August 16, 2023

Dangers of Drinking Hand Sanitizer

man cleaning hands representing drinking hand sanitizer

There are myriad dangers associated with drinking hand sanitizer, a product that has been more widely used since the pandemic.

Typically, hand sanitizers contain alcohols that are sanctioned by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) only for external application. Formulations may contain:

  • Ethanol: Ethyl alcohol, the alcoholic component of beverages like beer, wine, and spirits.
  • Isopropanol: Isopropyl alcohol, commonly used as a solvent or disinfectant.
  • Benzalkonium chloride: A cleansing agent.
  • Methanol: A toxic alcohol used for industrial purposes.

While ingesting a small amount of these forms of alcohol may not trigger serious symptoms, it is inadvisable and potentially dangerous to consume hand sanitizer. Read on to discover how drinking this product could even be life-threatening.

Can You Drink Hand Sanitizer?

Hand sanitizers are specifically formulated for external use and should never be ingested. These products are designed to effectively eliminate harmful germs and bacteria on the surface of the skin. They generally contain a high concentration of alcohol in the form of ethanol or isopropanol, which act as disinfectants to kill pathogens.

Drinking hand sanitizers can have extremely dangerous and harmful consequences. Ingesting these substances can trigger a sharp increase in blood alcohol levels, potentially leading to alcohol poisoning. Even a small amount of ingested hand sanitizer can provoke serious symptoms that include:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness

Hand sanitizers are not intended for consumption and are not formulated to be safe for internal use. The human body processes ingests alcohol differently from alcohol applied topically to the skin. Drinking hand sanitizer is associated with toxic effects on the CNS (central nervous system) and vital organs, possibly causing long-lasting damage or even death.

Beyond this, the high alcohol content in hand sanitizers can also pose a risk of addiction if consumed regularly. The addictive nature of alcohol, coupled with the misperception that hand sanitizers could produce a euphoric or intoxicating effect, can pave the way for a dangerous cycle of tolerance, dependence, and addiction in the form of alcohol use disorder.

What happens if you drink hand sanitizer, then?

A man looks out at mountains to represent what happens if you drink hand sanitizer

What Happens When You Drink Hand Sanitizer?

The high alcohol concentration in hand sanitizers can cause a rapid increase in blood alcohol levels, posing a severe risk to the central nervous system.

Consuming even a small amount can cause alcohol poisoning (alcohol overdose). Alcohol poisoning should be treated as a medical emergency.
Sustained abuse can cause vital organs to be impacted by drinking hand sanitizer.

Addiction

Anyone who has resorted to consuming hand sanitizer intentionally is already demonstrating abusive patterns of alcohol consumption. Any form of alcohol abuse, even drinking hand sanitizer, increases the chances of addiction.

Addiction to alcohol is informally known as alcoholism and clinically described as AUD (alcohol use disorder). Alcohol addiction involves a recurring behavioral pattern of excessive alcohol consumption regardless of adverse outcomes, difficulties in regulating drinking habits, and an intense preoccupation with alcohol to the detriment of other aspects of life.

If your drinking pattern results in repeated distress and impairs your daily functioning, you may have alcohol use disorder. This disorder manifests along a spectrum, ranging from mild to severe. Alcoholism is a chronic and progressive condition, meaning that even mild forms of AUD can escalate over time and lead to significant challenges. While there is no cure for alcohol addiction, almost all alcohol use disorders respond positively to evidence-based treatment that may involve medications, psychotherapy, counseling, and holistic interventions.

Can Drinking Hand Sanitizer Kill You?

Consuming hand sanitizer can be fatal. The high concentration of alcohol in hand sanitizers is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream through the digestive system, triggering an array of dangerous physical effects.

The potential consequences of drinking hand sanitizer include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Respiratory distress
  • Seizures
  • Organ failure

The central nervous system, responsible for critical functions like breathing and heart rate regulation, can be significantly compromised by the alcohol content in hand sanitizers. In severe cases, this can prompt respiratory failure, loss of consciousness, and death.

The FDA reported in mid-2020 that some popular brands of hand sanitizers were contaminated with methanol (methyl alcohol). Methanol has a much lower safety threshold than ethanol and isopropanol, the other ingredients commonly used in hand sanitizers. Excessive methanol exposure can lead to lasting visual impairment and, in more severe cases, fatalities due to significant shifts in body chemistry during its metabolic processes.

2021 reports suggest that benzene was identified in batches of hand sanitizer brands. Benzene is a chemical compound recognized for its potential to induce leukemia, a form of blood cancer.

For your safety: Check here for an FDA-approved list of hand sanitizers you should avoid completely.

Drinking Hand Sanitizer Side Effects

The side effects of drinking hand sanitizer are wide-ranging and concerning. The most common possible outcomes from ingesting this product include:

  • Alcohol poisoning: One of the most immediate and severe side effects of ingesting hand sanitizer is alcohol poisoning. The high alcohol concentration in these products causes a rapid elevation in blood alcohol levels that can provoke life-threatening breathing problems and seizures.
  • Gastrointestinal distress: Drinking hand sanitizer can irritate the delicate lining of the stomach and intestines, causing significant gastrointestinal distress. This often results in nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Such symptoms contribute to dehydration and imbalances in electrolytes, further complicating physical health.
  • Central nervous system effects: Alcohol directly affects the CNS. Ingesting hand sanitizer disrupts normal brain function, leading to altered behavior, confusion, dizziness, and impaired judgment. The potential for motor skills impairment increases the risk of accidents and injuries.
  • Respiratory complications: Alcohol is a CNS depressant that can disrupt the central nervous system’s control over essential bodily functions, including respiration. Drinking hand sanitizer can suppress breathing, potentially leading to respiratory distress and respiratory failure.
  • Organ damage: Long-term or excessive consumption of hand sanitizer can cause lasting damage to vital organs, especially the liver and kidneys. These organs play a key role in filtering toxins from the body, and their impairment can lead to serious health complications.
  • Cognitive impairment: Alcohol affects cognitive function, leading to impaired memory, concentration, and decision-making abilities. Consuming hand sanitizer can cause cognitive impairment that affects daily life, educational pursuits, and occupational responsibilities.
  • Addiction risk: The addictive nature of alcohol presents a real risk when it comes to consuming hand sanitizer. Misguided perceptions about its potential effects can lead to a cycle of dependency, with the person seeking out the product for its alcohol content. This can lead to severe physical, psychological, and social consequences.
  • Mental health impact: The act of ingesting hand sanitizer can carry psychological repercussions, including feelings of shame, guilt, and distress. The dangerous behavior might also signify deeper emotional or psychological issues that require professional intervention.
  • Long-term consequences: Chronic ingestion of hand sanitizer can have enduring impacts on overall health. Organ damage, cognitive deficits, and addiction can occur, affecting quality of life and general well-being.
  • Death: Ingesting hand sanitizer can lead to death in severe cases. The combined effects of alcohol poisoning, respiratory failure, and organ damage can result in a fatal outcome.
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Get Help for Alcohol Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

At Gratitude Lodge in Southern California, we specialize in addressing alcohol addiction and its associated challenges. Our dedicated pet-friendly rehab centers are strategically located in Newport Beach and Long Beach, CA, focusing on comprehensive recovery for the mind, body, and spirit.

Our closely monitored medical detoxification program offers a safe and comfortable approach to alcohol withdrawal. Once your body is purged of all toxins, you can transition into a 30-day residential program for the most structured and supportive pathway to long-term recovery.

Our treatment protocols are built upon the following approaches:

For a successful shift from active alcohol addiction to ongoing recovery, place your trust in Gratitude Lodge in Southern California. Contact admissions today by calling 800-994-2184. Your path to a healthier future begins today.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

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