Mouthwash contains a significant amount of ethanol (ethyl alcohol), up to 26% in some cases. (1) This, theoretically, means it can induce intoxication. However, it’s important to know and recognize that the additional ingredients when you use mouthwash can trigger severe and dangerous side effects, potentially resulting in an overdose.
While it is generally considered safe to ingest a small quantity of mouthwash when used as directed, anyone attempting to consume excessive amounts of mouthwash in pursuit of its alcohol content places themselves at serious risk of alcohol poisoning.
Here’s what you need to know about the risks of drinking mouthwash and other important information on alcohol use disorders.
What is Mouthwash, and is it Safe to Drink?
Some of the most common ingredients found in mouthwash can have harmful effects throughout the body, such as:
- Hydrogen peroxide: This chemical can harm the gastrointestinal tract and lead to an upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
- Chlorhexidine gluconate: This chemical can raise blood pressure and potentially interfere with cardiovascular function. It also destroys beneficial bacteria.
- Methyl salicylate: Also known as menthol, this chemical is responsible for the refreshing minty flavor of some mouthwashes, but it should not be ingested. Drinking it can trigger a condition known as rapid-onset salicylate poisoning, which is especially risky for individuals taking blood-thinning drugs like warfarin.
Why Would Someone Drink Mouthwash?
People might turn to drinking mouthwash for a variety of reasons. Some individuals resort to it because they may not easily access regular alcoholic beverages.
Others may be seeking a quick way to satisfy their craving for alcohol, and mouthwash is readily available for oral hygiene and bad breath in many households. It’s essential to recognize that choosing mouthwash over traditional alcoholic drinks often indicates a significant problem: alcohol use disorder. (2)
This disorder can lead individuals to consume any type of alcohol they can find, even if it poses severe health risks.
Mouthwash Alcohol Content
Many mouthwashes contain a small amount of alcohol known as ethanol, which you might associate with alcoholic beverages. However, it’s important to understand that the ethanol in mouthwash is not intended for ingestion.
Some mouthwashes can be surprisingly potent, containing as much as 26% ethanol, which is quite high for a product you’d typically use to freshen your breath or rinse your mouth. If you were to consume a significant amount of it, you could risk making your bloodstream toxic and experiencing an overdose.
To put this in perspective, some high alcohol content gin brands, which are known as alcoholic beverages, also have an alcohol by volume (ABV) of about 26%. (3) However, the key difference is that mouthwash is not meant for drinking, it’s made for oral hygiene. Its other components can lead to severe health consequences when ingested.
So, while the alcohol content and percent of alcohol might seem similar to some alcoholic drinks, the purposes and risks associated with mouthwash are vastly different.
Can Mouthwash Get You Drunk?
Drinking large amounts of mouthwash containing ethanol can lead to intoxication. This is a concerning outcome, and the symptoms are similar to those experienced when consuming alcoholic beverages:
- Slurred speech
- Impaired coordination
- Altered behavior
- Memory impairment
- Difficulty breathing
The symptoms of intoxication from drinking large quantities of mouthwash are a serious concern, and seeking medical attention is essential if you or someone you know experiences them.
Dangers of Drinking Mouthwash
Drinking mouthwash brings to life many potential dangers, both in the short term and, in some cases, over the long term. Below are some potential hazards that can happen when you swallow mouthwash:
- Alcohol poisoning: Ingesting excessive amounts of mouthwash can lead to alcohol poisoning, a severe and life-threatening condition. Symptoms include confusion, seizures, hypothermia, and difficulty breathing.
- Gastrointestinal distress: The chemicals in mouthwash, such as hydrogen peroxide and chlorhexidine gluconate, can harm the gastrointestinal tract, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and an upset stomach. (4)
- Dizziness and impaired coordination: Drinking large amounts of mouthwash can result in dizziness and impaired coordination, mimicking the effects of being drunk due to the alcohol content.
- Alcohol Use Disorder: Consistent and prolonged consumption of mouthwash to achieve alcohol intoxication can lead to alcohol use disorder. This chronic condition is characterized by an inability to control alcohol use, preoccupation with drinking, and continued use despite negative consequences.
- Oral health issues: The frequent use of mouthwash for intoxication can harm oral health, including gum disease and enamel erosion. (5)
- Fluoride poisoning: Some mouthwashes contain fluoride, and long-term excessive ingestion could lead to fluoride poisoning. This can result in symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and, in severe cases, neurological issues. (6)
- Gastrointestinal problems: Continued misuse of mouthwash may lead to ongoing gastrointestinal problems, including irritation, ulcers, frequent urination, liver failure, and damage to the digestive system.
Seeking help for alcohol misuse and understanding the associated risks is crucial for preventing further harm and substance abuse.
Mouthwash Overdose: Symptoms and Prevention
The symptoms of a mouthwash overdose can result from ingesting a significant amount of mouthwash containing alcohol (ethanol) and other harmful ingredients. (7) These may include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness and confusion
- Slurred speech
- Impaired coordination
- Nausea and abdominal pain
- Low body temperature (hypothermia)
- Unconsciousness or drowsiness
If you suspect that someone you know or love is overdosing from mouthwash, call the National Poison Control Center right away at 800-222-1222. Even if someone does not display symptoms, you should contact emergency services immediately to prevent severe and potentially deadly side effects.
You should skip the poison control center and dial 911 instead if:
- The person is unconscious
- They are having trouble breathing
- Their chest hurts and their heart rate is up
- They are experiencing drowsiness
- They’re vomiting
- They are having seizures
What you do while waiting for medical help to arrive can save a life. Make sure to remove any excess mouthwash from the person’s mouth. Try to identify the brand of mouthwash and any other substances that the person consumed, including drugs or alcohol.
If the person isn’t breathing, start CPR. Until you’re directed to do so by emergency services personnel, do not give them any medication, do not try to give them water or induce vomiting.
Overdose and toxicity, if not treated promptly, can lead to serious and permanent side effects, including organ damage and organ failure.
Safer Alternatives to Mouthwash with Alcohol
For those facing addiction or mental health concerns that increase the risk of alcohol misuse, safety measures are essential. To prevent alcohol poisoning from mouthwash, consider:
- Safely storing mouthwash in a locked medicine cabinet and supervising its use to prevent excessive swallowing.
- Choosing mouthwash brands with lower alcohol content.
- Opt for alcohol-free mouthwash using alternatives like cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), eucalyptol, or chlorhexidine gluconate.
- Exploring alcohol rehab and addiction treatment options, including outpatient services, to support recovery, detox, and prevent relapse.
If you’re not sure what alcohol use disorder looks like or what the treatment and detox process is, you can always reach out to a team of specialists using a free helpline provided by a treatment center like Zinnia Health.
Professional Help and Alcohol Addiction Treatment
Misusing household products like mouthwash in attempts to get drunk can signal an alcohol addiction or reckless behavior. Prioritizing your well-being or that of someone you care about is essential before irreversible side effects occur.
Alcohol treatment varies for each individual and doesn’t necessarily entail checking into a treatment center. At Zinnia Health, we champion personalized addiction treatment services that address the whole person.
Our services include:
- Extensive text assistance and a 24/7 helpline support inpatient and outpatient programs.
- Compassionate professionals dedicated to delivering tailored services.
- Customized treatment plans aligned with your specific needs and goals.
- Comprehensive support for co-occurring disorders, such as ADHD and PTSD.
- A welcoming, LGBTQ+-friendly environment ensures safety and confidentiality.
Overcoming alcohol addiction can feel impossible to do alone, but luckily, you won’t have to. With our team by your side, you can get back to focusing on the things that matter to you while getting the support you need to recover. That you, you can get on the path to long-term remission.