Over the last few days, the Internet has been actively discussing a recently approved (which has now been declared an error) powdered alcohol product for sale in the United States. Known as Palcohol, this powder was to be sold in small, airtight containers similar to water flavorings or Vitamin-C packets. Usage was dead simple: open packet, add to water, consume.
Although approval was almost immediately rescinded, it was not because of the potential risk posed to the public, it was because the amount of the product in the package was inconsistent with its label.
Powdered alcohol has been attempted in the past. As early as 1974, a patent was registered in the U.S. for a “flowable powder having up to 60% ethyl alcohol content”. Patenting, however, is different from mass producing and marketing. Similar products are available elsewhere in the world such as Japan and Germany.
Of Grave Concern
At Addiction Recovery, we are most concerned with the possible consequences that a highly portable and easily concealed substance would cause to society. If someone were to use less than the suggested amount of liquid they would receive higher alcohol content. This could easily encourage over-consumption of alcohol. Couple sheer convenience with the inability or refusal to follow the supplied instructions, would allow individuals to freely consume varying amounts of alcohol in as little time possible.
It is common knowledge that children readily put almost anything in their mouth. These flavored packets could appeal to children because some candies often times come in similar packaging. The fear is that they can consume the contents of these packets anticipating a treat, but instead ingesting alcohol.
The potential for underage alcohol abuse is incredibly high. Different states have varying alcohol control laws. There have been attempts to classify powdered alcohol differently from drinks so that it could be easier to obtain. Due to the small size of each packet and that they would be available in large quantities, it would been exceedingly easy for young adults to come to possess a huge quantity of this substance.
Easily concealed, such a product could make many public and social events inherently more risky. One of the selling points the Palcohol website used was that an individual could take packets into events to “save money” by not purchasing expensive drinks from the venue. Someone could just as easily do the same at a little-league baseball game, at a school, or practically anywhere. There would be no way to tell whether or not a drink contained alcohol in public situations.
Regrettably, the Palcohol website also referenced the possibility of snorting the powder just as one would with cocaine. Even though it was downplayed and labeled a thing not to do, Palcohol knew the potential for their product to be used in this manner. This method would be a highly efficient way to deliver alcohol into the bloodstream as sinuses readily absorb drugs and chemicals.
Due to the highly variable nature of dosing and self restraint, battling alcoholism might become more difficult. Everyone has the potential to become a “mixologist”. Application of Palcohol is a casual affair and the amount of alcohol consumed is very difficult to quantify. There is nothing to stop a party-goer from adding more alcohol to a drink served by a bartender. Bottled alcohol can just as easily get an extra dose when Palcohol comes into play. More to the point, Palcohol could be added to someone else's beverage without their knowing, compromising their judgement and making them more susceptible to date-rape or worse.
Fortunately, Palcohol won’t be commercially available in the immediate future. The problem is that there are similar products in the market and powdered alcohol can be easily made at home. The key to preventing and reducing alcohol abuse is providing solid support and recovery resources to those that need them.