DENVER (CBS4) – Experts are warning parents about new ways teenagers are getting drunk without taking a sip of alcohol. Drinking liquid alcohol is no longer the only way to ingest alcohol; teens are also experimenting with alcohol in its gas and solid forms.
Officials at Denver Health Medical Center said they have treated more than two dozen patients who have gotten sick after inhaling alcohol vapors or using powdered alcohol.
Typically, when a person drinks alcohol it is absorbed through the body over time. But when inhaling alcohol, users feel the effects much quicker.
“It was instantaneous. Like you were out of it,” said a 16-year-old who talked with CBS and asked not to be identified. She called the high from vaping alcohol “immediate and intense.”
“We are seeing more experimentation than I have ever seen before,” said Dr. Christopher Colwell, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Denver Health.
Colwell says most of the patients he has treated for vaping alcohol have been teenagers. “A lot of them are young teenagers, 13, 14, 15, but really concentrating in the 16-20 range.”
On YouTube and other social media sites there are dozens of videos of young people turning booze into a vapor with everything from dry ice to bike pumps. There are also a number of commercially sold products for inhaling alcohol, ranging from the $35 Vaportini to the $600 Vapshot.
In addition to teenagers inhaling alcohol, Denver Health has seen teens who say they got intoxicated from powdered alcohol.
Some of the teens told doctors they got the powdered alcohol online. Although powdered alcohol is not legally sold in the U.S. it is sold in a number of foreign countries.
The idea of powdered alcohol got a lot of attention earlier this year, when the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau mistakenly approved a product called palcohol. Just days later, after a public outcry the approval was voluntarily withdrawn. Afterwards, a number of recipes appeared on the Internet demonstrating how to make powdered alcohol. Most likely due to the attention, a website that sells one of the main ingredients saw a spike in sales.
In theory, powdered alcohol can be eaten, snorted or added to a liquid and turned into a cocktail. According to Dr. Colwell, the allure is the novelty and the portability.
“You can take a small bag of powder just about anywhere,” he said.
But the fast-acting effects of powdered and vaporized alcohol can have dangerous results.
“We’ve had a few patients that have been very intoxicated,” said Colwell. “One that I know of had to have a breathing tube put in and we had to breathe for them for a period of time because they were not breathing adequately on their own.”
After learning about the dangers, the 16-year-old girl decided to stop vaping.
“I’m thankful I didn’t die. Don’t do it. Because it could be your last day,” she said.
– Written by Mark Ackerman for CBSDenver.com