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Rubbing alcohol is used to disinfect, to bring down fever and to soothe skin. Most rubbing alcohol is made of 70 percent isopropyl alcohol in water. Isopropyl isn't the same type of alcohol that is in alcoholic beverages---ethanol--- although sometimes ethanol is an ingredient in rubbing alcohol. When ethanol is an ingredient it will have been denatured. Denaturing is adding poisonous and bad-tasting ingredients, and it is done specifically to prevent people from drinking the alcohol. Often the poisonous ingredient added is methanol, which can cause blindness. Isopropyl is also found in mouthwashes and skin lotions. Isopropyl is very intoxicating. Because it is easily available and has no purchasing restrictions, it is sometimes used as a substitute for ethanol alcohol.
Isopropyl is called a toxic alcohol (along with methanol, and ethylene glycol), although any alcohol can be toxic in large amounts. Isopropyl is twice as toxic as the alcohol in alcoholic beverages. It also has a greater effect on the central nervous system. Isopropyl irritates the GI tract. The lethal dose of isopropyl in humans is estimated as 8.5 oz.
Drinking rubbing alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning are vomiting, confusion, slow breathing (less than eight breaths per minute), seizures, low body temperature, pale or blueish skin and unconsciousness. All of these symptoms will not necessarily be present in every case of alcohol poisoning. In cases of isopropyl ingestion, because of its strong effect on the central nervous system, a person may experience lethargy or ataxia, or may go into a coma. Because isopropyl also affects the GI tract, a person who has drunk it can have stomach pain, cramps and hemorrhagic gastritis. Someone who has ingested rubbing alcohol will also have a fruity smell to his or her breath.
Alcohol poisoning can be deadly if it isn't treated quickly enough. Anyone with symptoms of alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical attention. Call 911 or take the person to the emergency room. While waiting for medical help, try to keep the poisoned person sitting up. If this isn't possible, keep his head turned to the side to keep him from choking on his vomit. When the person is under medical care, he will be monitored to make sure he keeps breathing. He may also be given intravenous fluids. Sometimes the patient's stomach is pumped, but often not much alcohol is left in the stomach when the person begins treatment. Isopropyl is well absorbed by the body in 2 hours.