Hand sanitizer: Good for public health, bad for drinking

Hand sanitizers are in the news this week following this Los Angeles Times report about teenagers showing up in emergency departments after drinking hand sanitizer.

Most hand sanitizers are alcohol-based, and like any product with alcohol in it, drinking enough can give a person a “buzz” or make them drunk.  Because of the scents and other ingredients in hand sanitizer, it tastes terrible. This is often (but not always) enough to keep little kids from drinking harmful amounts, and it deters most older kids who want to experiment, as well.

Kids are creative and persistent, though. In the LA Times piece, the students made the gel hand sanitizer into a liquid using salt. In 2011, the NNEPC received calls about students using powdered drink mix instead of salt. (It turns out even fruit flavoring won’t mask the nasty aftertaste.)

It’s important to remember, though, that hand sanitizer has great public health benefits. The increasing availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in public places has likely helped slow the spread of viruses, like the ones that cause colds and the flu. 

As always, the best tool for keeping kids from abusing alcohol and other drugs is communication. It’s important for kids to know that household products and medication can be just as dangerous as illegal drugs. For tips on talking to your children about substance abuse, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the Partnerships at DrugFree.org.

For more information, see our A to Z entry on hand sanitizer.

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