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Young Children Love Getting Drunk on Hand Sanitizer

According to one report, American children are getting sloshed off hand sanitizer four times as much as they were just five years ago.
Photo via Flickr user Wil Taylor

To many kids, booze is booze. If you can't get your hands on a bottle of Louis XIV as a 14-year-old, a sun-bleached bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade found in the woods near your house will do just as well. Purell, though its marketed use is to kill germs, just sounds like a cheaper and more readily available form of hooch than, say, Smirnoff.

And that's the problem: According to one report, American children are getting drunk off hand sanitizer like they never have before.


Sure, urban legends and even a few cringe-worthy YouTube videos have suggested that downing a bottle of sanitizer is an economical and easy way to get drunk. But the problem is that many brands of hand sanitizer contain isopropyl alcohol, which is not the same stuff as what's in your dad's prized bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. They'll both get you drunk, but the former is more likely to cause blindness, organ damage, and death.

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While you might expect that this is all simply the hijinks of ne'er-do-well teens—the same group of daredevils who like to prove their mettle with displays of idiocy like the "cinnamon challenge"—even younger children are falling off the wagon and into a puddle of boozy sanitizer.

CNN reports that a six-year-old Georgia girl was recently treated for alcohol poisoning after ingesting "three or four squirts" of hand sanitizer that she thought tasted like strawberry, rendering her into a miniature slurring town drunk. At the emergency room, doctors found that she had a blood-alcohol level of .179—twice the legal limit for an adult.

Since 2010, poison control centers have seen a 400 percent increase in calls related to young children drinking hand sanitizer. The director of the Georgia Poison Center, Dr. Gaylord Lopez, told CNN that 3,266 hand sanitizer cases involving young children were reported to poison control centers in 2010, versus a whopping 16,117 cases in 2012.

"A kid is not thinking this is bad for them," Lopez said. "A lot of the more attractive (hand sanitizers) are the ones that are scented. There are strawberry-, grape-, orange-flavored hand sanitizers that are very appealing to kids."

And when you're too young to know your limits, the appeal of a swill of Bath and Body Works hand cleaner can sometimes override your parents' instructions to not touch anything under the sink.

Maybe if people weren't so obsessed with having their hands smell like funnel cake and Skittles, this wouldn't be such a growing issue. Dangers lurk everywhere—lest we need to mention the Wisconsin father who accidentally mixed vodka into his six-week-old baby's formula last week—but perhaps we should reconsider our need to make poison smell like candy.