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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Consequences of Inhaling Rubbing Alcohol?

01/06/2009

Question:

My mother is 55 year old diabetic, with renal insufficiency and taking medications for depression and has recently (in last 30 days) quit smoking. She had a small fracture to her nose last summer and was told by her Primary Care Physician to rub her nose with alcohol pads to help with the discomfort. Since then, she has been "sniffing" these pads 6-8 pads at a time (3-4 on each nostril) taking deep breaths several times a day. She gets very defensive when we talk to her about it. I have been looking online to see if there are any dangers with her habit and have not been able to find anything. In June she was told that she had some fibroid scarring in her lungs and when I told the pulmonologist that she was sniffing the alcohol pads he dismissed it as the cause of her scarring. This cannot be healthy what exactly is she doing to herself?

Answer:

Thank you for your question. As you can infer from your mother's response to your questioning this behavior, there is nothing normal about inhaling or "huffing" isopropal alcohol (rubbing alcohol).

Although it is different than ethyl alcohol (drinking alcohol), isopropal alcohol is a volatile liquid that vaporizes easily, can be absorbed across the lung membrane, and causes brain effects and other nerve effects.

The brain effects include dizziness and numbness with some altered perceptions. It appears that she has developed a liking of these feelings and is abusing the drug.

The major risks are nerve damage from continued exposure -- something that is already a risk in a person with diabetes. I hope this information is helpful.

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Response by:

Ted   Parran, MD Ted Parran, MD
Associate Professor of General Medical Sciences
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University