The problem of underage drinking is something parents have always had to worry about. But now, there's a new reason to be concerned: For a growing number of teenagers, the drink of choice is now hand sanitizer! And thanks to videos being posted online, the peculiar practice is spreading across the country.
Wayne Seomo is the program director at Teen Challenge, a drug rehab center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
"Some of them have had some very ill effects. It's not just because of the alcohol, but the other ingredients can cause some harmful effects," says Seomo.
According to experts, the side effects include violent diarrhea, a dangerous drop in blood sugar, and even blindness.
As videos posted on YouTube clearly show, some teens will drink the common cleansing gel right out of the bottle. But others apparently have a more refined taste and distill the alcohol from the other ingredients. A dash of salt is all it takes to turn anti-bacterial goo into an intoxicating liquor.
Angela Aiello is a psychotherapist who specializes in teen addiction.
"Once you distill it down, you have alcohol that can be as high as 120-proof. That is incredibly dangerous for anybody of any size to put into their system," she explains. "These are troubled kids, because what is it that leads a child to take something as deadly and as toxic as hand sanitizer, distill it down and drink it in order for them to have an experience of being high?"
Aiello says as strange as it may seem, hand sanitizer is the latest gateway drug.
"It is extremely important to catch this as soon as possible," says Aiello.
But it's also important, she says, to take the right approach so the intervention is effective.
"You want to keep the hysterics down to a very bare minimum, because what you want to do is have an honest, frank and age-appropriate discussion with your child about the dangers of using drugs and alcohol," says Aiello.
Drug prevention programs sponsored by local police departments are excellent resources, so you can present your child with accurate information.
"As a parent, you have to be equipped with your own research before you sit down and have a conversation, so you have all your facts straight and you're able to answer all of his questions honestly and without judgment," says Aiello.
So if you discover your teenager's idea of fun is getting wasted on hand sanitizer, waste no time in talking with them about it. Because if your son or daughter is drinking germ-killing cleansers, you have a child with possibly more than just a drinking problem.
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