Home / Alcoholism / Alcohol-Containing Household Items That Can Be Abused

Overcoming alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol abuse is a huge accomplishment, but you may find yourself struggling to avoid alcohol in some foods, like bananas foster or beef bourguignon. These may contain a small amount of alcohol after they’re cooked. Aside from food, many household items contain alcohol in various amounts; some do contain ethanol, the type of alcohol found in beverages like beer or liquor, but most contain other types of alcohol, including isopropyl, ethyl, methyl, or acetone. These solvents or cleaners are not intended to be consumed, so they are very dangerous in large enough amounts.

Here is a list of common household items containing alcohol. Although it is rare, there have been reports that people abuse them to get drunk.

  • Mouthwash: This breath freshener contains 20-25 percent alcohol, which helps to kill bacteria that causes bad breath. Many mouthwashes have added flavoring agents to make them more pleasant, so children may drink them, leading to intoxication. Teenagers and adults, especially those who struggle with alcohol abuse, may also drink mouthwash to get a buzz.
  • Cough syrup: Another common item used to treat symptoms of colds or flus, cough syrup contains dextromethorphan, which can cause a high if a large enough amount of it is consumed, as well as alcohol at levels that are similar to vodka or gin. Cough syrup is abused by many adolescents around the United States. One study found that 4 percent of 12th graders abused this drug for recreational reasons at least once in the past year.
  • Flavored extracts: A normal cooking item found in thousands of pantries all over the country, extracts like vanilla, almond, or lemon extract contains anywhere from 35 percent to 83 percent alcohol, making them 70 proof. They rival the highest-percent alcohol but are not regulated the same way that beer, whiskey, or Everclear is regulated. This is because the amount of a flavored extract used in cooking is very small, about one or two tablespoons depending on the recipe. However, there are reports of people abusing extracts to get drunk.
  • Rubbing alcohol: The more common name for isopropyl alcohol, this household item is used to clean cuts or small wounds. Isopropyl alcohol can also be found in hand sanitizer because it is a powerful disinfectant. There are several strengths of rubbing alcohol available, from 45 percent to 95 percent, although 60 percent to 75 percent are the most common strengths.Alone, rubbing alcohol can be mistaken for water, and the National Poison Control Center often receives calls about small children who make this mistake and drink it. Children rarely drink a lot of rubbing alcohol, however, because it tastes bad. There are occasionally reports of teenagers or adults drinking isopropyl alcohol or hand sanitizer to get drunk. This is very dangerous, because the concentration of isopropyl alcohol in most products is much higher than the amount of ethyl alcohol found even in hard liquor like vodka or whiskey.
  • Perfume or cologne: Of course, these scented products are not intended to be consumed; however, many perfumes and colognes contain alcohol, ranging from 50 percent to 99 percent. Typically, perfume tastes terrible, so small children don’t drink too much by accident. It is rare for adolescents or adults to abuse these substances, but there have been reports of it happening. A survey of Russian working-age men who died from alcohol abuse found that some abused cologne due to its high alcohol content, and these men were nine times more likely to die from alcohol poisoning.
  • Windshield wiper fluid: This product contains methanol, a potent industrial alcohol. It is rare for people to abuse this product, but some reports have found that teenagers accidentally drink it at parties when someone has mixed it into a punch or soda as a prank.

If testing for alcohol is part of your rehabilitation or recovery process, there are several products that can show up on a urine test as a positive indicator of alcohol abuse. If you accidentally consume these household items, even in small amounts, the liver will metabolize them as alcohol:

  • Liquid medications, like Dayquil
  • Nonalcoholic beer and wine, which contain trace amounts of alcohol
  • Breath strips, which have a small amount of alcohol like mouthwash
  • Aftershave, hairspray, mousse, and some body washes
  • Astringents for skin care
  • Bug sprays
  • Nail polish remover

Some of these products may cause a positive detection if they are inhaled excessively, so people who struggle with inhalant abuse may test positive for alcohol through a urine test.

Abusing any of the products listed above is more likely to lead to alcohol poisoning because the type of alcohol in many household items is more potent than that found in liquor, wine, and beer. Confusion, delirium, vomiting, slow or irregular breathing, low body temperature, blue-tinted or cold skin, and seizures are all indications of potential alcohol poisoning. When in doubt, call 911. These symptoms can be life-threatening.