The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that, as of 2015, 16 million adolescents and adults in the United States struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD), an addiction to alcohol. More statistics show that nearly 27 percent of people binge drink (have more than four drinks over the course of one event) at least once per month, and 7 percent of people drink heavily, meaning they drink two or more alcoholic beverages per day on average. The vast majority of people who consume alcohol excessively drink it, sending it through their digestive system, absorbing the high number of calories, and causing damage to their livers.
Recently, however, some people who abuse alcohol have tried to find ways to get drunk without the calories, hangover, or other side effects. These are actually even more dangerous than drinking, and they can cause serious harm to the body very quickly. Medical conditions may lead to sudden death or chronic health problems.
Here are the 10 ways people get drunk without actually drinking alcohol:
- Snorting: When most people think about snorting substances, they probably think about cocaine or crushed prescription painkillers. They’re not likely to think about alcohol, but some people have attempted to get drunk faster by snorting alcohol. Reports about snorting liquid alcohol, usually a high-proof vodka or similar liquor, date back several years, but when Palcohol, or powdered alcohol, was released on the market, some people abused it by snorting it. Snorting any kind of alcohol is dangerous because the alcohol is not processed into smaller molecules; instead, it is sent directly through the bloodstream to the brain. Additionally, snorting a liquid can cause a person to drown if the alcohol enters the lungs.
- Inhaling: Aside from snorting, inhaling vaporized alcohol can get the chemical into the bloodstream rapidly. Vaporizers used for tobacco or marijuana may evaporate alcohol, or just boiling it over a stove can cause some alcohol to get into the steam. An invention out of Europe, called Alcohol Without Liquid or AWOL, is similar to other vaporizer technology but allows the user to inhale alcohol vapor rather than other drugs. The lung’s alveoli will absorb many chemicals in a breath, not just oxygen, so alcohol quickly passes through the bloodstream and, as with snorting, hits the brain hard.
- Under the tongue: Sublingual absorption, or placing something under the tongue, is an increasingly popular method of taking medications. Because the mucous membranes under the tongue absorb drugs rapidly, some people now use sublingual absorption to abuse alcohol. When you drink alcohol, a small amount enters the bloodstream through the mouth anyway; however, holding alcohol in the mouth rather than swallowing it is not an efficient or enjoyable way to get drunk, and it is more likely to harm the mouth, potentially leading to ulcers.
- Enemas: Like the above forms of alcohol abuse, an alcohol enema assumes that the intoxicating chemical will be efficiently absorbed through sensitive mucous membranes. Also called “butt-chugging,” reports of enemas with alcohol do suggest that alcohol can be rapidly absorbed through this part of the body; however, people have killed themselves with this method because alcohol hits the brain very quickly, which can force the person to pass out with alcohol still in this cavity. Their body continues to absorb the alcohol and they can’t do anything about it, such as vomit the toxin out of their body so their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can rapidly rise, leading to spontaneous death.
- Tampons: Similar to enemas, alcohol is absorbed into a tampon, which is then placed in the vagina with the assumption that this thin mucous membrane will quickly send alcohol into the bloodstream. This process is less efficient than enemas but less dangerous; however, it can be very damaging to the body, and it can cause infections, scarring, and loss of fertility.
- Eyeballing: This practice is pretty much what it sounds like – pouring a high-proof alcohol, usually vodka, directly onto the eyeball. While this likely does not work, the theory involves rapid absorption of alcohol through the capillaries in the eyes, directly into the bloodstream. However, little is actually absorbed, and doing this is much more likely to damage those delicate arteries as well as other parts of the eyeball and cause inflammation. Doing this long-term will lead to blindness.
- Injecting: While some medical researchers apply intravenous ethanol to their subjects, this is only so they can control the exact amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. Factors like how rapidly alcohol enters the brain and affects other body systems is carefully controlled in a research laboratory. Doing this just to get drunk is very dangerous, and, like other forms of rapid absorption, it can cause sudden death.
- Eating: Alcoholic gummy bears, Jell-O shots, popsicles, and even fermented foods or drinks like kombucha can cause drunkenness. While these are a little safer because they move through the digestive system so BAC does not spike suddenly, too much can still be dangerous, especially Jell-O-O shots or gummy bears, where a lot of alcohol can be eaten at once, digested, and hit the bloodstream with more potency than binge drinking.
- Household products: Huffing gasoline or aerosol sprays may lead to a spike in BAC because these products contain types of industrial alcohol. On top of the other detrimental chemicals in the products, isopropyl, methyl, or ethyl alcohol can cause damage to the brain and lungs. Other household products like mouthwash or cough syrup also contain alcohol, and some people drink these to get drunk.
- Auto-brewery syndrome: Unlike other points on this list, auto-brewery syndrome is a medical condition caused by an imbalance of yeast and bacteria in the digestive system. This imbalance causes the body to ferment foods, especially sugars and starches, into alcohol in the stomach; the alcohol is then absorbed into the bloodstream and will cause the person to feel and act drunk – because they are! Fortunately, antifungal medications can treat this condition, so it is not a lifelong problem.