Can You Drink Rubbing Alcohol? 3 Side Effects

Drinking rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is also known as Isopropyl alcohol or Isopropanol. It is a major part of common cleaners. For example hand sanitizers, antifreeze and paint thinners. So have you ever thought if can you drink rubbing alcohol?

Isopropyl alcohol has similar effects to drinking alcohol. So, whether one can drink rubbing alcohol. And is it a cheap option to get drunk?

We are looking into this question. Firstly what is alcohol? And its different types? And further their effects. Besides we will also be looking into the effects of drinking rubbing alcohol. And in detail the dangers of isopropanol poisoning.

Further, we will be looking into the possible side effects. And various treatments for drinking rubbing alcohol.

Drinking rubbing alcohol
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash copyright 2020

1. Types of Alcohol

1.1 What is an Alcohol

Alcohols are organic compounds with an alcohol functional group attached to them.

1.2 Classification

Alcohol mostly refers to ethanol, which is present in alcoholic drinks. And the types here do not refer to the types of drinkable alcohol. For example the classics, tequila, rum, whiskey or soju.

Alcohols chemically differ in type. Shown based on the shape of the alcohol molecule. Which gives different effects and uses for that type of alcohol.

close-up photo of liquor bottles in rack
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash copyright 2019

1.3 Methanol

Methanol is the simplest and one of the most toxic forms of alcohol. It occurs as a clear liquid. And has an alcoholic smell like that of ethanol.

Methanol turns into formaldehyde in the body. Then further into formic acid. Thus it leads to systemic organ damage. Because of that it leads to methyl alcohol poisoning.

Even in small doses, it is heavily toxic. So as noted, drinking even 10mL of pure methanol can cause permanent blindness. To emphasize even its vapours can be harmful. And in fact, it needs careful handling.

three clear beakers placed on tabletop
Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash copyright 2018

1.4 Ethanol

Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is the most common form of alcohol. Famous for its use in the cooking and brewing fields.

It is generally produced by yeast. Since the yeast cells without using oxygen, eat sugar. And in turn, they create ethanol, known as sugar fermentation.

Drinking ethanol acts as a central nervous system depressant. Since it slows down basic functions like speech and movement. It also depresses cardiovascular function. This occurs due to the reaction in the brain receptors with like molecules.

The working of the neurotransmitter GABA is increased. This in turn slows down neurons and the working of the brain and spine.

1.5 Isoproponal

It is a colourless and burnable liquid. And mildly toxic non-polar solvent and disinfectant. It has a bitter taste. It is ready availability and similar to ethanol. 

So people drink rubbing alcohol to get drunk. As rubbing alcohol costs less and is easily available.

It works by breaking things down. In detail, it damages the proteins and fats present in microbes. For example bacteria, fungi and viruses. On the other hand, it is also used for various other uses. Some of these include sanitizer and nail polish remover.

1.6 Ethylene Glycol

Like other alcohols, Ethylene glycol is a colourless and burnable liquid. It helps in the production of antifreeze and polyester.

a person holding a bottle of chemical
Photo by Denise Chan on Unsplash copyright 2022

It is similar to ethanol in toxicity. Further, it turns into oxalic acid inside the body. It also has a sweet taste. So it requires storing away from children.

2. Processing of Isoproponal in The Human Body

2.1 What if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

When drinking rubbing alcohol, the Isopropanol is readily absorbed. So within 30 minutes of drinking, it reaches its highest percent in blood.

The liver is an organ that handles toxins. Since it converts waste products into other forms.

Free liver internal medicine doctor vector
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Alcohol dehydrogenase is an important enzyme present in the liver. As it processes the rubbing alcohol.

It removes a Hydrogen atom from the alcohol. Owing to its name Dehydrogenase. In detail -ase shows it as an enzyme.

In the liver, isopropyl alcohol turns into acetone and similar side products. This is the result of the enzyme  Alcohol dehydrogenase.

2.3 Effects on The Central Nervous System if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol

The effects of isopropanol on the brain are not completely known. But it is like that of ethanol. Yet, the creation of acetone in the liver can lead to side effects. As in the case of headaches, confusion, vomiting, and even severe brain damage.

The body does not further process acetone. So unlike other alcohols, isopropyl alcohol does not lead to acidosis.

2.4 Effects on Digestive Track if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol

Alcohol generally is an irritant. In fact, along with drinking rubbing alcohol, it creates acetone.  So it damages the lining of the food tract. Due to this, there can be irritation, damage, and internal bleeding.

Constant drinking of any type of alcohol is not put up. As it leads to scars and ulcers along the food tract.

Free stomach icon stomach icon vector
Image by mcmurryjulie from Pixabay

2.4 Removal if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol

The mode of removal is mainly by the kidneys. As most of the isopropyl alcohol and its products get out in the urine.

Some part of the alcohol is also passed through the lungs. This occurs during breathing out. This is the same case with ethanol.

3. Symptoms and Treatments if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol

3.1 Symptoms if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol

Symptoms vary from person to person. And is based on many factors. Also, the amount drunk affects the strength of the side effects. Common symptoms include,

  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Low blood pressure
  • High heart rate
  • Slow breathing
  • Pain along the food tract
  • Coma
  • Organ damage

Symptoms are mostly mild and might go away on their own. But they can lead to long-term damage. Further side effects are more notable for children and require medical attention.

3.2 Treatments if You Drink Rubbing Alcohol

Humans are not meant to drink rubbing alcohol. And it may contain other chemicals in small amounts. Isopropanol poisoning is easily treatable. Hence reach out to available health services in case of accidental drinking.

  • Stomach emptying
  • drip hydration
  • Monitoring and supportive care
  • Dialysis (in extreme cases of alcohol poisoning only)


Even though rubbing alcohol is not as harmful as similar alcohols. It is not meant for humans to drink. As getting drunk with isopropyl alcohol may lead to alcohol poisoning.

Accidentally drinking isopropyl alcohol needs medical care. And doing so avoids long-term damage.

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