Alcohol Ingestion (Child)

Young children put many things in their mouths. Older children may consume substances out of curiosity. It's common for children to swallow alcohol by accident. Even a small amount of alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning in children. This can result in serious illness and sometimes death.

Children’s bodies absorb alcohol fast. This can happen in less than 30 minutes. Alcohol affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Symptoms can include confusion, vomiting, and seizures. The child may have trouble breathing and flushed (red) or pale skin. Alcohol reduces the gag reflex. This can cause choking. Alcohol may also cause low blood sugar in children. A coma can result from this low blood sugar or the alcohol itself.

A child may swallow alcohol when an alcoholic drink is left out by accident. But alcohol is also found in other liquids, such as:

  • Energy drinks

  • Mouthwashes

  • Some cold medicines

  • Hand sanitizers

  • Colognes and perfumes

  • Lotions

  • Some cleaning fluids

Small amounts of alcohol can cause symptoms in young children. Even inhaling rubbing alcohol can make a child sick.

Children who have consumed alcohol need to be treated right away. Glucose may be given through an IV (intravenous) line. Sometimes the contents of the stomach are taken out by using a tube. Children are watched until they get better. Some children may need more care. If neglect is suspected, child protective services should be told.

Prevention

  • Know which products in your home contain alcohol.

  • Keep all products with alcohol out of your child’s reach. Put them in locked cabinets. All products should be kept in their original, labeled containers.

  • Throw away unfinished alcoholic drinks. Don't leave them out on a table or counter.

  • Put all harmful products, including those containing alcohol, back into locked cabinets right after use.

  • Throw away used containers where your child can't get them.

  • Teach your child the dangers of tasting any substance without your approval.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider, or as advised.

Special note to parents

The National Poison Control Center phone number is 800-222-1222. Put this on speed dial on your phone. And also keep it posted in your home. Call Poison Control and 911 right away if you think your child has ingested alcohol. Have the following information ready when you call:

  • The name of the substance

  • How much is missing

  • How long ago it happened

  • The child’s age and weight

  • Whether the child is having any symptoms

  • Your phone number to stay in touch with you

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these happen:

  • Trouble breathing or slow, irregular breathing

  • Choking

  • Chest pain

  • Extreme drowsiness

  • Heavy bleeding or vomiting blood

  • Trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Seizure

Have the bottle, can, or container the child drank from available for the paramedics.

When to get medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if your child has any of these:

  • Alcohol on their breath

  • Vomiting

  • Confusion

  • Giddiness

  • Slurred speech

  • Inability to walk normally or think clearly

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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