by Darcy McConnell, M.E.d, LPC, LADCWorking with so many young people there is little that surprises me about their drug and alcohol abuse. However, about two weeks ago I was taken back when a teenager told me about a party where she was introduced to smoking alcohol. Yes, I know it seems like a concept that doesn’t sound quite right but seems to be a trending avenue for getting high that poses a huge danger for anyone who tries it.
After some research I would like to pass on the information to parents and friends who may be able to intervene and educate others about this dangerous behavior.
Traditional forms of alcohol can be converted into an inhalable vapor in three different ways.
Dry Ice: This method consists of pouring the alcohol over dry ice in a thermos-type mug and inhaling it directly through the mouth opening or by using a straw.
DYI Vapor Kit: This method calls for using a bike pump and a container that can be corked. Wine and 2 liter soda bottles are most commonly used in this method. The needle is inserted into the top of the cork allowing the air to be pumped directly into the sealed container. With the alcohol of choice resting in the bottom of the bottle, the pressure from the incoming air vaporizes the alcohol which is then inhaled upon removal of the cork.
In 2004, the U.S. saw a brief emergence of the trend with the availability of the AWOL (Alcohol Without Liquid) device, but the product was quickly banned in the U.S. and lost its publicity.
Free-Base: Another method is to free-base the alcohol over a flame, such as an electric stove burner or tea candle, which ultimately produces vapors for inhalation which are inhaled through a straw or pipe.
Why is this dangerous? As one inhales alcohol vapor, unlike traditional drinking, it bypasses the stomach and liver going from the lungs directly to the brain and into the bloodstream. This can lead to rapid alcohol intoxication. Since the alcohol is not being metabolized by the liver, it has a higher strength and more potent effect as it enters the bloodstream going directly to the brain.
The body’s natural defense mechanism to the toxicity of alcohol is vomiting. Traditional drinking in excess will result in toxic levels of alcohol, acetaldehyde, and acetic acid which will most times induce one to vomit preventing overdose. As the alcohol bypasses the stomach and liver, there is no effective way for the body to rid of itself of the chemicals
There are many videos available online, websites such as YOUTUBE, where individuals have demonstrated themselves smoking alcohol and describing feeling the high almost immediately. Kirsten Hawkins, chief of adolescent medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, references the “immediate high” feeling as the most dangerous aspect of this trend because the amount of alcohol in the system in unrealized.
It’s pretty common knowledge that college students and adolescents are often risk takers and therefore no surprise that something like this would catch on so fast. However, this practice seems to be just as popular among people who want to lose weight and don’t want the calories that come from consuming alcohol. People think it is a great way to get the effects of alcohol without gaining the weight because of the empty calories in alcohol.
Hopefully this information is helpful to readers with adolescent children or others in close contact with risk takers always looking for the next way to get high. There have been numerous cases of alcohol poisoning related to smoking alcohol. The more awareness drawn to the dangerous consequences of this reckless behavior can only be helpful to avoiding future harm.