Activated charcoal in oral ethanol absorption: lack of effect in humans

J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1986;24(3):225-34. doi: 10.3109/15563658608990460.


Activated charcoal has been recommended for use in poisonings by ethanol, other toxic alcohols and glycols, but it has been avoided with therapeutic use of oral ethanol. Six healthy young adults drank a dose of ethanol designed to give a peak concentration of 125 mg/dl on two different days after overnight fasting. Each individual drank the same dose on both occasions; but on one of these days, the subjects drank an aqueous slurry of 60 g of superactive charcoal prior to ethanol ingestion. We compared the pharmacokinetic profile of ethanol with and without activated charcoal treatment. The fraction of ethanol absorbed was similar on both protocols. The mean peak ethanol concentration after pretreatment with activated charcoal was 8% greater than ethanol alone (p = 0.08). Thus oral activated charcoal does not significantly impair ethanol absorption and can be used in patients requiring oral ethanol. Our results do not support the use of activated charcoal in overdose of ethanol alone. Extending our results to poisonings by other toxic alcohols and glycols, the use of activated charcoal to reduce their absorption deserves evaluation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adsorption
  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / drug therapy*
  • Breath Tests
  • Charcoal / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Evaluation
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Male


  • Charcoal
  • Ethanol