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Smoking Alcohol | Effects & Dangers Of Alcohol Inhalation

Published on July 16, 2021
Smoking Alcohol | Effects & Dangers Of Alcohol Inhalation

Vaping, an alternative to tobacco smoking where nicotine-laced vapor is inhaled from an e-cigarette, rapidly gained popularity during the previous decade. 

And although the long-term health effects and risks of vaping are not fully understood, this method of tobacco use is believed to hold certain health advantages over traditional tobacco products.

However, when it comes to alcohol, smoking is not a safer alternative to drinking.

Alcohol Inhalation

Ethanol can be converted into a vapor mist in a few different ways:

  • vaporizing alcohol over dry ice and breathing it in through a straw
  • generating and releasing an alcoholic spray using air pressure
  • freebasing alcohol vapors by heating the liquid over a flame
  • using medical nebulizers or inhalers

Effects Of Alcohol Inhalation

Those who have attempted marketing AWOL (alcohol without liquid) devices or promoted alcohol smoking as a service are quick in pointing out that, unlike drinking alcohol, smoking alcohol involves no calories and no carbs. 

And, they would argue, it’s easier to take a set dose and prevent delayed overdoses, as the alcohol in someone’s stomach continues to be absorbed even after they’ve stopped drinking. 

But the truth is that alcohol inhalation only enhances the risks already associated with binge drinking, and greatly increases the risk of alcohol poisoning in particular.

Alcohol Poisoning

When an individual drinks alcohol, the liquid has to pass through the digestive system before being absorbed into the bloodstream. This means that blood alcohol levels increase relatively slowly as alcoholic beverages are consumed, diluting the effect and giving the liver time work.

And, if someone drinks too much their body can use vomiting to try to clear the stomach, expelling it to protect the body and brain.

But when alcohol is smoked or inhaled it avoids the digestive system entirely. The full dose enters the bloodstream directly through the lungs. This generally triggers an almost immediate, potentially euphoric high and severe intoxication. 

This sudden onset means that a much smaller dose of alcohol is required to trigger dangerous and potentially fatal alcohol poisoning.  And it means that neither vomiting nor stomach pumping will be able to remove the excess alcohol if an overdose occurs.

High Potential For Abuse

Many who engage in substance abuse escalate from oral use of drugs to inhalation or injection because it provides a more rapid onset and intense effect. 

This same effect is believed to be associated with smoking alcohol, as public health professionals believe that the widespread prevalence of alcohol inhalation would greatly contribute to the development of alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

This is especially true in young adults and those who wouldn’t typically engage in alcohol abuse or heavy drinking.

Accidental Injuries

Alcohol intoxication and binge drinking are already associated with a large number of accidental injuries and fatalities each year. 

Given the inebriating effects of smoking alcohol, this unpredictable method of alcohol use could put individuals at higher risk for motor vehicle accidents, drownings, falls, risky sexual behavior, sexual assault, robbery, and more. 

Health Risks

It’s important to point out that inhaling, smoking, or vaping alcohol isn’t necessarily a fun or pleasant experience. In fact, many who try it report that it burns all the way down. 

This tissue irritation is believed to damage the delicate tissues of the lungs over time, and could cause a drying effect on the respiratory tract and nasal lining as well. 

This likely puts those who inhale alcohol regularly at a high risk for lung infections, potentially increasing their risk for lung cancer as well. 

Other long-term health problems associated with alcohol abuse of any form include:

  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • cancer
  • cirrhosis and liver disease
  • depression and anxiety
  • developmental issues in those who are underage

Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Fortunately, smoking, vaping, or inhaling alcohol doesn’t appear to be a widespread habit, even among young people and heavy drinkers. 

Alcoholism and alcohol addiction, however, remain all too common, dragging down the finances, livelihoods, lifespans, and quality of life of so many who experience them. 

For this reason, Ark Behavioral Health offers evidence-based care for substance use disorders and alcohol addiction. To learn about our treatment programs, please connect with us today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Alcohol Poisoning Deaths
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Learn the facts
Vice - How Many People Are Actually Vaping Alcohol?

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