Substance Use

Can You Get Drunk Off Hand Sanitizer? Dangers & Side Effects

bottle of hand sanitizer

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The use of hand sanitizer has become an essential practice for maintaining hygiene, especially with the rise of global health concerns and coronavirus outbreaks. (1) However, questions arise about the potential dangers and side effects when hand sanitizer is misused or ingested to get drunk.

While its primary purpose is to kill germs on the hands, concerns arise when individuals contemplate misusing hand sanitizer, either by ingesting it or using it to get drunk.

Hand sanitizers typically contain high concentrations of alcohol, usually ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol, to kill bacteria and viruses on the skin effectively. However, ingesting these alcohol-based sanitizers can lead to severe health risks. 

The alcohol content in hand sanitizers far exceeds that of alcoholic beverages, posing a significant danger if consumed inappropriately. (2)

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What’s in Your Hand Sanitizer?

Most hand sanitizers do contain some amounts of alcohol, usually in the form of:

  • Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol): Hand sanitizers commonly feature ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol. This type of alcohol is derived from fermentation processes and is the same alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. (3) However, in hand sanitizers, it is present in a higher concentration. Ethanol effectively denatures proteins in bacteria and viruses, disrupting their structure and rendering them inactive.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol (Isopropanol): Another prevalent alcohol in hand sanitizers is isopropyl alcohol, also known as isopropanol. (4) (5) This synthetic alcohol is widely used for its antimicrobial properties. Isopropanol works by breaking down the cell membranes of microorganisms, leading to their deactivation and elimination.
  • Methyl Alcohol (Methanol): While less common, some hand sanitizers may contain methyl alcohol, also known as methanol. (6) However, its use is limited due to higher toxicity. Methyl alcohol possesses germ-killing properties, but its ingestion or absorption through the skin can lead to severe health consequences. (7) It is smart to avoid the inclusion of methanol in products meant for skin application.

While no hand sanitizer is safe to digest, the IHS states that hand sanitizers containing methanol are particularly dangerous and more likely to be lethal.

They also suggest if you have a hand sanitizer containing methanol, you should throw it away because it’s not worth the risk of using it.

During the pandemic, you may have heard that excess alcoholic beverages were being transformed into hand sanitizer. Even if the alcohol in sanitizer was originally produced for consumption, the process of turning it into sanitizer makes it unfit for human consumption.

It’s worth noting that some hand sanitizers do not contain alcohol at all. Many alcohol-free hand sanitizers use an ingredient known as benzalkonium chloride to disinfect and kill germs instead of alcohol.

If an adult or child ingests alcohol-free sanitizer, it’s important to seek medical help because benzalkonium chloride is recognized as toxic. (8)

If you’re worried about someone ingesting hand sanitizers, check the back of the bottle to see both the active and inactive ingredients. Your local poison control center or health officials can advise you on what is safe and what to do in the case of ingestion. 

Can Hand Sanitizer Make You Drunk?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain 60% or more of alcohol, the equivalent of a 120-proof beverage. However, drinking hand sanitizer can be lethal with risks including seizures, vision loss, and alcohol poisoning. (2)

Many household products that surround us in our everyday lives contain alcohol, including certain hand sanitizers. To most people, they don’t pose a threat.

However, for someone who is currently dealing with an alcohol addiction or for young people who are trying to experiment with alcohol, products like hand sanitizer could be tempting.

Here’s what you need to know about the health risks posed by a product like hand sanitizer.

The Dangers of Drinking Hand Sanitizer

While alcohol is an effective disinfectant, many other ingredients are added to hand sanitizer in order to make it more cost-effective to produce, easier to store, and easier to apply.

For instance, most hand sanitizers come in gel form, so that requires the addition of gelling agents like hydroxypropyl methylcellulose.

Due to the high alcohol content in hand sanitizer along with the various inedible and potentially toxic ingredients that hand sanitizers contain, some of the dangers of ingesting it include: (9)

  • Seizures, which can lead to oxygen deprivation and result in long-term organ damage or death
  • Visual impairment, including the threat of permanent vision loss (blindness)
  • Alcohol poisoning, which can lead to long-term kidney and liver damage (10)

In addition to the above risks, the CDC warns that drinking hand sanitizer can be lethal. (11)

Signs and Side Effects of Consumption

If you’re worried that someone has consumed hand sanitizer, there are some signs that you should look for:

  • They will likely try to rinse their mouth by drinking a lot of water, juice, or soda as hand sanitizer is very bitter and will likely burn their mouth and throat.
  • After a while, they may start acting drunk or tipsy and you may notice tell-tale signs like slurred speech.
  • They may seem confused or fatigued and they may have trouble walking around.

If a person ingests a toxic amount of hand sanitizer, you may begin to notice clammy skin, trouble with comprehension, loss of consciousness, changes in breathing, or convulsions, among other side effects.

If someone ingests a product like hand sanitizer, it’s important to contact a poison control center immediately as they will be able to guide you through what you can do as you wait for medical attention to arrive.

Why People Might Ingest Hand Sanitizer

The ingestion of hand sanitizer, though seemingly unconventional, occurs for various reasons, shedding light on the underlying factors that contribute to this concerning behavior. 

Several circumstances may lead individuals to ingest hand sanitizer, and it is important to know what they look like. 

  1. Alcohol Addiction: Individuals dealing with alcohol addiction may turn to hand sanitizers as a readily available source of alcohol. Hand sanitizers often contain high concentrations of ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, providing a quick and accessible means for those struggling with addiction to satisfy their cravings. This behavior underscores the urgent need for comprehensive addiction interventions and support.
  2. Experimentation and Curiosity: Experimentation, particularly among teenagers and young adults, is a significant factor in hand sanitizer ingestion. Curiosity about the effects of alcohol or the desire to experiment with substances may lead individuals, especially those in younger age groups, to consume hand sanitizers unaware of the potential dangers. Education and prevention efforts targeted at this demographic are essential to mitigate these risky behaviors.
  3. Lack of Awareness: A lack of awareness about the harmful consequences of ingesting hand sanitizers is another factor contributing to this behavior. Some individuals may not fully comprehend the toxicity of the alcohol content in hand sanitizers or may underestimate the associated health risks. Public health campaigns and educational initiatives are crucial in enhancing awareness and disseminating information about the dangers of misuse.

Groups Particularly at Risk: Certain groups are particularly vulnerable to hand sanitizer ingestion, emphasizing the need for targeted preventive measures:

  • Children: Young children, attracted by the appealing scents or colors of hand sanitizers, may ingest them accidentally. Proper storage and supervision are essential to protect children from unintentional exposure. (12)
  • Teenagers: Adolescents experimenting with substances may turn to hand sanitizers, necessitating educational programs, and heightened vigilance in schools and households.
  • Individuals in Institutional Settings: Those residing in institutional settings, such as prisons or rehabilitation facilities, may face increased accessibility to hand sanitizers, heightening the risk of misuse.

Addressing the root causes behind hand sanitizer ingestion requires a multi-faceted approach, encompassing addiction support, targeted education campaigns, and measures to protect vulnerable groups.

How to Prevent Hand Sanitizer Misuse

If someone in your home is currently struggling with alcohol addiction or if you have a teenager or young child around, you should take precautions with all types of alcohol, including hand sanitizer.

  • Educate your children on the risks of drinking alcohol and, more importantly, on the risks of consuming inedible products like hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol.
  • Keeping products that contain alcohol, like hand sanitizer and mouthwash, out of the reach of children.
  • Opting for alternative products, like hand wipes instead of liquid hand sanitizer.

The number of reported cases of people consuming hand sanitizer is on the rise. (13) If you have children in your home or someone dealing with a mental health condition like substance addiction, it’s important to learn what you can do to help keep them safe.

Stepping in and letting them know you’re on their side could change their life.

What to Do in Case of Ingestion

If someone has ingested a bottle of hand sanitizer, taking immediate action is important.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Contact Poison Control: Call your local poison control center right away. You can reach the Poison Help hotline in the United States at 1-800-222-1222. Provide them with information about the person’s age, the amount and type of hand sanitizer ingested, and any symptoms they may be experiencing.
  2. Seek Medical Attention: Do not wait for symptoms to worsen. Seek medical attention promptly. Call emergency services or take the person to the nearest emergency room. Medical professionals can assess the severity of the situation and provide the necessary care.
  3. Do Not Induce Vomiting: While it may be a common instinct, do not try to induce vomiting unless specifically advised to do so by medical professionals or poison control. Certain substances in hand sanitizers can cause additional harm if brought back up.
  4. Have Product Information Ready: If possible, have the hand sanitizer product container or label available when you contact poison control. This information helps them provide accurate guidance based on the specific ingredients and alcohol content.

Addressing Hand Sanitizer and Alcohol Addiction

The bottom line, drinking hand sanitizer can be lethal, and it can also be a sign of an underlying addiction.

If you or someone you love is considering drinking hand sanitizer, it’s time to seek help from an addiction recovery specialist.

Some of the things to look for in an alcohol addiction treatment program include:

  • Customized healthcare treatment plans that align with your needs and long-term goals
  • Support to help you with co-occurring disorders, like ADHD and PTSD
  • Individual, group, and family therapies guided by seasoned professionals
  • A staff of caring, experienced providers standing by to assist you around the clock
  • Inpatient and outpatient programs, along with ongoing support via text
  • Emerging programs and techniques, including art and music therapy

At Zinnia Health, we know that overcoming addiction and alcohol abuse can be tough, but we can assure you that the care we provide is always safe, results-driven, and confidential. 

Ready to take the next step? Zinnia Health is standing by to help. Our team is available 24/7 to answer your questions. Just dial (855) 430-9439 to get started.


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Ready to get help?
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Why call us? Why call us