In recent years, there’s been some good news related to substance abuse trends: Teen alcohol use is actually on the decline. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, binge drinking among high school seniors has dropped by almost one-third since the late 1990s. Its findings also report a sharp decline in daily alcohol use among 10th and 12th graders.

Unfortunately, there is also bad news: drinking overall may be down, but teens are finding new, dangerous ways to consume alcohol. Reports of trends like “eyeball shots,” “alcohol enemas” and teens inserting spirit-soaked tampons into various orifices may seem like urban legend, but parents shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss these new threats. A quick visit to YouTube provides documented evidence for parents – and unfortunately, a step-by-step how-to guide for curious teens looking for a new, clandestine way to catch a buzz.

The newest – and most concerning – trend emerging in recent months is smoking, or vaporizing, alcohol. This dangerous new trend can be performed in a number of ways, from combining alcohol with dry ice and inhaling the vapors with a straw, to free-basing alcohol over a flame.

Many teens are gravitating to smoking alcohol for a number of reasons. First, they assume it is more difficult to detect. Parents can’t discern the tell-tale smell of beer on their child’s breath at curfew.

Others believe smoking alcohol is a way to enjoy getting drunk, without packing on pounds from the added calories that come from consuming alcohol. In truth, there are still calories involved when you vaporize alcohol. If you are feeling the effects of the alcohol, you have absorbed the calories associated with ethanol, the active component in alcohol. Although you may not absorb the added calories of mixers if you vaporize pure spirits, this is not a way to ingest alcohol with no weight gain repercussions.

Of greatest concern are the safety ramifications of smoking alcohol. When a teen inhales alcohol vapor, it bypasses the stomach and liver, going from the lungs directly to the brain and then into the bloodstream, leading to rapid alcohol intoxication. Since the alcohol is not metabolized by the liver, it has a higher strength and more potent effect as it enters the bloodstream going directly to the brain.

According to user reports and YouTube video testimonials, users describe an almost instant buzz after inhaling alcohol vapors. However, the danger and risks are much more significant than other means of ingestion. Teens who smoke alcohol are at a much higher risk of alcohol poisoning, because the toxins bypass the stomach and liver. This bypass means that our body’s natural defense to intoxication – vomiting – doesn’t kick in. There is no way to rid the excess alcohol from the body, and once the brain has absorbed the ethanol, there is no way to expel it from the system.

Also of concern is the fact that there is no effective way to measure how much alcohol you have consumed. If a cup of alcohol is poured into a container and vaporized, it’s very hard to tell if the user is consuming the entire cup, or just a few sips.
Finally, parents must be aware that this form of alcohol abuse is highly addictive. The rapid and intense effect of vaporizing alcohol–similar to the “quick hit” of cocaine, cigarettes, and methamphetamine—has tremendous potential to create dependency. Further, it opens the door to other health concerns not associated with traditional drinking – the process of inhaling the vaporized liquid into the lungs could potentially be quite irritating, leading to bronchospasm, as well as a drying effect of the alcohol to the respiratory tract passages and nasal lining, which creates a higher risk of lung infections such as pneumonia.

Although there have been no formal published scientific studies describing the negative effects of “smoking” alcohol – yet – parents should be aware of this troubling trend, and talk to your teens about the risks.

To learn how to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse in your teen, please contact Compass Rose Academy today.