What happens when you drink rubbing alcohol?

The type of alcohol you find in beer, wines and liquor is called ethyl alcohol or ethanol for short; its chemical formula is C2H6O. This is not the kind of alcohol you find in rubbing alcohol. The alcohol in rubbing alcohol is called isopropyl alcohol(IPA); its chemical formula is C3H8O. As you can probably tell by the chemical formula, they are a part of the same chemical family, but essentially different compounds.

Although the body can consume and break down both of these alcohols in certain quantities, isopropyl alcohol is more toxic than ethanol. An adult human’s kidneys can remove 20 to 60 percent of rubbing alcohol from the body. The rest is broken down into acetone by enzymes in the body. The acetone is then removed from the body by the lungs and kidneys.

However, when too much is drunk (this happens at around 200 ml), rubbing alcohol poisoning can occur.

When and why is Rubbing Alcohol Abused?

Rubbing alcohol and other cleaning fluids and solvents often contain rubbing alcohol. Consuming these products is something that would never cross the mind of a mature, mentally healthy individual. However, some people abuse IPA containing products because:

  • Isopropyl Alcohol (rubbing alcohol) can make people feel drunk. People without access to proper liquor may drink IPA containing products such as rubbing alcohol to get drunk. Usually, something like this is done by alcoholics with a very extreme addiction. They may drink Isopropyl Alcohol containing products when they don’t have money to buy proper liquor or are being prevented from buying it. In other cases, curious teenagers may drink rubbing alcohol containing products to find out what being drunk feels like.
  • Depressed people may also drink rubbing alcohol containing products as a suicide attempt. Rubbing Alcohol is available in many household items which are easily accessible.


  • Nervous System Impact

Important involuntary actions of the human body such as heartbeat, breathing and gag reflex are controlled by the body’s central nervous system. IPA has an impact on the central nervous system which initially slows down these actions. When enough IPA is consumed, it can shut them down altogether. In many cases this kind of central nervous system shutdown can also lead to a coma.

  • Internal Burns

IPA is very harsh on the insides of the body. Ingestion severely irritates the mucous membranes present inside the throat and airways, usually damaging the sensitive tissue right on contact. The burning manifests itself as cramping and severe pain. In case a large quantity is ingested, pulmonary swelling can also occur.

  • Heart and Blood Changes

The most severe effects on the body happen within 30 to 60 minutes of IPA ingestion. Toxins in the alcohol modify body functions, and the delivery mechanism for blood around the body is compromised. Initially, the heartbeat slows down because of the effect of IPA on the central nervous system. Due to the reduced blood pressure, organs receive less blood than they need and they may fail as a result. IPA also thins the blood which further reduces blood pressure and causes blood sugar levels to drop so rapidly that it may result in a seizure.

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