Vaping alcohol, involves 'smoking' or 'inhaling' alcohol to get more pleasure out of it than from simply drinking it.
Medically, alcohol vaping is used to treat withdrawal symptoms in alcoholics coming out of esophageal cancer surgery, as well as excessive lung fluid, and severe blood oxygen deficiency (hypoxemia).
It's also being considered as treatment for critically ill Covid-19 patients. But a growing phenomenon is for young adults and teens to use it over and over and in short bursts for the quick, intense high it supposedly gives.
Since this recreational use of alcohol vaping is fairly recent, there's not much research on its effects on humans. But the existing research, as well as that done on rats would suggest that this binge-like way of taking alcohol could be more dangerous than actually drinking the alcohol.
Before you can vape alcohol, you have to turn it into a smoke or vapor that you can then inhale. Some vaporizing machines are available commercially but a number of U.S. states have banned the buying and selling of such machines. So, people tend to use the DIY methods described below:
The alcohol is typically vaped through the mouth but some people also vape through the nose.
Many are puzzled as to why people go to the trouble of consuming alcohol this way when it's quicker and easier to simply drink it.
However, those who enjoy vaping alcohol say it has certain benefits. Among them are:
Getting very drunk very quickly through vaping alcohol, is neither safe nor responsible. Here's why:
Some people feel that since they're not tasting the alcohol, they can't get addicted to it. Or that the buzz they feel is too mild to lead to anything harmful. But the dangers of addiction are real.
The intoxicating effects of vaping alcohol escalate too quickly and intensely. When alcohol is taken the normal way, it passes through the liver where it's broken down and digested, before flowing on.
By the time it reaches the brain, it has lost a great deal of potency. However, when vaped, the alcohol immediately enters the bloodstream and brain.
It hasn't been metabolized and it hasn't lost even a little of its potency so, intoxication is swift and intense. The vaping action has sidelining the liver and stopping it from regulating alcohol intake.
In a study on the effects of alcohol vaping, 51.3 percent of the participants reported feeling the effects for no more than 5 minutes.
Research has shown that the more quickly the substance enters the brain, the higher are your chances of getting addicted to it.
This chronic and quick exposure to alcohol smoke was found to have caused dependence in rats.
The effects are also similar to those witnessed in people who used other smoked substances such as cocaine and nicotine whose smoke rapidly entered the brain.Whether the initial buzz is mild or high, the user seeks to maintain it so they vape more and more alcohol.
When vaping alcohol, there's no way to tell how much alcohol you are consuming at any one time. You could be inhaling the equivalent of multiple drinks in a number of seconds. This is more alcohol than your system can process. It means your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) has reached toxicity levels. You could be heading for alcohol poisoning or overdose.
When you take alcohol the traditional way, which is by drinking it, your body has a valuable mechanism that stops you from doing too much harm to yourself. Taking too much alcohol could upset your stomach and cause you to vomit and stop drinking altogether. This is your body' way of protecting your system from alcohol poisoning and overdose.
On the other hand, when you vape alcohol, the substance evades the stomach and digestive system and goes straight to the brain. You won't get any warning signs, through vomiting or anything else, that you've had too much alcohol and your health is in danger. So, there's a real risk of alcohol poisoning or overdose.
The symptoms of alcohol poisoning are:
As with addiction to other substances, those who already have an alcohol use disorder when they start vaping alcohol, may be at particular risk for addiction and its fatal consequences.
Continuous vaping can lead to permanent nerve damage, and eventually to brain inflammation and dementia. The alcohol attaches itself very quickly to the brain receptors and can cause changes that damage the brain.
These developing changes were observed in rat experiments. The rats displayed increasingly anxious behaviors which become worse when they'd developed a dependency. The continued intake of alcohol in this way, can be particularly harmful for young adults and teens whose brains have not fully developed.
Vaping alcohol can affect the nose, the nasal passage, the lungs and the entire breathing system making the whole area vulnerable to infection. The nasal passage could dry out and you could have permanent breathing problems.
Chronic inhalation may be too much for the lungs to bear. It can cause lung damage in the same way as tobacco smoking. It's very difficult for the lungs to heal when you've developed an alcohol vaping addiction.
According to alcohol vapers, since the alcohol evades the digestive system during consumption, they are not actually tasting the alcohol, so the body doesn't take in the sugars contained in the alcoholic drink.
They believe it's a great way of getting the full benefits of alcohol without putting on the weight. This is a fallacy, however, because you still take in calories from the ethanol contained in the alcohol So, vaping alcohol doesn't help you to keep the weight off.
Another argument is that since users are not consuming alcohol per se, they can happily avoid the withdrawal symptoms that come with the cessation of alcohol. Again, this is a false assumption.
Studies have shown that when vaping was stopped in rats, they displayed an increasing craving for alcohol along with serious withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can set in 24 to 48 hours after the alcohol vaping has ceased and they can be severe. They include:
These recorded withdrawal symptoms are similar to those observed when people stop taking other abused substances or when they stop drinking the traditional way.
Some people feel that because, technically, they're not drinking alcohol, they can't be arrested for vaping it. But they can still find themselves on the wrong side of the law over vaping alcohol.
For a start, more than 17 states have banned alcohol vaporizers including New York, California, Pennsylvania and Florida. So, it's illegal to purchase, sell or handle devices manufactured solely to vape alcohol.
Other states are considering bans of their own. They're concerned with public safety. They don't see any material benefits in vaping alcohol save to get people intoxicated.
Another problem with inhaling alcohol instead of drinking it is the uncertainty it causes you when you get behind the wheel. Driving after vaping alcohol is dangerous and could also get you arrested for DUI.
You've managed to get drunk very quickly and you can't tell how much alcohol you've actually taken in. When drinking alcohol, on the hand, you can count the number of glasses you've had, if you so wish.
When smoking alcohol, even though the substance is entering your body in a way different from the normal route, it can still show up in a breathalyzer test.
For the test to be done, you have to blow into the breathalyzer device. It calculates the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in your system through the air contained in your lungs. So, you might well be arrested for DUI.
Consuming alcohol in any shape or form has risks. There's little research on the effects of vaping alcohol in humans but what there is shows that it could pose more risks for you than normal drinking, and is best avoided.
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