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April 27th, 2012
06:33 PM ET

Hand sanitizer: The new vodka for teens?

There's a new trend among teens looking for a buzz, doctors say, and it surrounds an unlikely household item designed to keep us germ-free: ethanol-based hand sanitizer.

Teenagers are using it this stuff to get high, according to health officials. Poison control centers nationwide say reports are on the rise.

The big issue here is the alcohol content, says Dr. Robert J. Geller, a medical toxicologist and Emory University pediatrician.

He says these sanitizers "are actually products that are 60% ethanol which means they are 120 proof," and "if you drink 2 ounces of it, it's like drinking 3 ounces of 80-proof tequila."

In California, where word of the trend first surfaced, there have been reports of 60 teenagers exposed since 2010, says Dr. Cyrus Rangan, toxicologist and assistant medical director of California Poison Control.

In recent months L.A. County doctors noticed an increase in cases, so last week they asked the California Poison Control Center to run numbers to see if data matched their instincts.

But nationwide statistics haven't been compiled, so CNN asked the  American Association of Poison Control Centers check their database.

Turns out the number of cases around the country are going up too.

Last year there were 622 calls involving cases where teenagers reported exposure to ethanol-based hand sanitizer, according to the AAPCC.  So far this year, they've already received 203 calls.

The specifics of each case aren't known, but overall, "77% of teen exposures to hand sanitizers were oral; the rest were mainly the eye and skin," says Loreeta Canton, spokeswoman for the AAPCC.

None of the reports involving hand sanitizers resulted in the deaths of young people, although one 2011 report involved a teen "with major effects that were life-threatening," according to the AAPCC.

Also in 2011, there were 14 teens with "moderate effects"requiring treatment that were not life-threatening and 122 cases of teens with "minor symptoms" that were "minimally bothersome and generally resolved rapidly," the AAPCC says.

So far this year, poison centers have received hand sanitizer reports of one incident that was "life threatening or resulted in disability or disfigurement," one incident that "required treatment, but was not life threatening" and 48 which were "minimally bothersome and were resolved rapidly."

For teens there can be serious consequences, says Geller, from sedation, to vomiting, to slowed breathing, "it really depends on how much they take and how often they are doing this."

Dr. Jennifer Shu, a CNN consultant and Atlanta pediatrician, says this is not a new concept for teens, it's just a new product for them to try. She says, "when used the wrong way, a lot of these things can have unintended consequences."

Ethanol can interfere with normal body functioning and side effects can range from sedation,  loss of coordination, and reaction timing, warns Dr.Carl Baum, a pediatric emergency physician and a medical toxicologist. "Too much ethanol can lead someone to have dangerous drops in blood sugar," just like drinking too much alcohol.

Teens are being exposed through friends and finding recipes online to help make it more palatable, Rangan says. Some teens even add ingredients to separate the alcohol from the rest of the gel while some dilute it down.

Drinking hand sanitizer poses the same risks as drinking alcohol for kids, says Rangan. "Regard it like you would regard any kind of medication in your house and monitor the amount in your house." He suggests parents use foam sanitizers which might be a little less appealing for a teenager to use in a recreational way.

"I think it's just because of the easy accessibility," he says,  "teens who are showing behaviors of intentionally taking hand sanitizer in an effort to get the alcohol high need to be evaluated for why are they doing that, and is this a symptom of a larger problem of substance abuse."

For more information on alcohol abuse and kids visit Elizabeth Cohen's "Empowered Patient" at CNN.com.


soundoff (298 Responses)
  1. J

    I'm sorry – I know this sounds harsh – but if you are drinking hand-sanitizer in order to get high . . . KEEP DRINKING

    April 27, 2012 at 20:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • James PDX

      No doubt, you can have my bottle for free.

      April 27, 2012 at 20:42 | Report abuse |
    • huhosue5

      lol ...i was thinking the exact same thing....

      April 27, 2012 at 20:59 | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Youre absolutely right, this is just natural selection at work, ill raise my bottle of hand sanitzer to that.

      April 27, 2012 at 21:18 | Report abuse |
    • moe smith

      couldn't agree more. this is nature's way of culling the human herd. let the fuktards keep drinking. their PARENTS OBVIOUSLY FAILED AT RAISING THEM and they certainly have zip for common sense... they will be nothing but drags on society. let them fall out of humanity. they are wasting oxygen, taking up space and consuming resources of which others would quite obviously make better use.

      April 27, 2012 at 21:20 | Report abuse |
    • jkflipflop

      I find your logic sound. Carry on.

      April 27, 2012 at 21:27 | Report abuse |
    • commonsense

      I agree. When these idiots are brought to the emergency room I hope they work on people who didn't cause their problems and make them wait.

      April 27, 2012 at 21:36 | Report abuse |
    • Richard

      People are fools. Sanitizers? Way to develop kids with zero immune response.

      April 27, 2012 at 21:55 | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Sounds like natural selection at work to me.

      April 27, 2012 at 21:59 | Report abuse |
    • The_Traveler

      "People are fools. Sanitizers? Way to develop kids with zero immune response."

      ... or brain cells.

      April 27, 2012 at 22:19 | Report abuse |
    • DAVE

      HAND CREAM IS MUCH BETTER

      April 27, 2012 at 22:33 | Report abuse |
    • Russell

      My mom and dad don't drink at all, but my parent are anal about things being clean. Thanks for the tip on the hand cleaner, i can clean/drink my worries away!

      April 27, 2012 at 22:41 | Report abuse |
    • greg

      could not have said it better myself! lol

      April 27, 2012 at 22:43 | Report abuse |
    • canadian

      This is old news – since H1N1 hand sanatizer has been stolen right out of medcial clinics . Clinic were having to replace the wall container bottles several times a week – security guards were taking it after hours – people up on the reserves have used Lysol sprays and mouthwashes and hair products for all the same reasons -to get high on the alcholol content – so those in California are just getting reported/noted now but likely been doing it for some time.

      April 27, 2012 at 23:10 | Report abuse |
  2. AlFetah

    The US media and movies like to promote drugs and excessive alcohol consumption among teenagers. Drugs and alcohol make you a degenerate. Don't degrade yourself for the sake of fitting in.

    April 27, 2012 at 20:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jeff S

      I guess if you are going that far you need to also mention all the good traits movies promote. Because if we are going to say movies promotes traits, movies are not filled with 120 minutes of bad stuff.

      April 27, 2012 at 22:40 | Report abuse |
  3. Yossarian

    During World War II some soldiers couldn't make a usual Tom Collins due to alcohol shortages, so they resorted to another source.

    The resulting concoction was called an Aqua Velva Collins.

    April 27, 2012 at 20:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Smart Human

    If you're dumb enough to drink hand sanitizer, you've likely got bigger problems in your life in general.

    April 27, 2012 at 20:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • commonsense

      Hand sanitizer, huffing glue, aresol cans and the list goes on. I have no pity for those who endager their lives and think it is more important to get high than consider the effect it has on their family.

      April 27, 2012 at 21:38 | Report abuse |
  5. kkrogman

    It's good that you are smart enough to read.

    "I think it's just because of the easy accessibility," he says, "teens who are showing behaviors of intentionally taking hand sanitizer in an effort to get the alcohol high need to be evaluated for why are they doing that, and is this a symptom of a larger problem of substance abuse."

    April 27, 2012 at 20:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. DJCowboy

    Just like Meredith on The Office...

    April 27, 2012 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Portland tony

    Don't think this is a serious outbreak. Teens do strange things as they explore growing up but it's much easier to get an adult to buy the real stuff for you.

    April 27, 2012 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Results of drinking age

    Drinking hand sanitizer is the result of high drinking age limits. Everyone wants what they can never have, alcohol is a perfect example. U.S. laws restrict minors from drinking, this can led to some negative effects. In Europe, the drinking limit is low; teens do not have the desire to put themselves in dangerous situations. Now it is to an extent teens are drinking hand sanitizer not just to get drunk on, but to symbolize resentment of social laws.

    April 27, 2012 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matthew Kilburn

      So, are they getting sick...or just drunk?

      April 27, 2012 at 21:18 | Report abuse |
  9. ian

    too much ethanol can lead to dangerous drops in blood sugar, just like alcohol. way to go cnn writers, you just compared a substance with itself.

    April 27, 2012 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Lord Giggles

    What the F***K has become of our youth!

    April 27, 2012 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lord Giggles

      of our young*

      April 27, 2012 at 20:53 | Report abuse |
  11. Trent

    When you stoop to drinking soap for a high, perhaps it's time to just chug the whole thing and get it over with.

    April 27, 2012 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ionymous

      Read it again. hand sanitizer, not hand soap

      April 27, 2012 at 21:23 | Report abuse |
  12. redbaron

    oh my, when will this end, first you had people getting high on bath salts, then it was popuri, now its hand sanitizer. I wonder what be next............... oh ive got it next you'll see them drinking gasoline. or some nice e-85. I take it, these people must be insane? yes?

    April 27, 2012 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • commonsense

      Ohh no, dont' know know, they are:

      Just testing their boundaries
      Making their own life decisions
      Smart people who do stupid things
      Learning accountability
      Learning to be opened-minded

      .....just insert whatever lame excuse you've heard for stupid and poor behavior.

      April 27, 2012 at 21:40 | Report abuse |
    • gidgetgirl

      Street addicts have been drinking this stuff before "2010" as the article states. They add salt to the hand sanitizer to separate the alcohol. They also steal the stuff from hospitals etc...

      April 27, 2012 at 22:14 | Report abuse |
  13. D

    If you die from drinking hand sanitizer....well that's just natural selection at its finest.

    April 27, 2012 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Michele R.

    We could call it Darwinism but still I have to ask – what is so wrong at the family/parenting level that kids will try absolutely ANYTHING? Sounds like a very huge hole that can never be filled.

    April 27, 2012 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. nuketim

    Kids today have too much time on their ignorant hands. And parents are financing their stupid behavior.

    April 27, 2012 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dumbkid

      thank god its so cheap

      April 27, 2012 at 21:07 | Report abuse |
  16. Necrofun

    Now you know whey there is strawberry hand sanitizer.

    April 27, 2012 at 21:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Brock

    Natural selection at work.

    April 27, 2012 at 21:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Joe

    Is it responsible of CNN to use the headline new vodka for teens? It might have drawn fewer teens and just as many parents if the headline read new danger for teens.

    April 27, 2012 at 21:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Who isn't showing discretion?

      Hey CNN! Are you trying to report or encourage? Honestly! Who are you catering to with a headline like this? It sounds more like an invitation than a warning. Or do you care more about the number of people who read an article than you do about the end result? Yea, we have some irresponsible parents here, but we also have some headline writers who can wear those shoe quite comfortably.

      April 27, 2012 at 21:51 | Report abuse |
  19. the professor

    well, to be fair, the alcohol in vodka (as in all other drinkable spirits) is ethanol - same as hand sanitizers. chemically, mixing fruity hand sanitizer with some frozen fruit punch isn't likely a whole lot different than a daiquiri at chili's...

    April 27, 2012 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. moe smith

    this is nature's way of culling the human herd. let the fuktards keep drinking. their PARENTS OBVIOUSLY FAILED AT RAISING THEM and they certainly have zip for common sense... they will be nothing but drags on society. let them fall out of humanity. they are wasting oxygen, taking up space and consuming resources of which others would quite obviously make better use.

    April 27, 2012 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Matthew Kilburn

    ...I was going to say, are we talking about people actually getting sick from this, or is it just as if they drank way too much alcohol?

    Is the stuff toxic, or just strong?

    April 27, 2012 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Mcgruff

    Its sad that the most of the kids these days are so obsessed with looking pretty and getting high that they learn LESS now then we did growing up. And to back it up, most of them dont even have common sense, otherwise they wouldnt be doing these things. Unfortunately parents havent gotten smarter either, just more sensitive.

    Humanity is doomed, want proof? Look at the children of today. I doubt its getting any better.

    April 27, 2012 at 21:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. George

    I am waiting for the laws that make it a felony to have hand sanitizer! Like we have done with basic chemicals and to companies doing basic things!

    April 27, 2012 at 21:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Byron

    You get DRUNK not HIGH. It's ALCOHOL. It makes you DRUNK. And hey you can ferment juice with yeast and makes it that way too like people have been doing for thousands of years. So go to the bar and get high, oh wait I mean drunk.

    April 27, 2012 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. frygyz

    I'll sell them some moonshine.....

    April 27, 2012 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. frygyz

    I'll sell them some moonshine.....

    April 27, 2012 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. OTIS

    My next pub crawl will be at the local hospital. There's sanitizer all over the friggin' place and if I drink too much.......well I'm already where I'd need to go! And I can hit on the hot nurses! PARTY ON!

    April 27, 2012 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. danny

    as much as the media wants to portray this as some type of trend.. the reality is.. kids aren't drinking sanitizer like they want you to believe... if this was an epidemic there would be kids going to the hospital all the time, instead there's been like a dozen reported cases of this....

    April 27, 2012 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. sgtsam2005

    what ever you don don,t tell them about the high you will get from eatting ex-lax

    April 27, 2012 at 22:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Luek

    Hey, no one wants to sniff airplane model glue anymore?

    April 27, 2012 at 22:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. bs

    What are they trying to do? Ban hand sanitizer?
    People who want to get intoxicated will find ways, no matter what is legalized or not. Banning stuff like pot only increases the likelihood that they'll try something else, potentially more dangerous, to get high. For instance, you think these kids would be drinking hand sanitizer if they had access to pot? Probably not.

    April 27, 2012 at 22:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kodak

      Your comment is extreamly valid. Same with guns and anything else. The only REAL way to stop this kind of stupidity is to solve it before it happens, NOT to ban anything because of it. Our families are in ruins and until we fix that, we are screwed no matter what is available and no matter what is banned.

      April 27, 2012 at 22:31 | Report abuse |
    • Matthew Kilburn

      yeah, lets hand out drugs because people insist on being stupid. The kids are trying to get drunk, not high, no matter what this article says. Pot doesn't get you drunk.

      I thought one of the big pro-pot legalization arguments was that we could more effectively keep it out of the hands of teens who are doing this kind of thing if we could regulate where it was sold....

      your views seem to conflict with that.

      =====

      and no, social darwinism is not the way to go.

      April 27, 2012 at 22:34 | Report abuse |
  32. Billy62

    Ageism at its finest.

    (Because I'm sure I have to explain: there were "622 calls involving teenagers" and hand sanitizer last year. There are over 21,000,000 teenagers in the US. 0.003% does not make hand sanitizer "the new vodka."

    Numbers are funny, huh?

    April 27, 2012 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Joe M.

    These people will wind up on the government dole at some point in their lives anyway, so they might as well be put out of their misery early on. Harsh to say, but it would save the rest of us money and headaches.

    April 27, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Kodak

    What is that phrase??....stupid is as stupid does.....that certainly describes those talked about in this story.

    April 27, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Scott

    Sounds like good, clean fun to me.

    April 27, 2012 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Ryan

    F@#$! these stupid kids. Stupid can't be cured, the government should do nothing.

    April 27, 2012 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Bert

    t e E n S   d o   h a v e   D i R t y   M O u t h s .   T h i s   i s   p R o b A b L y   a   G O o D   t h i n g .

    April 27, 2012 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Rusty

    To be honest, if you're dumb enough to chug hand sanitizer, then you probably shouldn't be allowed to remain in the gene pool. Does this story have any point? Is it to make us feel guilty about the looming "death by sanitizer" epidemic? What's the next headline? "Idiots Find that Irish Spring Soap is a Potent Addition to Mixed Drinks"?

    April 27, 2012 at 22:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. bodofinglok

    So... wait a minute... It's ... similar to regular booze as far as health risks? Why the hell have I been buying regular 80 proof vodka for 10-20 a bottle when I could be LOADED with Sanitizer!?!? Thank you CNN for the money saving tip! /joking

    April 27, 2012 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. euphoniusmunk

    Teenagers aren't smart, their brains aren't fully developed, specifically the part of the brain that affects decision making. This is why we eternally ask, "What the hell is wrong with these kids today?"

    April 27, 2012 at 22:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Aaron

      Not all teenagers are dome enough to do this just the ones that are straight up stupid and will be so when they are adults.

      April 27, 2012 at 23:24 | Report abuse |
  41. Chris

    By interacting with most of you people in public, this does not surprise me.

    April 27, 2012 at 23:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Joe Labriola

    "Teenagers are using it this stuff to get high, according to health officials." What the hell does that mean?

    April 27, 2012 at 23:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Hitce

    File this under have to see it to believe it.

    April 27, 2012 at 23:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Cherries

    First bath salts now this? Keep teens out of the bathrooms now before they discover something else!!

    April 27, 2012 at 23:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. SloppyJoe

    I've had several Rolling Rocks tonight. Same thing, right?

    April 27, 2012 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Aaron

    If they are stupid enough to drink hand sanitizer let 'em.

    April 27, 2012 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. guest

    Stores are going to have to treat it like beer now, card them. They have to I.D. people for Black Markers, cold medicines, and spray paint, what's one more thing.

    April 27, 2012 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. PDX

    Perhaps we could just lower the drinking age. That may solve a problem or two.

    April 27, 2012 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. ERICA

    White kids....

    April 27, 2012 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. 2/8

    ....uhhhh.....okay.

    April 27, 2012 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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