You can shoot it, bong it, chug it, sip it, shotgun it, nurse it and soon you’ll be able to inhale it. Literally.
A machine known as Alcohol Without Liquid (AWOL for short) made its U.S. debut late last month at a trendy New York club to the rave reviews of patrons and the warnings of local officials.
Here’s how it works: A bartender pours a shot of alcohol into a chamber in an asthma inhaler-type device that is connected to an oxygen generator. The AWOL machine then pumps oxygen through the chamber, where it absorbs the alcohol. Patrons inhale the resulting vapor out of the mouthpiece.
The machine is calibrated so that it takes approximately 20 minutes to inhale a shot of alcohol.
Despite the marketing efforts of Spirit Partners, AWOL’s U.S. distributor, it is relatively easy to discover that the machine is not as chic as it tries to be.
In my experience, most people drink shots because they cannot leisurely drink straight anything without gagging (or worse). Hence, you get a mouthful, throw it down as fast as possible, tolerate a few seconds of discomfort and enjoy the benefit of your actions just a few minutes later.
Users of AWOL, even though they don’t drink the alcohol in the chamber, still consume all of it through the nose and mouth. This means that there is taste. Twenty minutes of it.
So unless you particularly enjoy tasting tequila for the better part of a half-hour or you’re willing to stay on the fruity end of the alcohol spectrum, AWOL probably isn’t for you.
Then there’s the social aspect of AWOL, or rather, lack of it.
Whether you’re sitting around a table reminiscing with old friends, crammed in the corner of a damp basement at a house party, or playing a rousing game of flip-cup, drinking is an activity that almost always requires a good deal of social interaction.
Now picture this: three old friends sit on a couch in a trendy club, ready to inhale their shots using AWOL. Conversation grinds to a halt as soon as the machine is turned on, and for the next 20 minutes (at least) they sit in near silence, lips wrapped around inhalers so as to minimize the alcoholic vapor that escapes into the club. Sounds pretty boring, huh?
There are also more serious issues that come along with the introduction of AWOL.
One of these is the method that AWOL uses to deliver alcohol to the brain. Alcohol that is inhaled is absorbed from the lungs directly into the bloodstream. In contrast, a shot taken the regular way first has to travel through the stomach and small intestine before it is absorbed into the bloodstream.
The pizza you ate two hours before hitting the bars slows this process even more.
Sounds pretty cool on the surface, but the rapid absorption and the resulting equally rapid effects can be dangerous. The process of vaporization of alcohol with oxygen used in AWOL is the same process used by researchers when studying the effects of alcohol addiction on mice. In this way, most lab mice become addicted to alcohol in a very short period of time.
Because the effects of vaporized alcohol are more rapid and more intense (the official AWOL website refers to the effects as a “euphoric high”), worries of increased alcohol addiction in humans are warranted.
The makers of AWOL, sensing this danger, calibrated their machines to vaporize small amounts of alcohol slowly. If the inhalation of alcohol proves to be more than a localized fad, copycat devices won’t be far behind. It is likely that at least some of these devices will not offer similar precautions.
The future of AWOL in the United States is uncertain at this moment. Alcohol License boards, law enforcement officials and club owners in New York continue to fight over the legality of a machine that is clearly a dangerous and unnecessary addition to bar and club scenes that already have problems handling binge-drinkers and unruly patrons.
Besides, there’s a certain feeling one gets after downing a shot. Maybe it’s a sense of accomplishment or victory or maybe even a hint of pride. That can’t be rivaled by sucking on an inhaler for 20 minutes.
Now … where’s my Cuervo with training wheels?
Laura Rego ([email protected]wisc.edu) is a senior majoring in political science and journalism.