Trusted Content

Children Getting Drunk Off Hand Sanitizer

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

March 5, 2019

Many adolescents think that getting drunk is the cool thing to do and drinking hand sanitizer to get drunk is their solution. This is not only possible, but it is also becoming a national trend. Children who drink hand sanitizer to get drunk are putting their health in serious danger and potentially increasing their risk of alcoholism.

The Alcohol Content Of Hand Sanitizer

To many people, the concept of getting drunk on hand sanitizer seems ludicrous. Unfortunately, many types of hand sanitizer possess the kind of alcohol that can get you drunk. And people have figured it out: the origin of the practice seems centered in prisons as an alternative to dangerous cell-brewed liquors.

The popularity of this practice is twofold. Hand sanitizer is not a controlled substance, making it easy to purchase. It’s also incredibly potent: one 240 milliliter container has the same alcohol as five shots of liquor.

As a result, children desperate to try the “mature” act of getting drunk have turned to hand sanitizer. Sometimes, they’ll even mix it with other alcoholic substances such as Listerine, to improve its taste and up the alcohol content.

A Growing Problem

Unfortunately, this trend doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. According to one report, there has been a 400 percent increase in cases of children under 12 drinking hand sanitizer to get drunk. And these are just the reported cases: who knows how many children are doing it in secret?

One case of hand sanitizer abuse involved a six-year-old girl drinking just three squirts of hand sanitizer while at school. By the time she was raced to the emergency room, her blood-alcohol level was .179: dangerously high even for an adult. She was very lucky to have survived.

The scariest part? She actually enjoyed the taste. Remember: most hand sanitizers are scented or flavored to produce a pleasing sensation. Flavors such as strawberry, peach, and cherry are commonly purchased and abused by children trying to get drunk.

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The Dangers Of Drinking Hand Sanitizer

Ingesting hand sanitizer to get drunk can cause a wide range of side effects. The dangers associated with drinking hand sanitizer include:

  • Hypothermia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Liver damage
  • Seizures
  • Severe heart palpitations
  • Coma
  • Heart attack
  • Death

For children with developing bodies, these dangers are elevated. However, the most likely danger to strike any child drinking hand sanitizer is alcohol poisoning. This condition progresses beyond a “drunk” state and causes confusion, nausea, dizziness, severe lethargy, coma, and even death.

Potential As A “Gateway” Drink

Could hand sanitizer work as a gateway drink for children? Right now, it’s hard to say. No studies have been held to test this concept and it isn’t really being discussed. Could the alcohol in hand sanitizer become addictive if used in high enough levels?

Potentially: after all, it is the same kind of addictive alcohol found in beer and other liquors. However, the incredibly high concentration of alcohol in each bottle makes it hard to avoid getting severely drunk when abused. As a result, most children are likely to use this method no more than once or twice.

But what about those kids dedicated to getting drunk regularly? There is a risk that they could be determined enough to regularly ingest hand sanitizer as a means of getting drunk. And regularly ingesting it could increase their tolerance and even lead to alcoholism. Unfortunately, it’s also likely to lead to severe organ damage that could potentially shorten their lifespan by decades.

Potential Use By Recovering Alcoholics

While children are probably the most common group abusing hand sanitizers, they aren’t the only ones. People recovering from alcoholism in rehab are turning to alcohol-based hand sanitizers to alleviate their cravings and eliminate their withdrawal symptoms.

One case saw an inpatient in alcohol rehabilitation drink himself into a stupor after ingesting a bottle of hand sanitizer. As a result, most drug rehabilitation centers are turning to non-alcoholic hand sanitizers to help eliminate the risk.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case in every rehab center, which means that someone desperate for alcohol may turn to hand sanitizer. These kinds of relapses can be especially dangerous for people recovering from alcoholism.

Learning More About This Problem

If you’re concerned about your child falling victim to this dangerous new trend, please contact us here at to learn more. We can help educate you on ways of talking to your children that will eliminate this behavior from their life for good.

See “Children Getting Drunk Off Hand Sanitizer” Infographic HERE

Getting Drunk Off Hand Sanitizer Infographic

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