Can using hand sanitizers get you drunk?
Not a chance. But when used in excess, they might make your body appear so on one kind of alcohol test, says one study.
In the experiment, 11 participants used the hand sanitizer Purell once every five minutes during three 10-hour days. After taking twice-a-day urine tests and abstaining from drinking alcohol, all but one of the participants "failed."
The average person may not use that much hand sanitizer, but the work environments of many medical professionals rely on the product for sanitation between treating patients, especially when people don't have access to a sink with soap. It's also true that employers of these professions may subject employees to alcohol tests on a regular basis.
The research was inspired by previous reports of pharmacists and nurses losing their licenses because of failing these tests. One nurse from Pennsylvania placed responsibility on hand sanitizers for her failed test, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Since urine tests span beyond recent consumption measured by breathalyzers, they are often used in professional settings. Specifically, the compounds ethyl glucuronide (EtG) and ethyl sulfate (EtS) remain in the body longer than ethanol (alcohol), which makes them helpful indicators to measure whether a person has had an alcoholic beverage in previous days. On average, these compounds can remain in urine for more than 100 hours after a person drinks, the authors write.
Despite the compounds' utility, opinions vary on how much of each is required to accuse a person of consuming alcohol. As apparent in the study, there's also concern about using EtG, since it may be present in urine for other reasons. As pointed out in another WSJ article on the issue, consuming expired apple juice can produce the same EtG signature in urine alcohol tests. And in the current study, hand sanitizers appeared to raise EtG levels as well.
The problem stems from not performing careful trials with the tests before introducing them for use.
Researchers suggest redefining the thresholds for specific biomarkers to reduce the chances of false positive tests among people who did not consume alcohol but were exposed to ethanol in other forms.
EtS, which did not rise among participants in the study, might be a valuable indicator of alcohol consumption if more research confirms its accuracy. The authors suggest using the ratio of EtG to EtS to prevent falsely accusing people of alcohol consumption.