When it comes to teen alcohol and drug use, it seems like there’s always a new method that young people are finding to get high – chugging cough medicine, sniffing glue, snorting bath salts or mixing old medications found in the family medicine cabinet. While it’s normal to be curious, one poor decision can change a person’s life forever.
That’s why authorities and health officials are concerned about a dangerous new trend: smoking alcohol. Because the lungs have such a large surface area, alcohol is absorbed at a much quicker rate when it is inhaled using vaporizers, i.e.: dry ice and bicycle pumps connected to old plastic bottles.
According to Dwayne Baird, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Public Safety, one reason individuals may choose to inhale alcohol is because they believe it won’t show up on a breathalyzer. But Baird says that anyone who understands how the test works knows that a breathalyzer assesses the blood alcohol content and inhaling alcohol actually leads to a higher concentration.
Another reason that people choose to smoke alcohol instead of drink it is that inhaling directly into the lungs delivers a quicker, more intense high. Under normal circumstances, alcohol would be consumed then pass through the body’s stomach and liver where it takes time to metabolize. Dr. Barbara Crouch, Executive Director for Utah Poison Control, equates the practice to binge drinking – when too much alcohol is consumed too quickly, the body has a difficult time successfully processing all of it.
Baird says that the Department of Public Safety still runs across more cases of normal alcohol consumption than it does inhalation methods, but with information able to spread rapidly through social media sites, its popularity with teens could spike quickly.
The body has normal ways of signaling that it has had too much alcohol. When someone drinks to excess, the body responds by causing a person to vomit. That doesn’t happen when alcohol is inhaled. Instead, it passes straight through the lungs into the bloodstream and up to the brain. The problem with that, says Baird, is that it’s difficult for a person to tell when they’ve reached their limit.
Young people in particular tend to regard themselves as invincible and often don’t consider the consequences of their actions or how such consequences might impact their future. But inadvertent alcohol poisoning is a real and even bigger threat when inhaling than drinking alcohol.