Relapsing on Mouthwash

After struggling for quite some time, Mary managed to accumulate 6 solid years of continuous sobriety. She had worked hard to stay sober and to humble herself – she spent tireless shifts waiting tables, saving nearly every dollar she earned until she was able to purchase a home. She went back to culinary school, having discovered a newfound enthusiasm for the passion she had deserted long ago. Soon she had her own business in the works, a catering service she ran by herself out of a neatly decorated van. She had business cards made and a chef’s jacket embroidered with her name. Life was good, and complacency began to settle in slowly. Mary went to fewer meetings and spent less time helping those newer in the program than she – business was booming and there seemed no real reason to dedicate valuable time to something she clearly had under control.

Relapsing on Mouthwash is Disturbingly Common

One morning, Mary was getting ready to meet with a potential new client. She was finishing up her morning ritual – brush, rinse, shower – when some of the Listerine she kept on her sink and swished with daily accidentally made its way down her throat. At first she choked, not sure what had happened and taken aback by the overwhelming taste. Suddenly a warm, familiar sensation crept over her. She hesitated for a moment before taking another swig straight from the bottle. The familiarity was too comforting to deny. Before she knew quite what had happened, she had finished nearly half the bottle. She got into her van and drove to the meeting, feeling calm, confident, and slightly confused.

Mary continued drinking mouthwash, up to five bottles a day, for the next year. She picked up her 7-year medallion, convincing herself that it wasn’t really alcohol; it wasn’t really a relapse. It wasn’t really an issue. Deep down, buried beneath the delusions and the lies, she felt ashamed and estranged. She didn’t realize that relapsing on mouthwash was a disturbingly prevalent issue until she checked herself back into inpatient rehab for six months.

Listerine is More Potent Than Many Alcoholic Beverages

Listerine, the most frequently sold brand of mouthwash, contains 26.9% alcohol – making it more potent than beer, wine, and even some liquors. Manufacturers use alcohol in their products because it helps penetrate and dissolve oral plaque, and dilutes other key ingredients helping to form a consistent mixture. The inclusion of several dangerous (if ingested) chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide and methanol make consuming mouthwash in large quantities potentially lethal. 10-15% of alcoholics who are currently in detoxification for alcohol abuse will admit to having used non-beverage alcohol such as mouthwash in moments of desperation. Seeing as alcohol is such a prevalent beverage throughout the country, it may seem odd that anyone would choose a bottle of Listerine over a fifth of Jack Daniels mixed with coke. There are several reasons as to why an alcoholic may use mouthwash or any other non-beverage type of alcohol over a popularly consumed booze product.

  • Mouthwash is easy to conceal.

For one who has openly struggled with alcohol abuse previously, friends and family members may be less likely to notice if their loved one has been drinking mouthwash than liquor. If someone you know has been struggling with alcoholism suddenly has super fresh breath every day all the time, this may be a red flag.

  • Restrictions do not apply.

In most stores, an individual who looks under the age of 21 will not be carded when purchasing dental hygiene supplies. Additionally, mouthwash can be purchased at any hour of the day, while alcoholic beverages can only be purchased before a certain time in the majority of states.

For alcoholics like Mary, convincing yourself that drinking mouthwash is easier than dealing with the overwhelming and instantaneous feelings of guilt and shame that would come with relapsing at a local bar. It is important to remember that addiction is a tricky disease, and a disease of the mind – and logic hardly comes into play.

Relapsing on mouthwash is far more prevalent than one may think. And consuming large amounts of mouthwash may be more immediately harmful than picking up a bottle of liquor based on the combination of chemicals used in production. If someone you know has been acting suspiciously and you believe they may have been using a non-beverage form of alcohol, feel free to contact one of our trained addiction specialists to find out what steps to take to get them the help they need.

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