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Drinking Habits

Smoking Alcohol: What Does That Mean? And What Happens When You Vape?

December 28, 2023
16 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
December 28, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
December 28, 2023
16 min read

We’ve all seen the commercials about vaping and its myriad dangers, especially among kids and teens. The past several years have seen a rapid rise in vaping as a supposedly “healthier” way to experience intoxication from substances such as nicotine, cannabis, and even alcohol. However, the reported benefits fail to overlook the reality: vaping is actually just as dangerous, if not more so. 

To understand why, we need to take a look at the science. In this blog, we’ll explore the specific effects of vaping alcohol, and discover what happens when you inhale alcohol instead of drinking it. 

Key Takeaways

  • Vaping alcohol involves heating alcohol and inhaling resulting vapors.

  • Because of the rapid intoxication rate of vaping alcohol, this practice still comes with the same risks as drinking, such as alcohol poisoning and brain damage. 

  • It’s important to avoid or quit vaping alcohol to avoid the potential dangers.

Can You Smoke Alcohol?

Vaping has become increasingly popular in the past decade. This practice involves electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, through which substances such as nicotine, flavorings, cannabis, and CBD are vaporized and inhaled. 

Though not done as frequently, vaping alcohol involves inhaling the substance to experience intoxication, versus consuming it through drinks.

This involves heating alcohol, or alternatively, pouring it over dry ice, and inhaling the vapors that result. Some people use homemade vaporizing devices or even asthma inhalers while vaping alcohol. 

Vaping alcohol hasn’t been studied in as much depth as vaping nicotine or cannabis. However, many aspects of this practice showcase its potential dangers, which may be more pronounced than regular drinking in some cases.

What Happens If You Inhale Alcohol? (Effects on the Body)

While vaping alcohol might seem like a fun new trend to try, the health risks can not be overlooked. When we inhale vaporized alcohol, the alcohol bypasses our digestive system and instead is absorbed by our lungs.

Alcohol molecules travel from our lungs to our brain and bloodstream, quickening the effects of intoxication. This is why some people report feeling an instant and strong “high” when they vape. 

Vaping’s primary appeal is that it can get people drunk — fast. However, taking in too much alcohol, even through inhalation, comes with adverse effects. Let’s look at a few of them.

  • Higher alcohol poisoning risk. Vaping alcohol and binge drinking are essentially one and the same. Both involve a rapid intake within a short timeframe. Like binge drinking, vaping alcohol can also lead to alcohol poisoning. This occurs when our blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.15-0.30%, as a result of our body not being able to effectively process the alcohol. Alcohol poisoning, if not properly addressed, can lead to death. Call 911 if you or someone around you is exhibiting symptoms of alcohol poisoning (unconsciousness, low body temperature, pale or blue skin, vomiting, confusion, slow or irregular breathing, seizures).

  • Lung damage. Inhaling vaporized alcohol can damage our lungs, since the heat irritates the sensitive tissues within them. Vaping-induced lung damage is linked to chronic breathing problems (for instance, asthma or COPD), and also increases the risk of respiratory infections (for example, bronchitis or pneumonia). 

  • Increased addiction risk. Studies suggest that the speed at which a substance reaches our brain increases susceptibility to addiction. In the case of vaping, alcohol reaches the brain very quickly, which produces the instant “high” we discussed above. Due to these rapid effects, vaping may also result in a higher likelihood of alcohol addiction. Research on the connection between vaping and alcohol addiction is still nascent, but it’s important to be aware of the potential risks.

  • Brain damage. It’s also essential to highlight alcohol vaping’s impact on the brain. When we inhale alcohol, the substance rapidly binds to brain receptors. This can result in long-term changes to brain function, impacting our reward centers and influencing higher-level functions such as impulse control. Children and teens, whose brains are still underdeveloped, are particularly at risk. 

Smoking Alcohol vs. Drinking Alcohol

Since vaping alcohol doesn’t actually involve consuming calories, it’s still technically a better option for getting drunk, right? 

Actually, no. Inhaling alcohol is just as dangerous as drinking alcohol, and doesn’t come with any benefits, despite popular beliefs. Here’s why vaping alcohol is dangerous, and why it can potentially be worse than consuming alcohol by drinking.

  • Calorie intake. Alcohol is notoriously high in sugar, and these calories can add up when drinking it. While it’s true that inhaling alcohol mitigates the absorption of sugar calories, our bodies still absorb calories from ethanol. This substance is the key ingredient in alcoholic drinks, and it contains about 7 calories per gram. 

  • Rapid, uncontrolled consumption. When we drink alcoholic beverages, it’s much easier to measure how much we’re taking in. For example, a standard beer is 12 ounces, a standard wine serving is 5 oz., and a standard shot is about 1.5 oz. Thus, it’s easy to keep count of how much we’ve had. With vaping, however, we don’t have this same ability to measure. Although we may vaporize a certain amount of alcohol, it’s difficult to determine whether we’ve inhaled all of the vapor or just part of it. This lack of certainty can lead us to consume a lot of alcohol quickly, increasing the likelihood of alcohol poisoning. 

  • Bodily overload. When we binge drink, we may vomit, which is our body’s way of getting rid of the alcohol it’s unable to process. We can think of vomiting, then, as our body’s way of protecting us from alcohol poisoning. Unfortunately, vaping alcohol bypasses the digestive system, which means that our bodies can’t get rid of excess alcohol in the same way. This can result in quicker intoxication, blackouts, and even alcohol poisoning. 

Inhaling Alcohol: A Note on Legality

Is smoking alcohol actually legal? In the U.S., alcohol consumption (whether by drinking, inhaling, or other methods) is legal, but only for those 21 and older. However, legality around alcohol consumption varies from country to country. If you are outside of the United States, make sure to check with your local laws before drinking, smoking, or consuming alcohol in any form.

It’s important to note that avoiding driving under the influence still applies when vaping alcohol. Due to the same intoxication effects as drinking, driving after vaping alcohol can result in legal repercussions and serious harm to ourselves or others.

Vaping Alcohol: How To Quit

If you or someone you know currently vapes alcohol, it’s important to break this habit so as to avoid the adverse health effects. Quitting vaping alcohol requires a combination of determination, planning, and support. Here are ways to help you make this lifestyle change. 

  • Set a clear goal and plan. If you’re currently vaping alcohol on a frequent basis, it will take time to gradually shift away from this habit. Define your objective clearly. For instance, if you vape daily, aim to reduce this habit bit by bit. Aim to go vape-free two or three days a week and gradually cut back over a few weeks or a couple months. Write down your reasons for quitting: are you doing it for your health, your finances, or for relationship reasons? This list will remind and motivate you during challenging times. 

  • Understand your triggers. Identifying situations, emotions, or activities that trigger your desire to vape is crucial. Common triggers include stress, social settings, certain times of the day, or after meals. Once you identify these triggers, you can develop strategies to avoid or manage them. For instance, if stress triggers your vaping, consider healthier stress management techniques such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies. Furthermore, stay away from environments or social circles where vaping is common, as being there will make it harder to quit.

  • Seek support. Don't underestimate the power of support. Inform family, friends, or colleagues about your decision to quit. Their encouragement can be invaluable. Consider joining support groups or forums where you can share experiences and strategies with others who are trying to quit (We have several in the Reframe app!). A counselor or healthcare provider can also provide guidance, support, and resources. Furthermore, your medical team can help you develop a safe quitting plan and monitor or treat any health effects that may arise.

  • Replace the habit. Find healthier alternatives to replace your vaping habit. These can include simple tweaks such as chewing gum, snacking on healthy foods, or going for a walk. The key is to keep your mind and body occupied to reduce the urge to vape. 

  • Be mindful of withdrawal symptoms. Be prepared for withdrawal symptoms. Depending on your level of dependency, you may experience cravings, irritability, headaches, or anxiety. Remember, these symptoms are temporary and will diminish over time. Practice relaxation techniques and stay hydrated to help manage these symptoms. If symptoms become unbearable or do not subside, please reach out to your healthcare provider.
  • Celebrate milestones. Recognize and celebrate your progress. Whether it's one day, one week, or one month without vaping, acknowledging these milestones can provide a sense of achievement and motivate you to continue your journey.

Final Thoughts

Vaping alcohol is a dangerous practice, and should be avoided to mitigate risks such as alcohol poisoning and brain damage. With the right support and an intentional approach, effective change is possible. 

Remember, quitting vaping alcohol is a personal process — what works for one person may not work for another. Be patient with yourself and remain committed to your goal. Each day without vaping is a step towards a healthier you.

Summary FAQs

1. What is vaping alcohol?

Vaping alcohol involves heating alcohol, or alternatively, pouring it over dry ice, and inhaling the vapors that result. Some people use homemade vaporizing devices or even asthma inhalers while vaping alcohol. 

2. What are the dangers of vaping alcohol?

Some of the dangers of vaping alcohol include alcohol poisoning, lung damage, brain damage, and an increased risk of addiction.

3. How is vaping alcohol just as harmful, if not more so, than drinking alcohol?

Since alcohol is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream while vaping, it can lead to an increased calorie intake (through ethanol), rapid and uncontrolled consumption, and bodily overload.  

4. Is vaping alcohol legal?

Yes, alcohol consumption (whether that’s through vaping or otherwise) is legal for those 21 and older in the U.S.

5. How can I quit vaping alcohol?

Quitting vaping involves a comprehensive approach: setting goals, noticing triggers, seeking support, replacing the habit, mindfulness around withdrawal symptoms, and celebrating milestones. 

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