With the COVID-19 pandemic on the rise, many people have been careful about washing their hands, whether it is with soap or hand sanitizer. A recent study in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism says that inhaling alcohol fumes from hand sanitizer can cause alcohol to reach the bloodstream. One man experienced the symptoms of a hangover that conflicted with the medication he was taking for alcohol dependence.


Disulfiram is a medication used to treat alcohol abuse disorder that causes hangover-like effects immediately after consuming alcohol. The drug causes unpleasant side effects like flushing, headache, nausea, vomiting, and increased heart rate. The effects last an hour and should stop people from drinking. When a person is exposed to alcohol, an organic compound known as acetaldehyde builds up in the system. The compound produces the symptoms commonly known as a hangover. Disulfiram works by blocking the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase, which rids the body of acetaldehyde.

Changes That Happened to the One Man Who Took Disulfiram After Using Hand Sanitizer

People who take disulfiram should avoid alcohol-containing products, as the smallest amount can lead to a negative reaction. Products to stay away from include some sauces, vinegar, cough syrup, and mouthwashes. People are also advised to avoid breathing in fumes that contain alcohol. A 43-year-old man who had been taking disulfiram was experiencing something that seemed like an allergic reaction after applying hand sanitizer, not realizing that most hand sanitizers contain 60% to 70% alcohol. The man was rushed to the emergency room where he experienced a fast heartbeat along with redness on his face and chest. 

How This Man was Treated For His Symptoms

The man was treated with an antihistamine and an injectable form of Vitamin C, which are some of the recommended treatments the reaction he was experiencing. He began to feel better in about an hour. Doctors warned him to stay away from sanitizer or stop using disulfiram. After a consultation, the man decided to stop using the medication temporarily since hand hygiene has become so important during the coronavirus pandemic. With soap and water not always available, using hand sanitizer is almost unavoidable. 

No one would have anticipated that this pandemic would make some people have to choose between continuing to take medication to control their alcohol dependency or being able to clean their hands using hand sanitizer. It is important to speak to an addiction specialist to learn how to control your medication during this pandemic.


Medication management has become more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic when unanticipated side effects such as interactions with fumes from hand sanitizer have been discovered. At Alta Loma, our seasoned physicians and knowledgeable, compassionate professionals will help you understand and manage potential adverse reactions to medications. Our all-male program, located just north of Austin in Georgetown, Texas, uses an integrative and holistic approach to treat the unique challenges of a dual diagnosis. If you are dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues, we can provide you with the supportive environment you need to gain emotional and psychological stability. Our team of experts will work with you to create a care plan tailored to your specific needs. We offer care for your mind, body, and spirit, so that you can look forward to a lifetime of sobriety and wellness. If you are ready to take the first step in your recovery, please call us at (866) 457-3843.