Most brands of mouthwash contain large amounts of alcohol. This can be very tempting to certain groups of people; alcoholics who have limited financial means may buy mouthwash, which is much less expensive than alcoholic beverages, or they may steal mouthwash, which is much easier to steal than alcoholic beverages. Recovering alcoholics may have removed all other forms of alcohol from the home only to fall to the temptation to drink mouthwash, which constitutes a relapse. Also, those who are too young to buy alcohol may attempt to get drunk by drinking mouthwash.
The Toxic Ingredients in Mouthwash
Although mouthwash contains alcohol, it is usually denatured alcohol, which is unfit for human consumption or even methyl alcohol, which is poisonous and can cause blindness, organ failure and death. Mouthwash is designed to be expectorated rather than swallowed, and ingesting even a small amount can be detrimental. Ingesting amounts large enough to cause drunkenness can be extremely toxic and may lead to serious consequences.
Additionally, mouthwash typically contains other ingredients that are also toxic and may be harmful if ingested. Some mouthwash contains hydrogen peroxide, which can cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract and may result in symptoms such as upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Many brands of mouthwash also contain phenolic compounds such as menthol, eucalyptol and thymol. Ingesting amounts of mouthwash sufficient to produce intoxication is likely to result in exposure to these ingredients within their toxic range.
Finally, drinking mouthwash may be dangerous in the same ways that drinking large amounts of alcoholic beverages is dangerous. Large amounts of mouthwash can produce intoxication and may lead to any number of consequences such as arrest, injury, or death from drunk driving, liability for the injury or death of another, or consequences such as those related to high-risk sexual behavior caused by impaired judgment.
A Case Study of Fatal Mouthwash Ingestion
A team of doctors including Guy W. Soo Hoo, M.D., Robert L. Hinds, D.O., Eugene Dinoyo, Ph.D., and Steven W. Renner, M.D., conducted an autopsy at the Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration Medical Center on a 45-year-old patient who had died from multiple organ failure despite access to complete medical care including dialysis and mechanical ventilation. The man had ingested a large amount of mouthwash, which was suspected in his death. The autopsy found no other co-ingestants (meaning that the mouthwash was the only toxic substance in his system) and identified no other possible cause of death. The doctors concluded that the phenolic compounds in the mouthwash – not the alcohol – had caused the patient’s multi-organ system failure and subsequent death. They also concluded, however, that the alcohol in mouthwash combined with the toxic nature of the phenolic compounds is likely to be responsible for the adverse effects associated with ingesting large amounts of mouthwash.
Treatment for Alcohol Abuse and Addiction
It is likely that anyone who drinks mouthwash has a drinking problem. This does not necessarily mean that they are suffering from alcoholism because true physical dependence on alcohol takes quite some time to develop, and a young person who attempts to get drunk on mouthwash is unlikely to be an alcoholic. He or she may, however, have issues that are causing him or her to abuse alcohol in dangerous ways.
Treatment is available that can help you with any degree of a drinking problem. If you would like help finding treatment for drinking, please call our toll-free 24 hour helpline today.