Q. We are at a stand-off with our son. During his 8-day visit over the holidays, he used 3 1/2 bottles (1.5 liters each) of Listerine. We are concerned because it contains alcohol.

Our son went through detox treatment four years ago. He refuses to attend AA meetings where he lives. His other addiction is nicotine (in snuff).

He tells us he only rinses his mouth with Listerine after he finishes the snuff, but we have seen so many changes in his behavior (abusive language, attitudes, unsteady walk and speech) that we are convinced he must be ingesting the mouthwash.

Please write about repercussions from the misuse of Listerine.

A. No one could use more than 5 liters (5.5 quarts) of Listerine in eight days purely as a mouthwash. If your son followed the directions on the label to rinse with 2/3 of an ounce morning and night, one bottle should have lasted him over a month. The maker of Listerine states unequivocally, “Do not swallow.”

Listerine lists alcohol as an “inactive” ingredient (26.9 percent). It also contains eucalyptol, menthol, thymol and methyl salicylate (oil of wintergreen). Methyl salicylate can be toxic if taken internally. Combined with the alcohol, it might account for the symptoms you observed.

Your son needs professional help. There are several prescription drugs to help overcome alcohol and nicotine addictions (ReVia or Campral for alcohol; Zyban or Chantix for nicotine).

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  1. Shelley
    Nelson BC

    My boyfriend just came out of jail for 6 months for stealing mouthwash and now he’s drinking it again I don’t know what to do anymore I love him so much I can’t lose him again. He says mean things about me and I know he’s doesn’t mean it he doesn’t remember but I do and it stays in my head

  2. Clare

    My partner recently came out of rehab & started drinking again with one beer then straight back to the mouthwash & I’m so worried for his mental & physical health I don’t know what to do anymore. He doesn’t remember anything so talking to him is pointless as the next day is like nothing happened & I’m left remembering it all. He’s been in rehab 7 times goes to daily drug & alcohol counseling Monday to Wednesday (not AA), sees a psychiatrist regularly takes ADs & naltrexone but not AA.

    I’m losing hope that he’s ever going to change but I can’t give up on him so I know how each of you feel. Everyday I want to give him a chance & everyday he proves why I shouldn’t I feel like a fool… not to mention that I have my own mental health problems to deal with. I believe mouthwash shouldn’t be available on the shelf given its high alcohol content & low price it should only be sold in pharmacies & should be behind the counter if items containing pseudo ephedrine are so restricted why isn’t mouthwash? If anyone has advice on where to seek help I would greatly appreciate it I’m running out of options…

  3. AS

    I researched this just today. My husband has gone through super large amounts of listerine recently. 4- 1.0 Liter bottles in just 4 days.
    I asked if he was drinking it (harmlessly I thought, but caused a big explosion).
    I’ve been quietly observing the last few days. He goes to the bathroom constantly and comes back smelling like listerine. He’s even getting out of bed during the night and returns to bed smelling like listerine.
    I’m very concerned, but afraid to bring it up again also.
    Your concern is justified. Drinking Listerine can be very dangerous. Your husband needs help.

  4. sa

    I was going through the same thing myself. If your friend is covering up drinking I think it’s time for some tough love. That is what opened my eyes. Let him know he will lose all his friends by continuing to do this, and that he should not waste the treatment he is given. Not everyone makes it that far…

  5. TheInaneMouse

    Like my doctor says, ANYTHING medicinal has the ability to be abused. Please DO be concerned for your son as this sounds like a horrible situation for you as parents; but also, try to see it from his point of view – ask him WHY he is doing this – maybe he needs some sort of help he didn’t think you could offer etc. You need to get to the root to fix an addiction. Good luck, and do anything BUT be mad at him cuz that only exacerbates these things.
    God bless.

  6. Ll

    I am sure that my friend who’s going thru treatment right now is drinking listerine. His anger and paranoia has returned and he goes thru a large bottle every couple of days. I thought he was trying to hide drinking alcohol but I think it’s in the listerine. He reeks of it, and is really scaring me! Comments welcome, HELP!

  7. Judy

    As a recovering alcoholic, I rememeber the phase I went through when I ingested large amounts of Listerine (or generic). My insanity led me to believe that no one would smell it; they would only think I had good breath. Little did I know the stuff would come out my pores… and I developed horrible rashes on my arms, probably from the camphor or menthol. Trust me, drinking this stuff will only hurt you, and everyone will notice it, even if you think you’re getting away with something.

  8. Deb

    I think you have reason to be concerned. Anything with any amount of alcohol should be avoided. My son is also a recovering alcoholic. All the behaviors you mentioned are definitely signs of abuse. It’s a difficult situation for a parent, but I think he needs to be confronted, lovingly of course, so he knows he’s not fooling anyone. As hard as it is, one of the things we need to remember is someone who uses becomes very good at deception. My prayers are with you.

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