I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a bit of a nerd. While I may not enjoy parties and drinks like the average university student, I do find curling up in bed with a good textbook rather satisfying. Learning about the practical applications of science are incredibly rewarding—at least for me. Take, for instance, the study of organic chemistry. If you've ever wondered "Can you drink rubbing alcohol? Is it safe? I mean it's alcohol..." then I am pleased to inform you that science, once again, has the answer.

If you do not read to the end of this article, please note that the answer is NO.


An Intro to Organic Chemistry

Organic chemistry is considerably different than organic food, which has been grown without pesticides. In contrast, organic compounds consist of at least one molecule of carbon surrounded by hydrogen; various functional groups contribute to the molecules’ trademark characteristics. For example, if you add an oxygen and hydrogen combination (a hydroxyl group if you want to be technical) to a carbon chain, the molecule is now referred to as an alcohol.

Just to be crystal clear, the term ‘alcohol’ refers to a large class of compounds, not just whiskey, bourbon, and scotch.

What’s the Difference?

wine, tea, coffee
Jillian Rogers

Rubbing alcohol comes in two flavours—no pun intended. The first, pictured above, is isopropyl alcohol. The prefix ‘propyl’ means we’re dealing with a three-carbon chain with a hydroxyl group.

Feel like a chemist yet? You'd find isopropyl alcohol in hospitals on those disinfecting pads, in homes as a cleaner, and in the laboratory as a solvent. In addition to being metabolized differently by the body, products containing isopropyl alcohol also have added chemicals to make it taste and smell horrible. This prevents people from willingly consuming a glass of it.

The second type of rubbing alcohol is a potent combination of ethanol and water. “Ethyl” indicates a two carbon chain. Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) is the primary component of drinkable alcohol, except we're talking a mere 5% in a bottle of Coors' Light compared to 70-91% in rubbing alcohol. This type of rubbing alcohol is used to disinfect medical instruments and human skin by killing bacteria. It leaves a cooling sensation as it evaporates. 

What Happens if I Drink It?

Consuming isopropyl alcohol is no joke; there is a very high chance that YOU COULD DIE. Initially, the side effects of rubbing alcohol poisoning mimic those of a typical drunk person: dizziness, confusion, slurred speech, and nausea. However, rubbing alcohol poisoning can eventually lead to slow breathing, convulsions, rapid heartbeat, or even a coma. Long-term consumption can cause permanent blindness, internal burns, and nervous system impairments. #NotCool

Why would someone drink it in the first place? Like many solutions, rubbing alcohol looks identical to water; this is why it's important to keep chemicals away from young children. Drinking rubbing alcohol is also a common method of suicide.

If you suspect that you, a friend, or family member has isopropyl alcohol poisoning, call 911 and the Poison Control Centre immediately. Encourage them to drink lots of water to help flush out the poison, but do not induce vomiting! This could end up causing more harm than good by further burning their esophagus. 

What Can I Drink?

lemon, lime, herb, sweet, mint
Christin Urso

Thankfully, there are plenty of safe and tasty alcoholic beverages out there. Looking for something new and exciting? Check out these crazy concoctions. Can't stand the taste? Try one of these tips. Need to upgrade your drink game? Have no fear. Need something to warm you up on a chilly spring day? Check.

Even if you don't like science, you have to admit that it's pretty darn important in your everyday life. Promise me you will never, ever, drink rubbing alcohol. Go drink some alcoholic hot chocolate or try these cocktails instead.