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Hand Sanitizer Alcohol Poisoning: Teens Drinking Hand Sanitizers

Recently, six teenagers in Southern California landed in a San Fernando Valley hospital emergency room with alcohol poisoning after drinking hand sanitizers.

Yes, you read that right. Hand sanitizers.

Dangers Of Hand Sanitizer Alcohol Poisoning

Hand sanitizers are another odd, but very dangerous, way that teenagers are trying to consume alcohol. Hand sanitizers have 62 percent alcohol, which is the equivalent of a 120-proof alcoholic beverage. By comparison, a typical bottle of vodka is about 40 percent alcohol or 80-proof. A typical beer is only about 7 to 10 percent alcohol.

Not only do hand sanitizers have a very concentrated amount of alcohol, the product is readily available at almost any store, and there are no limits to the amount that teenagers can purchase. Often, teenagers don’t even need to buy it themselves. To prevent the spread of germs, most public spaces — including schools — provide hand sanitizers for everyone to use. Conferences use them as giveaways; they are everywhere. You probably have more than a few bottles of the stuff lying around your own house.

Drinking Hand Sanitizers

Now that you know the potential for abuse, I recommend parents of teenagers pay attention. Make sure you keep track of any hand sanitizers in your house and notice how many bottles are disappearing. Also, be conscientious of what your teenager is purchasing on the Internet. If you are concerned that your teen may be drawn to using hand sanitizers in this way, buy the foam sanitizer instead of the gel. That way, your teenager won’t be able to consume it for the purpose of getting drunk.

I also recommend parents share this information with their teenagers—Because of its high proof, drinking hand sanitizer is particularly dangerous. Teenagers who drink too much of it can pass out or even die of alcohol poisoning from hand sanitizers.

Elaine E. Schulte MD

Elaine E. Schulte, MD, MPH, is Chair, Department of General Pediatrics at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.

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