The trend of smoking alcohol has been around since at least 2004, when the Alcohol With Out Liquid (AWOL) device launched in Europe (its here now). Lately, though, the practice of inhaling alcohol has become much more popular among American youth. Since May, the Internet has been abuzz with stories about this new trend in drinking. Alcohol smokers use carbon dioxide pills, dry ice, asthma nebulizers, vaporizers, or pressurized air pumps to turn their booze of choice into an inhalable, alcohol-rich cloud. Smoking or inhaling alcohol vapor removes the digestive system as a buffer and delivers the chemicals to the lungs, where they are absorbed into the bloodstream and go straight to the brain.
While this method of alcohol consumption may be slightly less caloric than hittin’ the bottle (alcohol in the bloodstream is still metabolized in cells), it has potentially serious health drawbacks, which is why some doctors are speaking out against the trend. Consuming alcohol the normal way (like, in a glass) means booze takes the slow road through the digestive system, ending up in the stomach and small intestine where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. About 20 percent of alcohol (more if there’s a big, starchy dinner in there to begin with) is absorbed in the stomach, with the remaining 80 percent entering the blood through the small intestine. The liver slowly breaks down alcohol (which is technically a toxin) into less harmful waste compounds.
But when alcohol is inhaled as a vapor or smoke, the absorption happens quicker. And because it’s harder to measure the amount of alcohol consumed via vapor, users are much more susceptible to overdo things, which can lead to alcohol poisoning. When a person drinks too much alcohol, the body tries to get rid of some via vomiting (gross, but ultimately necessary). But when there’s no alcohol in the stomach, there’s no way for the body to deal with an overloaded system.
Plus, inhaling alcohol directly into the lungs exposes sensitive respiratory tissue to harmful chemicals, which can lead to nasal and lung infections and the development of asthma . Some studies also indicate directly inhaling ethanol (the active compound in alcoholic beverages) can cause brain damage . Doctors also worry that because inhaling alcohol provides a much faster rush than drinking it, young people are more likely to become addicted.
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