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Latest drinking trend for teens: Distilling hand sanitizer

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

Easily accessible alcohol is dangerous

Teenagers have always been creative in their attempts to get high or drunk. Some teens are finding their latest high in a bottle that's become ubiquitous in our germ-fighting society — hand sanitizer.

Keep reading to find out more about this disturbing and dangerous trend.

Forget tapping someone on the shoulder at the convenience store and asking him to buy you beer — the latest teen drinking trend is available everywhere from preschools to your local grocery store. Hand sanitizer has joined the ranks of over-the-counter products teens are using to get drunk or high.

Read about another new drug trend >>

High alcohol content

Hand sanitizer has a very high alcohol content, is inexpensive and readily available for purchase. When distilled, hand sanitizer produces a 120-proof liquid, which is comparable to hard liquor. Instructions on how to distill hand sanitizer are easy to find online.

"All it takes is just a few swallows, and you have a drunk teenager," says Cyrus Rangan, director of the toxicology bureau for the L.A. County Public Health Department. "It is kind of scary that they go to that extent to get a shot of essentially hard liquor."

Concern

In recent weeks, six teenagers in southern California have wound up in emergency rooms with alcohol poisoning due to drinking hand sanitizer. Although there have only been a small number of cases so far, doctors are worried about this dangerous new cocktail becoming popular. "Hand sanitizer is not necessarily thought of as a 'gateway drug' like marijuana has been historically," says Rick Meeves, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist and director of Clinical Services for Adolescents for CRC Health Group. "But huffing or ingesting alcohol-based products can certainly lead to other abuses."

Hand sanitizer is just the latest over-the-counter item teens have used to get drunk. Add it to a list that includes vanilla extract, mouthwash and cough syrup. The problem with these easy-to-obtain items is it's difficult to regulate who is purchasing them.

How volunteering decreases substance abuse in teens >>

What you can do

"Parents, educators and interventionists must vigilantly observe, assess/question and warn teens of the dangers of all substance abuse," says Meeves. "It's not just a few brain cells they're killing — they can end up in the hospital or end up killing themselves. While huffing hand sanitizer may seem trendy now, there will likely be other household products added to the long list that has included gasoline, rubbing alcohol, magic markers, etc.

"More information, support and education can be found at SAMHSA.gov. Parents should read up on current trends and warn teens of the dangers."

The more we can educate ourselves and our teens about the dangers of substance abuse, the better chance we have to keep them healthy and safe.

More on teen health

The drug testing debate
How much sleep should your teen get?
Helping teens take responsibility for their health

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