbing alcohol). They hope to feel the same effects as drinking beer, wine or liquor, but the dangers far outweigh any potential tipsiness or drunken “fun.”

What is isopropyl?

Isopropyl is a colorless liquid that can be dissolved in water, ethanol, ether, acetone, and chloroform. It will not dissolve in any liquid containing salt.

It smells like a mixture of acetone (a familiar smell if you’ve ever painted your nails) and liquor. The smell can also be described as both sharp and musty.

Combining isopropyl with air and oxygen can create unstable, explosive compounds, especially in confined spaces.

Where is isopropyl found?

Isopropyl—which can also be called isopropanol or dimethyl carbinol—is used in antifreeze, solvents, shellac, essential oils, quick-drying inks, preservatives, body rubs, hand lotions, after-shave, some cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, alcohol swabs, cleaning supplies, paint thinner, perfume, and antiseptics.

Generally, isopropyl is abused by drinking or huffing rubbing alcohol; however, it can also be absorbed through the skin. There is an old wives’ tale that sponge-bathing a child in isopropyl can lower a fever, but this can easily cause alcohol poisoning, especially in younger kids.

None of these products are meant to be swallowed, snorted or huffed, and an overdose officially occurs once isopropyl enters the body.

Alcohol poisoning can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Web Poison Control Services for online assistance.

How do people use isopropyl?

Some people drink isopropyl in order to get the same effects as ethanol — alcohol that is legal to drink. In short, it can provide some of the same effects as drunkenness.

Others inhale the vapors to cause intoxication, elation, euphoria, dizziness, exhilaration, etc. Both are extremely dangerous.

What are the side-effects of using isopropyl?

If you ingest isopropyl to get an ‘alcoholic effect,’ you are at high risk of poisoning yourself, according to the Toxicology Data Network, since your body absorbs 80% of an oral dose in 30 minutes. In fact, some people try to commit suicide this way.

This is because isopropyl is about twice as toxic as liquor. A fatal dose oral is only 160-250mL, which is the size of a standard bottle of rubbing alcohol, or smaller. It is much harder to determine the fatal dose of inhaled isopropyl due to factors like exposure to fresh air, proximity to vapors, etc.

Some side effects include:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Cold, clammy skin.
  • Confusion.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Eye and mucous membrane irritation. The throat, stomach, and intestines are particularly sensitive when it is imbibed. The nose and eyelids are sensitive when it is inhaled.
  • Headache.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Miosis, or narrowed pupils.
  • Near-unconsciousness.
  • Reddened skin, accompanied by pain.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Throat pain.
  • Too much or too little urine.
  • Vomiting.
  • Wheezing.

More serious effects include:

  • Ataxia, or the loss of control over bodily movements.
  • Brain damage.
  • Coma.
  • Cornea burns and other damages.
  • Decreased central nervous system, kidney, liver, and cardiovascular functioning.
  • Gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining which can lead to ulcers or an increased risk of stomach cancer.
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding, which can lead to vomiting blood.
  • Hypothermia.
  • Lactic acidosis, a condition where lactic acid builds up in your blood faster than it can be removed, causing weakness and nausea, can occur when you have used a large amount of isopropyl. This is especially dangerous because lactic acid is produced when oxygen levels drop.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Low blood sugar.
  • Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. Severe cases can be life-threatening.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Tachycardia, or an abnormally fast heart rate. Serious cases can cause a heart attack, stroke, or death.

Related Topic: Alcohol gastritis treatment

What should you do if you use isopropyl, or someone else does?

Call 9-11, the poison control center (1-800-222-1222) or your local emergency number right away.

Take note of:

  • Your/the intoxicated person’s age, approximate weight, and condition.
  • The name of the product that was ingested or inhaled, along with the ingredients and the strength of the product.
  • How long ago it was ingested or inhaled.
  • How much isopropyl was ingested or

Do not try to make yourself/the intoxicated person throw up unless advised to. Drink water or milk, or give some to the intoxicated person right away unless advised not to. If you or they are having a difficult time swallowing, do not force yourself/them to drink. If you/they breathed in isopropyl, move yourself/them to fresh air right away.

Bring the container to the hospital with you/the intoxicated person. This will assist the doctors in their course of treatment.

What will treatment entail?

Depending on how much isopropyl you used, treatment for alcohol abuse can vary. However, these are some of the types of medical attention you are likely to receive:

  • Blood and urine testing.
  • Breathing support, including intubation or a ventilator.
  • A chest x-ray.
  • An EKG.
  • IV fluids.
  • A tube through the nose into the stomach to help empty the stomach contents, especially if you/someone else took more than one swallow and if you arrived within 30-60 minutes.

Severe cases could warrant dialysis, to protect the kidneys.

Recovery from exposure to isopropyl by ingestion or inhalation is likely. However, the dangers of this substance cannot be denied. Despite the potentially attractive side effects of using isopropyl, bear in mind the severe bodily harm can result from ingesting or inhaling this chemical.


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