What is the prevalence of ethanol alcohol toxicity?

Updated: Jan 05, 2021
  • Author: Michael D Levine, MD; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
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In 2019, 7937 single exposures to ethanol in beverages, with 353 major outcomes and 53 deaths, were reported to US Poison Control Centers. There were 2162 non-beverage single exposures, with 7 major outcomes and no deaths. Ethanol-based hand sanitizers accounted for 19,273 single exposures, with 53 major outcomes and  no deaths, and ethanol-containing mouthwashes accounted for 4771 single exposures, with 32 major outcomes and no deaths. [12]

Ethanol poisoning is typically caused by high-intensity binge drinking (ie, consumption of a very large amount of alcohol during an episode of binge drinking). Approximately 38 million US adults report binge drinking an average of four times per month and consuming an average of eight drinks per episode. In 2010–2012, an annual average of 2,221 ethanol poisoning deaths (8.8 deaths per 1 million population) occurred in persons aged ≥15 years in the United States. Of those deaths, 1,681 (75.7%) involved adults aged 35–64 years, and 1,696 (76.4%) involved men. [13]

Although many patients present with ethanol intoxication as their sole issue, many other patients have ethanol intoxication as part of a larger picture. Thus, the morbidity is often from coingestants or coexisting injuries and illnesses.

Long-term use results in hepatic and gastrointestinal injuries. Coma, stupor, respiratory depression, hypothermia, and death can result from high concentrations of acute ethanol intoxication. Chronic alcoholics, as well as children, are at risk for hypoglycemia.

The World Health Organization estimates that in 2016, ethanol use resulted in about 3 million deaths (mostly in men), or 5.3% of all deaths around the world—more than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, or diabetes. Of alcohol-related deaths, 28%  were due to injuries (eg, from traffic accidents, self-harm, and violence), 21% inivolved digestive disorders, and 19% involved cardiovascular diseases. [14, 15]

Toxicity from ingestion—intentional and unintentional—of alcohol-based hand sanitizer has risen markedly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Kingdom alone saw a 157% increase, from 155 to 398 cases, in alcohol-based hand sanitizer poisonings reported to the National Poisons Information Service between January 1 and September 14, 2020, compared with the same period of the previous year. [16]

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