Blame the Listerine?

listerine bottleThere was a weird -- and sad -- story in the TU today about a guy in Rensselaer County who failed a court-ordered sobriety test -- and his attorney blamed... Listerine.

The excuse apparently didn't go over well with the judge. And it seems laughable. But it got us wondering: is apparent-intoxification via mouthwash possible?

Well, first off, Listerine is about 27 percent alcohol. So, the idea isn't totally crazy.

The test the man failed involved one of those breath-analyzing machines (the term Breathalyzer is actually a brand name and only one version of the device). These machines measure blood alcohol levels by analyzing the alcohol that's evaporating out of the blood from the tiny sacs the lungs use to mix oxygen and blood.

Of course, that evaporated alcohol has to travel up from the lungs and out a person's mouth. And that's where things can apparently get a little mixed up. If there's alcohol in a the mouth -- from, say, mouthwash -- the machine can read that, too.

A study first reported in 1985 looked at the effects of Listerine usage on these tests. It found that people tested right after using Listerine scored almost lethal alcohol levels. And after five minutes, people were still registering illegal levels. The effect seemed to pretty much be gone after 10 minutes.

So, bottom line: it sounds like it's possible Listerine could influence a sobriety test -- but only if you swished it a few minutes before blowing into the machine. After that, the excuse kind of... stinks.

One sure way for the mouthwash to cause a failed test: drinking it (which, of course, you should not do). A few years back a woman in Michigan pleaded guilty to DUI after she told police she had drunk three glasses of Listerine.

photo: by Flickr user √oхέƒx™


"A few years back a woman in Michigan pleaded guilty to DUI after she told police she had drunk three glasses of Listerine."... True, but that was my ex-mother-in-law from Oklahoma...

I swear they did that on Mythbusters but I can't remember what the outcome was. I'm pretty sure just about all of the "alcohol myths" in that episode were busted though.

I seem to recall Steven King saying 'You don't drink the Listerine. Every drunk knows that. Scope tastes much better' in an interview.

@summer: yes there was a Mythbusters episode, but the other way around if I recall; they were trying to find a way to hide their alcohol level, not to trigger false positives. And you are right, they busted it, they couldn't conceal they were drunk.

@S.- that's right. I knew there was Listerine and a breathalyzer involved. OT, the beer-goggle bit was hilarious.

Listerine is 26.9% alcohol, about 54 proof, so yes, it won't make you a happy drunk, but it will impare you, and absolutely show up on an alcohol test.

If you took the test with some in your mouth at the time, you would register as dead drunk.

On the mythbusters episode, to see whether listerine would fool an alcohol test, the outcome was that they actually blew .03 HIGHER, than before.

I like that Tom's of Maine brand mouthwash, which is alcohol-free.

I used to be a breath alcohol technician. One of the requirements is that if the first test is failed, then another is administered in 15 minutes. While alcohol based mouthwash or sprays can give a false positive, it dissipates rather quickly. If the BAT who was administering his test did not give the second test, I can see that as an argument, but anyone who is a professional would have done so.

It happened to me. Got pulled over by the cops after trying to overtake a slow vehicle, so that I could get to a job interview on time. (I live in the middle of nowhere - you get stuck behind a dump truck on a one-lane road, and a 10 minute trip turns into a 60 minute slog.)

Had used Listerine just before I left the house, for minty interview confidence, and so the cops arrested me after they pulled out the breathalyzer. Complete ignored my mouth wash claim. Then, because they'd 'got' me for DUI, they tried to pin some other quota-meeting crimes on me too, like charging me with my tyre iron being an 'offensive weapon'.

20 minutes later they did a second BAT test in the precinct and my 'blood alcohol' was back to normal. By the time they released me uncharged, the job interview was long over. Unsurprisingly for cops, they didn't apologise.

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