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What Are the Dangers of Drinking Isopropyl Alcohol?

author image Jared Paventi
Jared Paventi is the communications director for a disease-related nonprofit in the Northeast. He holds a master's degree from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication and a bachelor's degree from St. Bonaventure University. He also writes a food appreciation blog: Al Dente.

Isopropyl alcohol is more commonly known as rubbing alcohol. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it is a simple, synthetically produced alcohol, comprising three carbon, eight hydrogen and one oxygen atom, with numerous industrial, medical and household uses. However, it should not be confused with alcohol found in liquor or wine. That liquid is known as ethanol, or ethyl alcohol. Ingesting isopropyl alcohol presents a number of health hazards. The International Programme on Chemical Safety reports that drinking 240 ml, or 8 oz., can produce severe or lethal effects on humans.

Nervous System Impact

Drinking isopropyl alcohol has an immediate effect on the central nervous system. According to the Mayo Clinic, the CNS controls the involuntary actions of the body, including heartbeat, breathing and gag reflex. Isopropyl alcohol slows these functions and may shut them down altogether. The Occupational Safety and Health Agency's guidelines report that the CNS damage could also lead to coma.

Internal Burns

Ingestion of the harsh alcohol severely irritates mucous membranes, according to IPCS. These sensitive tissues line the throat and airways, and isopropyl damages them on contact. This burning manifests itself in cramping and severe pain. OSHA writes that in the case of "massive ingestion," pulmonary swelling will also occur.

Heart and Blood Changes

The IPCS reports that the most severe changes to the body happen within 30 to 60 minutes of ingestion. Toxins in the alcohol modify body functions, affecting the delivery of blood throughout the body. The Mayo Clinic writes that the heartbeat decreases by changes to the CNS. As a result, the heart rate slows and blood pressure drops. Without fresh blood circulating, organs may fail. All alcohols act as blood thinning agents. Isopropyl is so strong that it can induce hypothermia and subsequent cardiac arrest. The blood's thinning also causes blood sugar levels to fall so sharply that seizures may result.

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