Teens Drinking Hand Sanitizer Is Not A Scary New Trend, But It Is Gross And Dangerous

teens drinking hand sanitizer

This morning’s big “kids today!” story comes to us by way of the Los Angeles Times, who have reported that dumb teenagers are doing a dumb teenager thing and drinking dumb not-for-consumption alcohol in the form of hand sanitizer. Which is pretty dumb and unhealthy and can end in death. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly a new trend like the Times (and every other media outlet) is reporting. This news story comes up every few years–which goes to show that every time we call it a “new trend,” we’re still failing to educate kids about the risks.

Alcohol, in its purest sense, is a great way to preserve, distill, and clean stuff. It’s good for killing bacteria, removing grime, and keeping liquid items, like medicine, stable and safe. It has been used for these purposes for a long time. Unfortunately, it’s also been abused for these purposes for basically as long as people have existed.

This kind of abuse hit a fever pitch during Prohibition, when liquor (that is, grain or other alcohol that is distilled and created specifically for human consumption) was hard to come by, people of all ages and genders and socio-economic statuses began turning to anything and everything which may have contained enough alcohol to get them drunk–which often meant sipping things like furniture or nail polish. Or, in some cases, straight-up poison. Because in dry times (like Prohibition, or like the years before a teen can legally purchase booze), people will do desperate things to get drunk.

Which is why it’s not surprising that, time and again, kids turn to anything and everything they can, whether it be vodka-soaked tampons or drinking rubbing alcohol. It’s just not surprising. So why do we keep feigning shock? Or, more importantly, why do we keep failing to add this “trend” into alcohol and drug education?

Liquid hand sanitizer is a relatively recent development. Gojo, who owns Purell, is largely credited as introducing the first liquid hand sanitizer containing alcohol in the 1980s. But it wasn’t until the 2000s that parents started growing concerned about the potential for ingestion, and, as a result, inebriation. Here’s a YouTube video of a kid doing it in 2006. Here’s a WebMD article addressing the “problematic trend” back in early 2007–which tells the story of an adult man drinking the stuff. And here’s a Chicago Tribune article from the same year.

drinking hand sanitizer to get drunkSince then, the story has been visited every couple of years or so. Sometimes it’s addicts in rehab or the military who turn to the highly-alcoholic stuff. Sometimes it’s teens. Sometimes it’s hospital patients. But it’s always someone–and it’s always quick to be deemed “a scary new trend.”

But it’s not new. And it’s not that scary, because, with just a hair of education on the matter and maybe some slightly different labeling (some health advocates have suggested that changing the clearly-labeled alcohol to something less enticing to addicts and kids may do the trick), the behavior could probably be swiftly curbed. Because hand sanitizer isn’t exactly delicious or a fun way to get drunk–and because it’s made of isopropanol or other not-for-consumption alcohol, it’s much, much more dangerous than drinking actual booze.

Instead of revisiting this scare-topic every couple of years with a new news headlines and furrowed brows because few dumb teens do a dumb thing and drink a household cleaning or sanitation product, maybe it’s time to address the matter with actual teenagers in the form of comprehensive drug and alcohol education.

All the finger-wagging and “trend predicting” in the world isn’t going to stop kids from behaving like kids. If you never want to read an article like this (or the one in the LA Times, or the one on every health website ever today), contact your school district and demand that you kids hear, from the mouths of teachers or other trusted adults, that hand sanitizer is a dumb, dumb thing to drink. Or, better yet, talk to your own kids about it.

Images: deepspacedave via Shutterstock, and a 2006 YouTube video showing a kid drinking hand sanitizer.

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    • Daniel Johnson

      Informative and frank, but in-depth and a joy to read. My hat is off to you for (justifiably, imho) leveraging criticism against media outlets such as the LA Times for mis-reporting this as new or complex to deal with. Money-hungry sensationalism is always a poor substitute for true journalism.

    • Anthony G. Aldeguer

      Hello G.M.A
      Not only are the issues which were brought forward on point during 04-25-2012 (segment on hand sanitizers). Yet death is the least occurring of the physical ailments attributed to methyl alcohol poisoning (One must consider ethanol and methyl alcohol are both used within hand sanitizers). Methyl alcohol poisoning causes damage within the myelin sheath (nerve damage) blindness, inherent damage to every organ within our body. You need to know there’s a better way. This… is killing oneself in a number of ways. Reach out. Stop this madness. Now you know. Help your friend you are our future. To sensationalize/minimize (not mention) the inherent affects is disturbing. Experimenting minds:, we inform:, You for sure will get a potent high, you may die? Well invincibility comes into play. Yet once again, we supply as much information as possible too us the 99 we find rational decision are made.
      Thank You for bringing these issues out from under the Spectral Light…

      Stimulateadvkc:, Thanks you for taking the time