Alcohol Ingestion (Child)

Young children put everything in their mouths. Older children may consume substances out of curiosity. Children commonly swallow alcohol accidentally. 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 quickly. This can occur in less than 30 minutes. Alcohol affects the central nervous system. Symptoms can include confusion, vomiting, and seizures. The child may have trouble breathing and flushed or pale skin. Alcohol reduces the gag reflex. This can cause choking. Alcohol may also cause low blood sugar in children. This can result in a coma from the alcohol or the low sugar.

Ingestion may occur when alcoholic drinks are accidentally left out. But alcohol is also found in other liquids. Energy drinks, mouthwashes, some cold medicines, and hand sanitizers contain alcohol. So do colognes, perfumes, lotions, and some cleaning fluids. Small amounts of alcohol can cause symptoms in young children. Even inhaling rubbing alcohol can cause illness.

Children who have consumed alcohol need to be treated right away. Glucose may be given intravenously (IV). Sometimes the contents of the stomach are removed by using a tube. Children are observed until they recover. Some children may need further evaluation. If neglect is suspected, child protective services may be notified.

Prevention

  • Know which products in your home contain alcohol.

  • Keep all products containing alcohol out of your child’s reach. The best way to store these is to put them in locked cabinets. All products should be kept in their original, labeled containers.

  • Throw away unfinished alcoholic drinks. Avoid leaving them out on a counter.

  • Return all hazardous products, including those containing alcohol, to locked cabinets immediately after use.

  • Discard used containers where your child cannot retrieve them.

  • Teach your child the dangers of sampling any substance without your permission.

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. Post it near your phone. Call Poison Control and 911 right away if you suspect your child has ingested alcohol.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur.

  • 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

When to seek medical advice

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

  • Vomiting

  • Confusion

  • Giddiness, slurred speech, or inability to walk normally or think clearly

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© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.