The new trend of inhaling “vaporized” alcohol has come under fire for its health risks, with British addiction and alcohol experts warning of the dangers of inhaling the vapor after it was offered to revelers at a Scottish nightclub. The new trend has the potential to increase the risk of alcohol poisoning, may damage the lungs, could enhance the addictive properties of alcohol and could particularly tempt those who are concerned about their weight. Although the company offering the vaporized shots claims the practice is safe and calls the response “immensely positive,” the facts about the trend don’t look so clear-cut.
Vaporizing Alcohol—The Trend
The trend of vaporizing alcohol has been around since at least 2004, when a product called AWOL (alcohol without liquid) hit the shelves in the U.S. and was promptly banned. People lost interest in the idea for some time after that, but a decade later, it began making a resurgence. The overall idea is that by turning the alcohol into a vapor, the drink will get into the bloodstream more quickly, producing intoxication faster and also minimizing the number of calories consumed with an alcoholic drink.
The story from Scotland centers on a touring bar called “Vapbar,” run by a company called ClubCandi, which visited an Edinburgh nightclub on the first of April. The company uses a machine to turn an alcoholic drink into a vapor, which customers inhale through a straw. The parent company behind all of this is the American organization Vapshot, which claims “drinking is so 2013” and calls the development “new, trendy and sciency.”
Health Risks of Vaporizing Alcohol
The most obvious criticism is effectively the core selling point of the device: you get more alcohol in your blood because it doesn’t pass through your stomach and liver like it ordinarily would. The significance of this can be understood fairly simply: when you measure how drunk somebody is (to see if they’re over the driving limit, for example), you don’t just look at the amount of alcohol they’ve consumed, you look at how much of it reaches their blood.
So when you drink a shot of vodka, for example, a substantial portion of the alcohol is metabolized by your liver, and less of it will be available to reach your blood. If you inhale that same quantity of alcohol, it goes to your lungs—which don’t process alcohol—and then straight into your bloodstream. This is why companies advertise an “instant hit” from vaporizing alcohol. However, this also means that it’s much easier to consume too much alcohol; you might know how much one shot affects you, but you probably won’t have any idea how much inhaling that shot would affect you. This means you’re more likely to get dangerously drunk or even die from alcohol poisoning if you inhale vaporized alcohol.
Moreover, if you drink too much, your body can intervene and make you vomit: ejecting the alcohol directly from your stomach and protecting you before too much reaches your blood. When you inhale alcohol, this isn’t possible. Add to this the expected risks to your lungs of inhaling anything that isn’t air, and you have a substantial collection of risks.
Other Criticism—Low Calorie Alcohol Consumption?
Dr. Niall Campbell, a consultant psychiatrist at London’s Priory Hospital, points out that the “low-calorie” advertising of vaporized alcohol is a particular risk to young women. He said, “The risk is that women who are dieting will spend money on alcohol and not on food, and there is then a risk that they will become vitamin deficient and they will get brain damage. We don’t need to encourage women to drink any more.”
In the U.S., the earlier fad of vaporizing alcohol was fraught with similar concerns. One man from Texas reportedly switched to vaporizing alcohol in order to lose weight, and claimed to have dropped 80 pounds as a result. This practice has been called “drunkorexia.” However, ethanol (drinking alcohol) has calories, and so if you feel the effects, you will still be consuming calories.
Will Vaporizing Alcohol Increase Its Addictiveness?
Much like a smoking a cigarette, having a hit of meth or snorting a line of cocaine, the fast-acting nature of vaporized alcohol produces a “quick hit” of the substance and may enhance its addictive properties. When you drink alcohol, it is processed comparably slowly by the stomach and liver, leading to a more gradual increase in blood alcohol. Inhaled alcohol reaches the bloodstream much quicker, and it would be expected to be more addictive for that reason. It’s analogous to how slower-acting nicotine patches are less addictive than fast-acting cigarettes.
Few Benefits, Many Risks
Vaporizing alcohol is a terrible idea. Consuming alcohol in any form isn’t really a good idea, but doing so in a way that will lead to more rapid deposition into your bloodstream, probably damage your lungs over the long term and likely enhance the addictiveness of alcohol is obviously a lot worse than using the traditional method. And all of the associated risks come with scant benefits: perhaps you’ll consume fewer calories, yes, and maybe you’ll get drunk more quickly, but you also boost the risk of addiction and serious health problems. We can only hope that vaporized alcohol remains a fad, soon to be confined to history’s trash can of bad ideas.