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The Difference Between Isopropyl and Ethyl Alcohol and Methanol

Difference Between Isopropyl and Ethyl Alcohol | Just Believe Recovery PA

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All ethyl alcohol is alcohol, but the opposite is not true. Moreover, the terms “alcohol” and “ethanol” are not interchangeable, and ethanol is the only type of alcohol considered somewhat safe to drink. Ethanol is also sometimes referred to as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol. It is one member of a larger class of substances known as alcohol.

Methyl Alcohol and Isopropyl Alcohol

In addition to ethanol, two other alcohol forms commonly found are methyl alcohol (also known as methanol) and isopropyl alcohol (also known as isopropanol).

Methanol is a laboratory solvent, antifreeze agent, and fuel additive. Like other kinds of alcohol, it quickly absorbs through the skin. However, methanol is extremely toxic and can lead to central nervous system and organ damage if consumed in sufficient amounts. While trace amounts of methanol are found naturally in fruit juices, fermented alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages at non-toxic levels and not considered harmful, higher concentrations may be extremely toxic.

Isopropyl alcohol is a common household product known as rubbing alcohol that can help clean and disinfect hard surfaces. It is effective against the majority of pathogens and is also included in some hand sanitizers. When applied, isopropyl alcohol rapidly evaporates from the skin, producing a cooling sensation. Isopropyl alcohol is not as toxic as methanol and therefore is approved for topical use. However, isopropyl alcohol is not considered safe to drink.

The initial effects of drinking any of these alcohol forms are roughly the same but may vary in intensity. Still, only ethanol is relatively safe to drink recreationally, as long as it isn’t denatured or contaminated, or consumed in excessive amounts.

Dangers of Drinking Methanol

Although methanol can be found in antifreeze, varnishes, and other products for useful industrial applications, these substances are not usually consumed intentionally for intoxication purposes. Most of the time, methanol poisoning occurs due to the use of “adulterated, counterfeit, or informally produced spirit drinks,” as reported by the World Health Organization. In the U.S., we’d probably refer to it as “moonshine.”

Methanol toxicity can occur due to errors in the distillation process or when deliberately added to alcoholic beverages at excessive levels. As little as 10 mL of pure methanol when ingested can cause permanent blindness by destroying the optic nerve. 15 mL is potentially lethal, although the average potentially fatal dose is around 100 mL or 3.4 fl oz.

When ingested, the body breaks down methanol into the byproducts formaldehyde and formic acid, which in excessive amounts are toxic and potentially lethal. Methanol levels in the blood exceeding around 500 mg/L are considered highly toxic if left untreated.

Methanol poisoning symptoms can take some time to manifest. The consumed methanol must be metabolized, leading to a toxic accumulation of formic acid in the body. In the first few hours, an individual will experience drowsiness and feel disinhibited, but these symptoms will soon make way for more severe issues.

Difference Between Isopropyl and Ethyl Alcohol | Just Believe Recovery PA

The afflicted individual may experience the following:

  • Headache
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vertigo/dizziness
  • Severe breathing problems
  • Convulsions/seizures
  • Permanent blindness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Impaired coordination
  • Bluish lips and nails
  • Coma (unresponsiveness)
  • Jaundice
  • Pancreatitis

Unfortunately, most victims seek emergency medical care only after a significant delay due, in part, to the slow onset of symptoms, which contributes to the high mortality rate associated with this condition.

Dangers of Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol) is most commonly found in a colorless solution containing about 70% isopropanol and 30% water. It is described as having a mildly fruity odor and bitter taste. As noted, it is used in a wide variety of commercial products, including aftershaves, cosmetics, lotions, cleaners, disinfectants, etc.

Like methanol, this substance should not be ingested orally or inhaled in any significant amount, as this can lead to severe health problems up to and including death. Although most isopropanol exposures are unintentional and involve children under six years old, many purposeful isopropanol ingestion cases continue to be reported each year.

Causes of Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning

While the ingestion of isopropyl alcohol is never advised, an adult human body can withstand small amounts. If an individual is exposed to more isopropyl alcohol than their body can handle (an estimated 200 ml for an adult), toxicity can occur. Like other alcohols, an individual will probably feel and act drunk, and symptoms of poisoning can include the following:

  • Dizziness/vertigo
  • Low blood pressure
  • Abdominal pain
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Low body temperature
  • Throat pain
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unresponsive reflexes
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma

Dangers of Drinking Ethanol

Ethanol is usually safe to consume in moderation. However, it is one of the most common substances of abuse worldwide, and about 2,200 people per year will die in the United States each year due to alcohol poisoning. Millions more will die due to alcohol-related causes, including liver disease, heart disease, drunk driving, accidents resulting in injury, etc.

The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in the U.S. is .08%. While many people have survived a BAC well beyond .40%, this amount can prove fatal in many cases, resulting in severe central nervous system depression and death.

Difference Between Isopropyl and Ethyl Alcohol | Just Believe Recovery PA

General Effects at Various BAC Levels

0.020-0.039% – No loss of coordination, slight euphoria, mild disinhibition, and relaxation.

0.040-0.059% – Feelings of well-being or euphoria, relaxation, and lowered inhibitions. Some mild impairment of judgment and memory, reducing of caution.

0.06-0.099% – Slight impairment of balance, speech, vision, hearing, and reaction time. Euphoria and impaired judgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory.

0.100-0.129% – Significant loss of motor coordination and loss of judgment. In addition to impairments related to peripheral vision, reaction time, and hearing, slurred speech is possible.

0.130-0.159% – Gross motor impairment and lack of physical control. Blurry vision and significant loss of balance. Euphoria is subsiding, and dysphoria or feelings of unhappiness/unwellness take over.

0.160-0.199% – Dysphoria dominates. Nausea may appear. The person has the appearance of being a “sloppy” drunk.

0.200-0.249% – Needs support with walking, mental confusion. Dysphoria and confusion continue to increase, along with nausea and vomiting and possible blackout/memory loss.

0.250-0.399% – Alcohol poisoning and complete loss of consciousness.

0.40% – Onset of coma. Death is possible due to respiratory arrest.

Alcohol Poisoning

An overdose of ethanol, or alcohol poisoning, can include many of the symptoms seen in toxicities related to methanol and isopropyl. The most significant difference between ethanol and these other forms is the amount of the substance required to cause severe problems.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning may include the following:

  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Gurgling sounds
  • Seizures
  • Slowed or irregular breathing
  • Blue-tinged or pale skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Unconsciousness

Alcohol poisoning related to any of these forms is a medical emergency. If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing an overdose, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency department.

Getting Treatment for Alcoholism

Just Believe recovery is a specialized addiction treatment center that offers individuals a safe, comfortable environment to undergo detox and begin the road to long-term recovery and wellness.

Our programs include many therapeutic methodologies beneficial for recovery, including psychotherapy, group support, counseling, art and music therapy, aftercare planning, and more. Services we offer are delivered to those we treat by caring, highly-skilled medical and addiction professionals committed to helping the people who need it most get sober and begin to foster the happy and healthy life they deserve.

We Believe Recovery Is Possible For Everyone.
If you or a loved one needs help with substance abuse and/or treatment, please contact Just Believe Recovery PA at (888) 380-0342. Our specialists can assess your needs and help you get the treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.
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