Abusing inhalants and solvents like antifreeze, a liquid that is used in engines to prevent freezing, is not uncommon among teens. These substances tend to be common household items, so teens can find them at home or purchase them legally and for a minimal price. Just because these are not illegal substances does not mean they are not harmful. Antifreeze can easily poison and kill someone. These substances are not intended to be consumed or inhaled.
Those who abuse antifreeze do so by drinking it. Children and dogs sometimes drink antifreeze without intending to do themselves any harm. They drink it because it tastes sweet. The sweetness is the ethylene glycol. Some people also drink it to commit suicide or to attempt suicide. And sometimes teenagers drink it to become intoxicated. The effects of drinking ethylene glycol are similar to drinking alcohol. Some containers of antifreeze contain a bitterant, which is a substance that is meant to deter anyone from drinking it. It turns the sweet taste of the antifreeze into something more bitter.
Some of the signs that someone is intoxicated from drinking ethylene glycol include:
- Drunkenness – The earliest signs of intoxication include anything that could be described as drunk. The person may be slurring speech, stumbling, acting boldly, or behaving differently from normal.
- No alcohol smell – If someone appears to be drunk, but does not have a smell of alcohol about them, antifreeze toxicity is a definite possibility.
- Breathing – Someone who is being poisoned by ethylene glycol will begin to breathe rapidly. Their heartbeat may also become rapid.
- Urine – Ethylene glycol affects the kidneys and bladder, so an intoxicated person might be unable to urinate or may have blood in their urine.
- Muscles – The affected person may experience muscle cramps and achy joints.
- Severe effects – After symptoms of drunkenness appear, other more serious symptoms could begin to show. The person may begin to feel nauseated, they may vomit and convulse. Their lips and nails may turn blue. They could go into a stupor and even fall into a coma.
Consuming antifreeze is extremely dangerous. Teenagers and children may not realize how toxic ethylene glycol really is and that it is much more poisonous than ethanol, which is the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages. Ethylene glycol is a toxin and causes damage to the nervous system, the heart, and the kidneys, in that order. If enough is consumed, coma and death are a real possibility.
Although fatalities are very possible with consumption of antifreeze, poisoning by ethylene glycol can be treated and reversed. It is very important for this reason to get help immediately if you suspect someone has drunk ethylene glycol. Get emergency help if you see any of the symptoms above.