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The Newest Teen Fad: Drinking Hand Sanitizer

As parents, you know the dangers drugs and alcohol can cause for your teen. You caution them, have conversations with them, and stay connected to them. You pay attention and even know to warn your teens about prescription medication, huffing, and choking. But, the newest trend has thrown you for a loop. You wonder how something as simple and hygienic as hand sanitizer can send teens to the hospital with alcohol poisoning but you know the reality of this has caused a national media storm in recent weeks.

Without a single illegal ingredient, teenagers have found a way to practice basic chemistry and transform hand sanitizer into a drinkable solution. By mixing simple table salt with the sanitizer, it melts most of the gel solution, which can then be strained, leaving teens with a liquid that is almost 70 percent alcohol. This holds a similar potency to a shot or two of hard liquor. As with any sort of drink with that amount of liquor content, it does not take much for a teenager who has very little drinking experience to immediately feel the effects of the alcohol. Too often, just a few shots of this mixture can send a teen to the emergency room with alcohol poisoning.

It is nothing new for teens to look around the home in search of their next high. Some believe it is safer than ingesting illegal drugs. Some simply know better than to try and work with a drug dealer. Although documented cases already exist of previous teens trying to consume hand sanitizer, this is the first time cases have been reported that include the salt mixture to separate the alcohol. As more teens learn about the process, there is a legitimate concern that more will end up in the hospital as well.

What to Look For

Because this trend involves simple ingredients that can be found, or purchased anywhere, parents must be extra diligent regarding their children. Keep an eye out for any missing containers or amounts of hand sanitizer. Although difficult, the same must be said for the table salt. In addition, watch for new and frequent use of or the smell of hand sanitizer. After all, on their own without your prodding, how many teenagers are obsessive about cleanliness?

Signs of Alcohol Poisoning

It takes only a small quantity of the separated alcohol from the hand sanitizer for a teen to become drunk. With just a minute amount more, your child can be facing alcohol poisoning. Once alcohol has entered the blood stream, your teen's blood alcohol content can continue to rise even if they are no longer drinking or if they have passed out. If alcohol poisoning has begun, immediate medical attention will be needed. You must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of early alcohol poisoning to get them the help they need.

These signs include:

  • Mental confusion or disorientation
  • Inability to arouse or awaken the individual
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Slow, irregular, or shallow breathing
  • Pale skin or skin that has a blue tinge to it
  • Lack of reflexes or lack of responses to painful stimuli (such as a pinch)

Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning

The short term effects of alcohol can be devastating and life threatening. Your teen can stop breathing or choke on their vomit. Their heart can stop beating or severe dehydration can occur. Any one of these short term effects can cause your teen to lose their life. However, even if they are fortunate enough to live, they may be faced with the possibility of brain damage from lack of oxygen. Alcohol poisoning reacts significantly differently from a traditional hangover in that the body truly cannot metabolize the large amount of alcohol easily. It is possible to sleep off a hangover; however, that is the worst thing you can suggest if you suspect alcohol poisoning.

Precautions that Work

The best precaution when dealing with this new trend is open and honest communication with you teenager. You do not want your teen to hear about this for the first time when they are at a friend's house watching this cool experiment. Be honest and let them know what has occurred, how simple it can be to do this, and how a small amount of this liquid can cause severe problems including death. Of course, you know your teenager and their friends better than anyone. If you feel it is necessary, take stock of your hand sanitizer. You may want to treat it the same way you would other alcohol in your house. However you choose to handle the trend, the best defense is to always be proactive. You might just save your child's life.

Posted on May 9th, 2012
Posted in Teens

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