By Louise Chang, MD
The LA Times recently reported on six recent cases of teens who wound up with alcohol poisoning after drinking hand sanitizer. The active ingredient in hand sanitizers is ethyl alcohol, and some teens were able to separate out the alcohol from the gel, resulting in 120-proof liquid. A 1.5 oz. shot of 80 proof gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey is considered a standard drink. As you can imagine, just a few ounces of alcohol from hand sanitizer could cause serious problems for anyone and could be fatal.
Abuse of common household products is not a new phenomenon. Mouthwash and cough syrup have been trends. Case reports of people who drank hand sanitizer for its alcohol were also reported in The New England Journal of Medicine as well.
Teens can be tempted to experiment with over-the-counter products because they are easy to access. They may feel like it’s “safer” because the products are over-the-counter. Teens are also good at keeping such activities secret from their parents. As parents, it is important to be on the lookout for risky behavior; maintain an open dialogue with your teen about drugs, including over-the-counter products; monitor how they are doing in school and their peer relationships; and take advantage of teachable moments like this one.