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Surrogate alcohol is a term for any substance containing ethanol that is intentionally consumed by humans but is not meant for human consumption. Some definitions of the term also extend to illegally produced alcoholic beverages.
Consumption of such substances carries extreme health risks, both from the ethanol content and other more toxic substances that may be present. Users risk both acute poisoning from substances such as methanol, and chronic poisoning from substances such as lead.
Most people turn to these as a last resort either out of desperation, being underaged or being unable to afford consumable alcoholic beverages (with homeless alcoholics) or due to lack of access to drinking ethanol (for example with prison inmates and individuals in psychiatric wards).
Common surrogate alcohols
Many alcoholic liquids contain alcohol but are not meant to be ingested in the same way as alcoholic beverages. Typical surrogate alcohols include:
- Hand sanitizer
- Aftershave, perfume or cologne
- Cooking wine
- Cleaning fluids such as Windex
- Charcoal lighter fluid
- Rubbing alcohol
- Windshield washer fluid
- Denatured alcohol – ethanol rendered unfit to drink by mixing with methanol or bittering agents
- Moonshine and other homemade alcohols, including two or more of the above mixed together
- Liquid soap
- Ethanol fuel
Dangers to health
Most surrogate alcohols have very high alcoholic levels, some as high as 95%, and thus can lead to alcohol poisoning, along with other symptoms of alcohol intoxication such as vertigo, impaired coordination, balance and judgment, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and even long-term effects such as heart failure, stroke, and death.
Besides alcohol, there are many other toxic substances in surrogate alcohol such as hydrogen peroxide, antiseptics, ketones, as well as alcohols other than ethanol (drinking alcohol) such as isopropanol and methanol. Methanol, and to a far lesser extent isopropanol, is poisonous. The effect of other chemicals on health has not been adequately studied, and so the health risks are unclear. However, observations in countries with high consumption of surrogate alcohols, such as Russia, indicate that the impurities in the consumed drink lead to high mortality rates.
- Harm reduction#Alcohol
- Inhalant (marginalized individuals may also inhale gasoline or glue fumes)
- List of methanol poisoning incidents
- Lachenmeier, Dirk W.; Rehm, Jürgen; Gmel, Gerhard (October 2007). "Surrogate Alcohol: What Do We Know and Where Do We Go?". Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 31 (10): 1613–1624. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2007.00474.x.
- "Russian 'Surrogate' Alcohols Are A Killer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 October 2005. 
- "Vladimir Putin orders clampdown on 'surrogate' alcohol as deaths rise". The Guardian. 2016-12-21. Archived from the original on 2022-10-10.