Don't Drink the Hand Sanitizer

Doctors Warn Against Using Hand Sanitizer to Get Drunk After Reports of Men Drinking It for Alcohol

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 31, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 31, 2007 -- Hand sanitizer isn't a drink, but doctors report two cases of men who drank it for its alcohol.

Both men survived, but doctors say drinking hand sanitizer could be fatal.

The cases are described in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The first involved a 49-year-old prison inmate in Maryland who got drunk one night by drinking a hand sanitizer containing ethyl alcohol.

Other inmates and prison staff reportedly saw the man drink from a gallon of the sanitizer over the course of an evening, write Suzanne Doyon, MD, and Christopher Welsh, MD.

Doyon works at the Maryland Poison Center in Baltimore; Welsh is on staff at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

The man, who hadn't had any other alcohol or drugs that night, recovered with medical care.

The second case involved a 43-year-old alcoholic in Cincinnati who was admitted to a hospital for chest pain.

By the time the man was treated and discharged, he was delirious.

He was readmitted for tests, but before the results came back, "the patient was seen in the bathroom drinking the alcohol-based hand wash from its dispenser," write Ashkan Emadi, MD, PhD, and LeAnn Coberly, MD, of the University of Cincinnati.

"When asked why he ingested the hand cleaner, he pointed to the label, which read, 'Active ingredient 63% v/v isopropyl alcohol.' He explained that this percentage is higher than that in vodka," write Emadi and Coberly.

"Perhaps changing the description on the container from isopropyl alcohol to isopropanol or propane-2-ol would decrease the attraction of these hand sanitizers for potentially dangerous abuse," write Emadi and Coberly.

Doyon and Welsh say health care workers and administrators in hospitals and prisons "should be aware of this potential misuse of the products as intoxicants and should take steps to minimize such use in high-risk populations."

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SOURCES: Doyon, S. The New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 1, 2007; vol 356: pp 529-530. Emadi, A. The New England Journal of Medicine, Feb. 1, 2007; vol 356: pp 530-531.

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