Although powdered alcohol is nothing new (the patents go back decades), recently a company called Lipsmack requested approval from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) for the sale of their powdered alcohol product, known as Palcohol, in the United States. The TTB initially approved seven flavors, but rescinded its approval of the sale of Palcohol shortly thereafter, sparking debate on the safety of the product. Earlier this month, the TTB approved the sale of Palcohol, however several states are already placing a voluntary ban on the substance.
On average, alcohol kills more than 240 people each day in the United States alone in auto- or injury-related fatalities, disease, alcohol-related crime, and due to excessive alcohol consumption resulting in fatal alcohol poisoning. Palcohol is just one more avenue for people to consume an already dangerous and addictive substance. And with a significant number of underage individuals engaging in binge drinking, making the substance more portable, and easily hidden carries an assumed risk of increased accidental alcohol overdose deaths.
What Is Powdered Alcohol?
Powdered alcohol is like a concentrate, however, not in the way we think of OJ in a can. The process more closely resembles the way companies make fish oil supplements, by suspending one compound within another, water-soluble compound.
Rather than carting around a lot of heavy bottles filled with liquid, the company sells packets ready to be mixed with warm water for an “instant beverage.” Increasing portability of something like a cosmopolitan, vodka, or rum can spell disaster for young people, obtaining access to the substance.
The alcohol content of powdered alcohol is the same as a cocktail or hard liquor, exceeding a standard drink. For teens hellbent on beer benders, switching to the powdered alternative could mean a huge spike in alcohol poisoning deaths.
How Is Powdered Alcohol Made?
Alcohol powder or powdered alcohol is ethyl alcohol encapsulated by water soluble sugar rings or cyclodextrins. The powder is formed by extracting moisture from the carrier rings, then adding alcohol. To reconstitute the alcohol, you add warm water, which releases the sugar bond and frees the alcohol, making it available to consume.
Can You Snort Powdered Alcohol?
Sure, it’s possible, but only if you are okay with blinding headaches and nosebleeds. It’s not actually the alcohol that makes snorting powdered alcohol dangerous, but rather the sugars that surround the alcohol. Introducing the substance to the nasal passages creates an environment just warm enough and with enough moisture to begin breaking down the molecular bonds. The result? Fumes. Nasty fumes that cause a nasty burning sensation, and making matters worse, as the substance sits in the nasal passages, it begins to thicken, forming a glue-like substance, blocking all attempts to get rid of it. Will you get high? You’re more likely to just get really sick.
Other attempts have been made to include powdered alcohol in recipes. But the effects aren’t the euphoria people typically seek in consuming alcohol. Instead, they increase their risk of accidental overdose, especially if the powdered alcohol is used in combination with another substance.
Addiction Risk For Powdered Alcohol Just As High
Just because alcohol now comes in an array of colors and portable packaging, the addiction risk is in no way diminished. If anything, for youth abusing the substance in place of beer, it could mean increasing risk of addiction due to patterns of binge drinking.
While some people are more prone to becoming addicted to alcohol than others, the mechanism for addiction begins with repeated exposure to a substance. And while it may seem like someone who only drinks on the weekends or at parties is less likely to become addicted to alcohol than someone who drinks a beer each day with dinner, the opposite is true.
When someone binge drinks periodically (on the weekends or a few times a month), a process known as sensitization begins. The introduction to alcohol spurs the flood of dopamine from the reward centers of the brain. This part of the mammalian brain rewards behaviors related to survival. Unfortunately, it is fooled by substances like alcohol, which promote unnatural elevations of dopamine, leaving us feeling euphoric, or high.
This initial dopamine response does not go unnoticed by the brain. Seeking a repeat response, it increases the body’s sensitivity to the substance. The next time someone drinks, less is needed to promote the same response. This sensitization then promotes cravings for a substance like alcohol whenever someone is in a place where they would normally drink, or with friends with whom they would drink, or even when they see packaging for their favorite powdered alcohol beverage, marking the beginning stages of alcohol addiction.
Withdrawals From Powdered Alcohol Are Dangerous
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms from alcohol addiction are dangerous, whether the beverage came in powdered or liquid form. They include anxiety, depression, severe headaches and fatigue, gastrointestinal upset, mood changes, insomnia, tremors, excessive sweating, and in more serious cases carry a risk of seizures and death. Withdrawals should be supervised and medically managed to avoid the more dangerous symptoms of alcohol detox.
Adverse Health Effects Of Powdered Alcohol
Adverse health effects of powdered alcohol are no different from alcohol in its liquid form. Apart from a high risk of addiction, long-term regular alcohol consumption carries a higher risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast, contributes to death of white and grey matter, a condition also known as “brain shrinkage,” causes significant cognitive impairment and memory loss, and increases risk of co-occurring anxiety and depression.
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