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 (241 Responses)
  1. Mike H

    Let the stupid people drink all the hand sanitizer they want. Get them out of the gene pool so perhaps we'll see a decrease in the breeding of more stupid people. We've created too many laws and regulations aimed at protecting dumb people from their own stupidity. That must stop if we are to continue evolving as a species!

    April 29, 2012 at 00:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • me

      Hey.....if yer gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough!! Darwinism @ work!!

      What ever happened to the good old days when idiots drank Aqua Velva to get buzzed??

      April 29, 2012 at 08:53 | Report abuse |
    • Marcia

      I totally agree with you Mike H.
      I have no idea why anyone would think they can legislate people into being smart, rational, snesible or decent...you've got to leave some room for people to be responsible for their choices & actions and to actually experience the consequences. Only then, will they learn, one way or another, what to do and what not to do. Anything else is band-aid on a gushing wound: temporary and doing more harm than good.

      April 30, 2012 at 12:23 | Report abuse |
    • labandme

      That's what I was thinking. Nature's way of getting rid of the idiots we don't need. They should make the product cheaper!

      April 30, 2012 at 15:08 | Report abuse |
    • Ross

      If these were adults doing this I would agree, but these are children. Even smart children may have a lapse in judgement

      April 30, 2012 at 15:34 | Report abuse |
    • CamMan

      I totally agree with MikeH. How stupid could you be to drink hand sanitizer? I was a teenager once and I never did anything like that. Let natural selection do its work people.

      April 30, 2012 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
  2. Zaggar

    It never occurred to me that someone would do this.

    April 29, 2012 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maggie McDuh

      Me either until I saw a CNN report last year on kindergarteners sucking their fingers after using sanitizer in the correct way and getting an unintentional buzz. I now monitor my preschoolers' use of it much more closely lol. But really with all the bitter ingredient(s?) in it I'd prefer just about anything to drinking it. What are these kids thinking?

      April 29, 2012 at 07:33 | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    Never used the stuff and never thought to drink it. People are strange animals...

    April 29, 2012 at 01:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jason

    This is yet another reason why we should lower the drinking age. Kids find it so curious. If it were lowered, drinking would be viewed as a more casual, moderate accessory towards having a good time, rather than a goal sought after by small communities of kids in their parents' basements.

    April 29, 2012 at 03:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jenny Smith

      As far as I understand it, in most states there is an earlier age at which children can consume alcohol in the presence of their parents (say, a half a glass of wine with dinner). I know very, very few parents who have ever felt comfortable doing this with their children.

      I think lowering the legal drinking age would just encourage more kids to spend their Friday nights in bars, doing the irresponsible things "adults" do when they drink; I don't think it would curb the irresponsible behavior attributed to their curiosity.

      However, if more parents were willing to supervise their kids closely and keep the line of communication open with regard to alcohol, then I think that the curiosity would die down. I'm NOT saying that parents should push alcohol on their kids with dinner, etc., however, if more of them were honest and open about alcohol use, it might make a big difference. Most parents I know consider it a HUGE infraction, which means they never talk about it, it's totally taboo to go over it in an honest way with their kids. "Just Say No," is the only phrase they know.

      The kids I know whose parents included them in a few New Year's toasts or let them have a little wine at Christmas dinner seem to have less desire to abuse the substance.

      April 30, 2012 at 14:22 | Report abuse |
    • Rick in SD

      Jenny, in South Carolina a parent can be jailed for serving a glass of wine to their 17 year old.

      April 30, 2012 at 15:32 | Report abuse |
    • TehKitteh

      Lower the drinking age ... because teens who are desperate enough to drink HS and can't think beyond their next high because they're immortal anyways PLUS alcohol is such a promising combination. Yeah, that's the ticket.

      May 1, 2012 at 04:49 | Report abuse |
  5. larry5

    Hand sanitizer must be necessary or they would not be selling it, right? We're lucky we survived for so long without it. Advertiser would promote something just to make money, would they? I mean, if it were not for products like hand sanitizer and corn sweeteners how would Doctors, mortuaries and drug companies make a living.

    April 29, 2012 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kake79

      ^ THIS!

      April 30, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
    • joe

      What a ridiculous comment.

      May 7, 2012 at 19:48 | Report abuse |
  6. tomnikoly

    I imagine that soon HS will be behind the counter in drug stores like most cold remedies are now and you'll need an ID to purchase.

    April 29, 2012 at 05:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. TMC

    Welcome to 2012... social craze that's not apple "I" product related...
    Generally, products are modified so that they can't be readily used this way, it will take someone to die off it to get the manufactuerers to do it. but it will happen.. give it some time!

    April 29, 2012 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. judy20848

    "'Too much ethanol can lead someone to have dangerous drops in blood sugar,' just like drinking too much alcohol."

    uhhh.... the alcohol in beverages IS ethanol.

    April 29, 2012 at 08:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.C.

      Amusing, isn't it? The last half of the article discusses ethanol in hushed clinical tones, as if it's a new designer drug or something.

      April 30, 2012 at 09:42 | Report abuse |
    • kake79

      @J.C... Well, how else are they supposed to scare us all? *LOL*

      April 30, 2012 at 15:36 | Report abuse |
  9. doodoo

    Just switch the ethanol with isopropanol. They'll stop eating after they go to the hospital.

    April 29, 2012 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. judy20848

    That's a quick, easy solution! don't know why they used ethanol in the first place

    April 29, 2012 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Russell Jeffords

      The ethanol is used as it dries (evaporates) very quickly; further, the methyl cellulose thickener is relatively insoluble in isoproponal.

      Of even greater interest? This stuff doesn't kill germs to NEARLY the extent good ole' rubbing alcohol does.

      Another scam.

      Tell you what, flavor the stuff to taste like, oh, broccoli, and NONE of the kids will drink a drop of it.....

      April 29, 2012 at 19:13 | Report abuse |
    • Joel

      @Russell Jeffords
      "Another scam"

      Read your first paragraph, you just answered why it isn't a scam.

      April 30, 2012 at 16:11 | Report abuse |
  11. Sal

    Is it just that American kids are stupid, or is it just that Americans are stupid? 

    April 29, 2012 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marcia

      🙂 LMFAO!

      April 30, 2012 at 12:25 | Report abuse |
    • Joel

      No, it's that American kids are subjugated to a ridiculously and dangerously high drinking age. All HS is is grain etOH in a gel. If you can't buy or get etOH anywhere else, HS would work. What I find humorous is that the article made it sound more dangerous than it is; it's etOH, it has the same risk any alcoholic beverage has (which certainly shouldn't be trivialized).

      April 30, 2012 at 16:14 | Report abuse |
  12. BRBSanDiego

    In the day, we drank Romilar cough syrup because it was mostly ethanol. Tried it once and puked my guts out.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. MRT

    Well if you you gave your kids a shot of scotch once in a while, and introduced alcohol to them as a way to enjoy and relax, instead of this poison thats hidden and not allowed to see or taste but magically become "ok" the day you turn 21.

    If all the PTA moms stop freaking out, then you wouldnt be finding your kids adding table salt to chemically separate the ethanol from the hand sanitizer to get hammered.... yeah its that easy btw

    April 29, 2012 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TehKitteh

      I thought there was already a study (studies?) done that correlated parental allowance of alcohol consumption by minors with a greater increase in the tendency of said minors to grow up with alcohol problems.

      May 1, 2012 at 04:43 | Report abuse |
  14. alternative schools

    Thanks for your publication. One other thing is the fact that individual states have their very own laws in which affect homeowners, which makes it quite difficult for the Congress to come up with a different set of guidelines concerning foreclosure on house owners. The problem is that a state provides own legal guidelines which may work in an unfavorable manner in terms of foreclosure procedures.

    April 29, 2012 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sam I. Am

      Ummm... OK.... put away the hand sanitizer... NOW!

      April 30, 2012 at 00:06 | Report abuse |
  15. SixDegrees

    Wasn't there a similar problem with Sterno many decades ago? And wasn't is solved rather simply by adding an ingredient that induced vomiting?

    April 29, 2012 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Eric

    Newsflash: teenagers try dumb stuff to get high and end up hurting themselves in the process. What has this world come to?

    April 29, 2012 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. www.healthy24.net

    It's not a good idea at all – I think. Anyway thanks for the writing.

    April 29, 2012 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. glenda

    My God!! Will the stupidity ever end?

    April 30, 2012 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. amber

    what is wrong with teenagers now or days this is insane

    April 30, 2012 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. blam

    So drunk is now high? Ethanol = alcohol.

    April 30, 2012 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joel

      The media likes to prey on the scientific ignorance of the general population to scare them, fear sells.

      Or, more likely, the reporters are just as stupid as the general population, and we get this trash for reporting.

      April 30, 2012 at 16:18 | Report abuse |
  21. Sara

    Fake pot, fake alcohol what's next? Whatever happened to smoking a little weed and drinking a beer?

    April 30, 2012 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Yo

      Smoking weed is illegal. Legalize now and prevent countless deaths from happening.

      April 30, 2012 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
  22. Mathematics

    so can someone explain this?

    "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."

    it is April 30th, if you multiply out this year's 203 calls so far to the end of the year. you end up with 612 calls.

    That is ten less than last year. So according to any logic here on PLANET EARTH, the problem is improving.

    April 30, 2012 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Some Planet Earth Logic...

      They probably didn't conduct the interview today...

      April 30, 2012 at 15:01 | Report abuse |
  23. MikeS

    Umm.. Were talking about US teens whose parents are all-work no family. This is normal. I'm sure some politician will raise the alarm so that every bottle has a massive warning to attract more teens.

    April 30, 2012 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Common Sense

    How are people surprised by this? Teens have been getting high off of anything they can find since the discovery of getting high on things. It has nothing to do with the companies, or the times we live in, its just simply a fact about adolescence: they learn through curiosity and experiment.

    First it was ludes, then aerosol cans, huffing paint, eating glue, smoking incense, snorting bath salts, and now drinking hand santizer. Who cares? Lets the idiots involved learn for themselves what it feels like to throw up soap bubbles.

    April 30, 2012 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TehKitteh

      This will make Mr. Bubble sad.

      May 1, 2012 at 04:38 | Report abuse |
  25. dsbsky

    lol Kidz R Dumb....

    April 30, 2012 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Mistylynn

    This is really sad.

    April 30, 2012 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Jay

    Seriously? Hand sanitizer? My goodness. I never heard of such a ridiculous thing. That's actually disgusting to even think about.

    April 30, 2012 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • The Milkman

      Colon Cleaser.

      April 30, 2012 at 19:23 | Report abuse |
  28. NOYB

    What happened to the good old days, when you just waited outside of a convenience store for an of-age, good samaritan to purchase the booze for you?

    April 30, 2012 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Doc

    Sorry, no sympathy for this. Stupid is as stupid does. If I have to start showing ID to buy my hand sanitizer, because of this, I'm going postal.

    April 30, 2012 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TehKitteh

      Just make sure you wash your hands first. I just HATE it when I get shot by someone with dirty hands.

      May 1, 2012 at 04:37 | Report abuse |
  30. lou50

    gene pool improvement.

    April 30, 2012 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. likeIcare

    Children of the the 'white out' abuse, and grandchildren of the 'oven cleaner' abuse. The cycle continues.

    April 30, 2012 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. slupdawg

    And if they were smart at all, they'd drink Sterno.

    May 1, 2012 at 03:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. tacc2

    Wow, what ever happened to just pooling you money and finding some homeless guy to buy you alcohol? Kids today are just stupid.

    May 1, 2012 at 10:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. nick

    You gotta be a depressed teen. or things have changed in 4 years since high school. you would of gotten clowned on bustin out some hand sanitizer for you and your girl to sip on while everyone else has real alcohol lol. losers

    June 17, 2012 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. TheFullHasNeverBeenTold

    What I've learned experimenting with things comes along with turning a teen. Bottom line these kids today are a lot more smarter and intelligent than we give them credit for. Just lack common sense because well, they are young! I'm pretty sure most teens have had a chemistry class since I have. A lot of them are aware that pure ethanol can be consumed as methanol can not. So why, because of curiosity. No matter what level of education, family back ground, race, or religion. When I visited the local drug store I made a point to look at the ingredients of hand sanitizer. 65% ethanol, equals 130 proof pure alcohol! And that was at $5 dollars a bottle (10oz) yielding about 4-5oz pure ethanol at 130 proof. A quart of Ever-Clear (90 proof) is about $40.00. Even if a kid receive $100.00 a week or month for that matter, who wants to spend 40% of there allowance for something they are not suppose to have or better yet can easy get from moms and dads "party places". I believe it's the rush of consuming their own concoctions/experiments which gives them that "thrill". Unfortunately it's getting these kids getting sick. I asked a group of teens "Why is the consumption of all these generic dangerous drugs and poisons, so interesting when you know the repercussions?" This kid seriously responded "Because your generation wanted to be drunk, on drugs, and dirty and so driving is suicide and sex is not safe. We try to go out and play ball, we get shot, or get rapped, or on our computers harassed by grown-up pervs, thank you". Wow what a way to turn a table... That comment taught me a lesson that we must stop fearing the youth, and stop talking about them wishing their deaths, and talking at them. If your child is doing great be leader by helping there peers maybe become focused on their future and set good examples. I once read it takes a village to raise a child. Thanks for allowing me to share.

    And just to add, I have witness kids money being taking behind them giving it to adults to by liquor. I heard this guy say "serves them right!" Gone are those days. It's not just the youth all generations are drifting. Just look at some the comments that people posted about children on here.

    August 16, 2012 at 17:14 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.