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Law enforcement, health officials warn of dangers of inhaling alcohol

Published: Sunday, Aug. 4 2013 8:56 a.m. MDT

Law enforcement officials and health experts are warning about the dangers of inhaling alcohol.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Law enforcement officials and health experts are warning about the dangers of inhaling alcohol.

Although no agency has reported cases in Utah, the Partnership for a Drug Free America calls it a trend nationwide.

The process involves pressurizing a bottle with alcohol in the bottom and then inhaling the vapor. The vapor bypasses the liver and sends the intoxicating alcohol straight to the lungs and the brain.

"When you inhale it, you're going to absorb it much more quickly. … It's literally going to go right to the brain,” said Barbara Crouch, Utah Poison Control executive director.

Crouch said inhaling doesn't provide the same amount of alcohol as drinking it. It may be more than expected, which makes alcohol poisoning a much higher risk. Inhaling alcohol also doesn’t give the body some of the warning signs normally present if a drinker has had too much.

"When you swallow something like alcohol, it's metabolized in your stomach and metabolized in your liver," she said. "Oftentimes when you drink too much, you start to vomit and you self-limit your absorption with it or you pass out. Here, you can get a much higher concentration quicker and get to the danger point."

There are several myths associated with inhaling alcohol. Some young people believe if they inhale it, it's not drinking, so it's not illegal. Law enforcement officials say that's not true. If someone is under 21, consuming alcohol — whether liquid or vapor — it’s illegal.

Another myth is if a person inhales alcohol, they will pass a breathalyzer test. That’s also not true.

"They test the volume, the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream, through your breath,” Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Dwayne Baird said. “… We will catch it, and we will stop you. We will make sure you don't drink and drive."

The third myth has to do with people who think because they inhale alcohol and don't ingest it, they won’t have to worry about calories. Crouch said that’s not true. In either case, the person would consume calories from the alcohol.

Contributing: Carole Mikita

Email: pnelson@deseretnews.com

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