You may be surprised to learn that some people are snorting, or nasally inhaling, alcohol instead of drinking it. While there’s no evidence that it’s particularly widespread, it’s notable enough to have shown up in the news.
Of course, consuming alcohol is never without its risks, but does snorting bring with it some added risks (or even benefits)?
Keep reading to find out how — and why — people might snort alcohol, and what to expect if you’re considering trying it.
There are a few ways to go about getting alcohol into your nose.
Alcohol without liquid (AWOL) devices
AWOL devices are basically a type of vaporizer. You pour liquor into a diffuser capsule that’s connected to an oxygen pipe. From here, oxygen bubbles pass through the capsule, where they absorb the alcohol.
You inhale — through either your mouth or nose — the boozy oxygen through a tube.
After a surge in popularity in the early aughts, AWOL devices are now banned in many places.
With AWOL devices increasingly hard to find, some people report adding alcohol to vaporizers. While people generally vape with their mouth, there are reports online of people inhaling the vapor nasally.
Then, of course, there are folks who just snort liquid alcohol, usually something clear like gin or vodka. This is known as a “chilly willy.”
But how, exactly, does one snort a liquid? Some people report using a straw to snort alcohol out of a glass. Others report snorting small amounts of alcohol off the concave surface of an overturned shot glass.
You get a burning sensation, for one. Think of what happens when you accidentally get water in your nose — that tingly, burning feeling that seems travel from you nose to your eyes. Now think of how your mouth and throat feel when you swallow a shot of vodka.
Combine those two sensations, and you’re left with a pretty uncomfortable, eye-watering experience.
And then there are the bodily processes involved.
When you drink alcohol, it’s diluted by your stomach and liver, which contain an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. This enzyme breaks down the ethanol in whatever you’ve swallowed, preventing you from getting too drunk too quickly.
But when you snort alcohol, it bypasses this process and goes straight into your bloodstream without being processed (and diluted). As a result, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will be higher, and you’ll feel the effects of the alcohol faster and more intensely.
Snorting alcohol doesn’t appeal to everyone, but there are a few reasons why some might give it a try:
- It’s (allegedly) calorie- and hangover-free. Some might be lured by claims that inhaling alcohol helps you avoid both calories and a hangover, but there’s
no real evidencefor either of these claims.
- It’s efficient. Some simply like that it gets you drunker faster.
- It’s a novelty. It’s something a little different, and it can be done with friends or even at a bar (unlike, say, alcohol enemas or vodka tampons).
- It’s some people’s personal preference. Some people might like the taste and smell of alcohol but not the burning sensation of swallowing it.
- There’s no alcohol breath. Some people see inhaling alcohol as a way to avoid having their drinking detected by others — especially law enforcement. But remember, the alcohol is still in your bloodstream. If you’re pulled over after snorting alcohol, a breathalyzer will still pick up on the alcohol in your system.
Consuming alcohol already carries risks, but snorting or inhaling it adds a new elements.
Perhaps the biggest risk with snorting alcohol comes down to how little experts know about its effects. The immediate effects are
That said, having alcohol go straight to your bloodstream can result in a few issues, the big one being acute alcohol intoxication, colloquially known as alcohol poisoning. This potentially life threatening condition happens when your body is faced with more alcohol that in can process.
To make matters worse, you can’t throw up that excess alcohol because it isn’t going through your digestive system.
Finally, snorting alcohol can damage the sensitive skin inside your nose.
If you’re set on having the chilly willy experience, there are few things you can do to make things a bit safer.
You’ll feel the effects more when you go this route, so don’t go all in right away. Consider what you’d usually drink, and scale back to a fraction of that. Remember, you won’t be able to throw up if you snort too much, so it’s best to go slow.
Other than that, the best practices of snorting anything come into play here, too. That means using sterile equipment, whether that’s a straw, a shot glass, or a vape, and not sharing with others. You might also want to give your nose a rinse with warm water afterward to help with any discomfort.
Alcohol poisoning signs
Finally, make sure you (and those you’re with) know how to recognize the signs of alcohol poisoning:
- feelings of confusion and disorientation
- lack of coordination
- cold and clammy skin and lowered body temperature
- pale or bluish skin color
- slow, fast, or irregular heart rate
- irregular and slow breathing
- slurred speech
- stupor or loss of consciousness
Call 911 (or your local emergency number) right away if someone experiences any of these symptoms after consuming alcohol in any way.
Snorting alcohol is one way to feel drunk without having to consume a lot of alcohol, but it’s not as practical as it sounds.
Consuming alcohol always comes with some risks, but at least those risks are well documented. With snorting alcohol, you’re in uncharted territory where the exact risks aren’t fully understood. If you’re going to try it, keep a friend nearby who can intervene if things take a turn.
If you’re concerned about your alcohol use, you can find free, confidential help here:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Adam England is a freelance writer and journalist. His work has appeared in publications including The Guardian, Euronews, and VICE UK. He focuses on health, culture, and lifestyle. When he’s not writing, he’s probably listening to music.