Can You Drink Rubbing Alcohol?

Addressing the frequently asked questions dealing with addiction.


I lived on the street for a time after I lost my job. Out there, if they can't get anything else, some people drink rubbing alcohol. What is in rubbing alcohol that is so bad?


Rubbing alcohol is not ethyl alcohol (beverage alcohol), but isopropyl alcohol, a totally different chemical than the alcohol of beer, wine, or liquor. The lethal dose of isopropyl alcohol by mouth in adult humans is about 8 ounces. Another kind of poison is wood alcohol. This is methyl alcohol and it breaks down in the liver to formaldehyde. Those who survive after drinking it often suffer permanent blindness. As little as 2 ounces of wood alcohol can be fatal.

"Sober Days" ran in the Palm Springs daily newspaper, the Desert Sun, for several years in the 1990s-2000s. The popular Q&A column was written by Dr. James West, the Betty Ford Center's first medical director. He remained with the Betty Ford Center until 2007, when he retired at age 93.

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