Concerns Surrounding Re-Emerging Trend “Smoking” Alcohol

With the emergence of new DIY methods, “smoking” alcohol is once again becoming the biggest trend in alcohol consumption.

A new form of alcohol consumption, referred to as “smoking” alcohol originally emerged in 2004 with the invention of a machine called the AWOL (Alcohol without Liquid), allowing individuals to vaporize alcohol. However, after safety and health concerns were identified, the sale and use of these machines was banned in many states. Today, with the emergence of new homemade methods, “smoking” alcohol is once again on the rise.

Many health care experts are concerned with the new rise in a questionable practice that has potentially dangerous consequences. One method is that an individual pours alcohol over dry ice and inhales it directly or with a straw. Another method is to make a vaporizing kit using a bike pump, where the alcohol is poured into a bottle, corked, and then the needle of the bicycle pump it poked through the top. Air is then pumped into the bottle and the user inhales the vaporized alcohol. Clinicians are seeing evidence that this practice is not only gaining popularity among teens and college students, but among individuals who want to lose weight and do not want the calories associated with drinking. With its growing popularity, many doctors and parents are worried about a few specific dangers such as overdose and negative health consequences.

“While there has yet to be any definitive conclusions describing the negative effects of smoking alcohol, the potential for harm is concerning based upon the body’s inability to metabolize and regulate the toxicity of the alcohol,” said Bonnie Stewart, LPC, CSAC, CAS, Director of Clinical Programs at Mount Regis Center .

When an individual inhales alcohol instead of drinking it, it bypasses the stomach and liver, going straight to the brain and into the bloodstream, leading an individual to feel the effects almost immediately. However, the risks are much higher. Those who smoke alcohol are at a much greater risk for alcohol poisoning, especially since the body has no way to expel the ethanol because it has bypassed the stomach and liver. In a typical course of drinking, as an individual becomes more intoxicated they will eventually vomit, which is the body’s natural way of preventing an overdose.

Another concern is that it is much more difficult to determine how much alcohol one has ingested if it is inhaled. If alcohol is poured into a bottle and vaporized, an individual will not know if they have consumed the whole cup or only a few sips, since the liquid stays in the bottle. Additionally, it is thought that inhaling vaporized liquor into one’s lungs can be potentially irritating and may actually lead to bronchospasm and drying of the respiratory tract and nasal passages. All of these effects can potentially lead to more serious health complications such as pneumonia.