Teens Drinking Hand Sanitizer: Anomaly or Dangerous New Trend?
Teens have found a new and dangerous way to get drunk—they’re drinking hand sanitizer, which is 62 % ethyl alcohol. 6 cases have been reported so far in emergency rooms in San Fernando Valley, California, according to a recent story in USA Today. This follows on the heels of teens eating “drunk gummy bears” at school (Gummy bears dipped in vodka), serping, or drinking cold syrup to “Robo-trip” and the “vodka eyeballing” trend that reportedly started in the UK.
Some teens drinking hand sanitizer have been using salt to separate the alcohol from the gel, creating "distilled" 120 proof liquor. Only a few cases have been reported so far, but it could signal another dangerous trend of alcohol consumption by adolescents. A small amount, akin to a few drinks, typically causes a person's speech to slur and stomach to burn, making kids so dangerously intoxicated that they need to be monitored in the emergency room.
According to an interview in the LA Times, Cyrus Rangan, the Director of Toxicology for the County Public Health Department and a medical toxicology consultant for Children's Hospital Los Angeles, “All it takes is just a few swallows and you have a drunk teenager. There is no question that it is dangerous. It is kind of scary that they go to that extent to get a shot of essentially hard liquor." Why are these trends happening, and why are teens drinking more potent alcohol these days to begin with? Many experts site pressure (both academic and peer) and availability as the leading culprits. The average age in North America when boys start drinking is now 11, and 13 for girls. A high number of teens and pre-teens are binge drinking, which is defined as consuming 4~5 or more drinks of any alcohol in one setting. In an article in Empowering Parents called Teens, Alcohol and Binge Drinking, Dick Schaefer, an addiction counselor and the author of Choices and Consequences: What to Do When a Teenager Uses Alcohol/Drugs, says that kids are also into the newer, flavored hard liquors the alcohol industry is producing. “And they’re not sipping—they’re gulping it down like soda,” says Schaefer. “The kids I see at the addiction treatment center tell me they drink every weekend, and they get drunk each time. For many of them, that’s their goal.” He maintains that alcohol is the top risk for teens and pre-teens when it comes to substance abuse, and the Surgeon General calls it “The drug of choice for teens in America."