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Alcohol and Health

Does Smelling Alcohol Help With Nausea?

April 26, 2024
16 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 26, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
April 26, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
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Smelling Isopropyl Alcohol For Nausea Relief

  • Many people swear by sniffing alcohol for nausea relief. But the science doesn’t quite support that claim.
  • Smelling rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol may help alleviate nausea for some people, but other remedies might be more effective.
  • Reframe can help you decrease nausea associated with alcohol use by helping you quit or cut back on alcohol.

No one likes the feeling of an upset stomach, and most of us will do just about anything to alleviate the pain and avoid throwing up. If you scan the web, you may find that people swear by sniffing alcohol to alleviate nausea. Is it true? Does it work? This article will walk you through everything you need to know about nausea, alcohol, and whether or not smelling alcohol for nausea works.

Nausea: Our Body’s Urge to Purge

A woman sitting on a couch, covering her mouth and looking nauseated

Nausea is that queasy or uneasy feeling we get in our stomach. The urge to vomit or an uncomfortable feeling in our throats often accompanies nausea. Vomiting or “throwing up” is when we forcibly empty the contents of our stomach through our mouth. Muscles in our stomach contract to propel the stomach’s contents through our esophagus and out. Nausea and vomiting are not a disease of their own but symptoms of different conditions. There are many reasons people experience nausea:

  • Illness such as stomach flu, certain viruses, or infections.
  • Food poisoning
  • Motion sickness, vertigo, migraines 
  • Pregnancy
  • Gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcers, gastritis, or gastroparesis
  • Intense pain 
  • Certain medications such as chemotherapy 
  • Overconsumption of alcohol

Vomiting and nausea are typically harmless, but in some cases, they can be a sign of something more serious such as encephalitis, meningitis, some cancers, heart attack, concussion or brain injury, brain tumors, bowel obstruction, or appendicitis. If you think you are experiencing something more serious than general nausea and vomiting, seek medical attention. 

Can Alcohol Cause Nausea? 

Yes! It is not uncommon for us to feel nausea after drinking alcohol. Vomiting is a common result of alcohol consumption. Why? Alcohol irritates the lining of our stomach and slows the rate of digestion, which leads to fat building up in our liver, stomach, and pancreas secretions. The toxins released as we consume alcohol alert the “vomiting center” in our brain — the area postrema. The brain senses these toxins and tries to rid the body of them by signaling us to throw up. 

So, if alcohol can cause nausea or make us throw up, how would smelling alcohol help us with it? 

Isopropyl Alcohol vs. Ethanol 

To answer that question, we have to understand the different types of alcohol: 

  • Isopropyl alcohol (IPA). IPA is synthesized from propylene, a derivative of petroleum. It is pure alcohol and has no other ingredients. It is often used as a disinfectant, antiseptic, and solvent. It can be found in rubbing alcohol, cleaning products, and personal care items. Drinking isopropyl alcohol can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or even death (if consumed in large amounts). 
  • Rubbing alcohol. The rubbing alcohol we keep in our medicine cabinets is simply IPA diluted with water. It is great for cleaning, but dangerous (and disgusting) to drink.

  • Ethanol. The alcohol we drink is made with ethanol. Ethanol is made out of sugar cane, wheat, or other plant-based sources through the fermentation process. It can also be used as a solvent in pharmaceuticals or personal care products.

When people recommend smelling alcohol to relieve nausea, they are not talking about sniffing an open bottle of vodka; they are talking about isopropyl alcohol (IPA). 

Smelling Alcohol for Nausea

But does it work? In some cases, a few big whiffs of rubbing alcohol can help alleviate nausea; however, there is limited scientific evidence to prove it.

One study found that isopropyl alcohol vapor aromatherapy provided faster relief of nausea and reduced the need for anti-nausea medications. Another study saw that inhaled isopropyl alcohol helped patients experiencing nausea in the emergency department. 

Although the limited evidence seems promising, there is still no guarantee that sniffing IPA will relieve our nausea. Furthermore, inhaling too much isopropyl alcohol can irritate or paralyze our respiratory system. We need to be careful when trying to use isopropyl alcohol to help with nausea and remember that it might not work for everyone. 

Why Does Smelling Alcohol Help With Nausea?

Smelling alcohol for nausea may work in some cases, but why? Since there has been limited research on this topic, we don’t know exactly how it can help with nausea. Some believe the strong smell of rubbing alcohol may be a distraction from our nausea. Another theory is that overloading our olfactory system (our sense of smell) overrides our senses and leads our brains to prioritize processing the strong scent over the feeling of nausea. 

Much of the evidence that smelling alcohol helps with nausea is found in anecdotal reports of people feeling better. With the limited research conducted, it is hard to conclude the true mechanism, but we know it works for some people.  

Alternatives To Help With Nausea

Smelling alcohol may not work for everyone, but other home remedies might help: 

  • Drink ginger or peppermint tea
  • Eat foods containing ginger
  • Use acupressure 
  • Sip cold water
  • Sit upright
  • Stay hydrated
  • Get fresh air 
  • Try acupuncture
  • Avoid alcohol

If nausea is persistent and home remedies do not help, seek medical attention. Physicians may suggest anti-nausea medications such as Ondansetron (Zofran), Metoclopramide, Olanzapine, or Promethazine. 

Key Takeaways

Sniffing alcohol might help with nausea, but it’s important to know the difference between isopropyl alcohol and the alcohol we drink (ethanol). We should not consume isopropyl alcohol, and sniffing ethanol won’t do anything. Still, the science behind nausea relief from sniffing IPA is unclear and unproven. Either way, quitting or cutting back on drinking alcohol (ethanol) can help us avoid nausea.

Summary FAQs

1. Does smelling alcohol help nausea?

For some people, smelling rubbing alcohol can help relieve their nausea, but it might not work for everyone. 

2. What is the difference between rubbing alcohol and isopropyl alcohol?

Isopropyl is 100% alcohol and rubbing alcohol is isopropyl alcohol but diluted with water or other chemicals. 

3. Is isopropyl alcohol safe for the lungs?

In large doses, isopropyl alcohol can paralyze the respiratory system. Repeated high exposure can cause dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness. In low quantities and at lower concentrations, it can be safe to inhale. 

4. How long do I sniff alcohol for nausea?

It is best to do three inhalations between two and four minutes, according to a study

5. Does alcohol make an upset stomach worse?

Drinking alcohol can irritate our stomach lining and produce more acid, making our stomach upset.  

Say Goodbye to Alcohol-Induced Nausea!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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