A man wondering, "What is a meth drinker?"

What Is a Meth Drinker?

Alcohol is destructive as it is—although if you decide to attend an alcohol rehab center, you can head toward recovery. However, if you’re a meth drinker, you may be in particular danger of serious injury or death before you make that critical decision. What is a meth drinker, and why is meth drinking so dangerous? Here’s what you need to know.

Ready to make a change? All it takes is a single phone call. Reach out to Promises at 844.875.5609 to speak with an admissions counselor today.

What Is a Meth Drinker?

The phrase “meth drinker” might make you think of drinking methamphetamines (or drinking alcohol while also taking methamphetamines). However, the “meth” in the phrase doesn’t have to do with methamphetamines at all. It refers to methylated spirits, which are also known as methanol.

Methanol (chemical formula CH3OH) is a type of alcohol that’s different from the alcohol in most alcoholic beverages. When people talk about drinking alcohol, they generally mean ethanol (chemical formula CH3CH2OH), which is the type of alcohol in beer, wine, and liquor.

Methanol isn’t typically used for drinking. Instead, it’s primarily used to make various solvents, antifreeze, and even alternative fuels. It can be found in several ordinary household products:

  • Canned heat
  • Paint thinner
  • Varnish
  • De-icing fluid
  • Windshield wiper fluid
  • Fluids for copy machines

However, it’s sometimes illegally added to alcoholic beverages to make them stronger. People who distill their own spirits can also mistakenly create methanol instead of ethanol.

Why Is Being a Meth Drinker So Dangerous?

When you drink ethanol, your body turns it into a compound called acetaldehyde (and later to acetate). These compounds are toxic, but their toxicity pales in comparison to methanol’s toxicity. If you drink methanol, your body converts it to formaldehyde and then formic acid. These compounds can cause blindness. 

If you drink enough methanol, formic acid can also cause a fatal level of acid in your blood—a condition called metabolic acidosis.

Here’s what makes drinking methanol so dangerous: even a tiny amount can kill you. According to the Methanol Institute, drinking as little as 0.7 to 3.0 ounces can be fatal. To put that in perspective, a standard “shot” of liquor is 1.5 ounces.

What Are the Symptoms of Methanol Poisoning?

If you consume too much methanol, you might start to experience symptoms of methanol poisoning:

  • Poor coordination
  • Decreased vision
  • Blindness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea 
  • Confusion
  • Headache

The One/Two Punch of Methanol Poisoning

Methanol poisoning can be difficult to spot because symptoms usually come in two waves. Right after you drink methanol, you might experience relatively mild symptoms. You might not think they’re significant at all. The first wave of methanol poisoning symptoms is usually less severe than what you’d feel if you drank a similar amount of ethanol.

Those mild, early symptoms subside, so you might think you’re in the clear. However, roughly 10–30 hours later, a second wave of more severe symptoms arises. This is when you may experience partial or total vision loss, metabolic acidosis, and even brain hemorrhaging. 

If you don’t get treatment at this point, you’re at risk of dying of respiratory failure. Methanol poisoning is usually treated with an antidote. However, if a medical antidote isn’t available, drinking ethanol will also work.

That might seem counterintuitive. Why would drinking another type of alcohol treat methanol poisoning? Ethanol stops methanol from turning into formic acid, which is the metabolite that makes methanol so deadly.

Reach Out to Promises Today for Alcohol Rehab

If you’re suffering from a substance use disorder, you might feel like there’s no way out. At Promises, our compassionate staff members will work with you to overcome substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health diagnoses. Reach out to Promises today at 844.875.5609 to talk to a dedicated admissions counselor.

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