Alcohols (Volatiles, Solvents)


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Subject: Alcohols (Volatiles, Solvents)

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  • Alcohols are organic compounds that contain the −OH group, including methanol (CH3OH), ethanol (ethyl alcohol; C2H5OH), isopropanol (rubbing alcohol), and methanol (wood alcohol). Although acetone (CH3COCH3) is a ketone, not an alcohol, it is included in this group, because it is often detected in the same testing methodology.

  • Normal range:

    • Ethanol: <10 mg/dL.

      • 50 mg/dL: decreased inhibition, slight incoordination

      • 100 mg/dL: slow reaction time; altered sensory ability

      • 150 mg/dL: altered thought processes; personality, behavior changes

      • 200 mg/dL: staggering gait, nausea, vomiting, mental confusion

      • 300 mg/dL: slurred speech, sensory loss, visual disturbance

      • 400 mg/dL: hypothermia, hypoglycemia, poor muscle control, seizures

      • 700 mg/dL: unconsciousness, decreased reflexes, respiratory failure (may also occur at lower concentrations)

    • Isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol): <10 mg/dL (normal); toxic effects generally seen at 50–100 mg/dL.

    • Methanol: <10 mg/dL (normal); levels >25 mg/dL are generally considered toxic.

    • Acetone: <10 mg/dL; effects are said to be similar to ethanol for similar blood levels, but the anesthetic potency is greater.


  • Beverage (ethanol)

  • Solvent and reagent

  • Vehicle in chemical and pharmaceutical industries

  • Antiseptic (isopropyl alcohol)


  • Immunoassay testing for ethanol may have cross-reactivity <1% with isopropanol alcohol, methanol, ethylene glycol, and acetaldehyde; <15% with n-propanol.

  • Elevated concentrations of acetone are detected in specimens during diabetic ketoacidosis and fasting ketoacidosis and may range from 10 to 70 mg/dL.

  • In many headspace gas chromatographic methods, acetonitrile coelutes with acetone, leading to a false-positive result. Acetonitrile may be a component in cosmetic nail remover.

  • A positive urine ethanol due to the presence of yeast in the patient's urine has been described. In these cases, glucose was also present in the urine.