In Detroit, Mich., a recent incident involving teens who drank large amounts of mouthwash to get drunk surprised even local coalition leaders. However, after investigating the matter, the Troy Community Coalition found that it was more common than they thought.
After being notified about the incident by the local school district, the Troy Community Coalition contacted the poison control center, where they were told that mouthwash ingestion is a common problem among teens in the metro Detroit area and throughout the country.
“I was aware that alcoholics sometimes drink mouthwash if they can’t get their hands on real alcohol, but I thought kids drinking it was an anomaly. It turns out it isn’t,” explained Ann Comiskey, Executive Director of the Troy Community Coalition. Local doctors, however, have not seen many cases of it.
The Troy teens drank the mouthwash after apparently seeing videos of people doing it on YouTube. But after becoming seriously ill, friends of the teens alerted authorities. Both teens were taken to the emergency room.
According to the poison control center, mouthwashes can contain up to 22 percent ethanol (40 proof), which is a higher percentage than in beer or wine. The type of alcohol used is “denatured,” meaning that there is an additive included to deter abuse. However, the denaturant typically used in mouthwash is methyl salicylate (oil of wintergreen), which does not have a bad taste. Teens, therefore, often dilute the mouthwash in juice.
The Troy Community Coalition is issuing an alert to parents informing them of the medical dangers of ingesting large amounts of mouthwash. For example, ingesting a 1.7 liter bottle of Listerine could produce a lethal peak alcohol level of 1,097 mg/dL in a person weighing 110 pounds.
Swallowing too much mouthwash can have serious side effects that require
emergency medical treatment. Symptoms of mouthwash overdose include:
- Breathing problems, such as deep breathing (which may be rapid), rapid shallow breathing, slowed breathing or cessation of breathing.
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea,and nausea and vomiting.
- Nervous system problems, such as coma, dizziness or drowsiness.
- Bluish skin (lips and fingernails); Collapse; Convulsions.
- Decreased blood pressure (hypotension).
- Decreased urination; Excessive sweating; Excessive thirst.
- Listing from side to side or inability to walk normally, and slurred speech.
For now, the Troy Community Coalition said alerting parents is the only step they’ll take on this issue since the number of kids ingesting mouthwash is not high enough to warrant much more. In Anchorage, Alaska, however, mouthwash abuse is such a problem that some stores have placed mouthwash containing alcohol behind the counter.
“Hopefully now, at least parents will be aware that this can happen, so they can talk to their kids about all types of alcohol abuse,” said Lori Podsiadlik, the Troy coalition’s program director.