What Does Palcohol Mean for the Future of Drug Addiction?

The future is here: Palcohol, the commercial name for “Powdered Alcohol”, is a packet of alcohol that only requires the addition of water to instantly create an alcoholic beverage. Palcohol could become the “Kool-Aid” of teenage binge drinking. It works exactly like the popular powdered sugar drink (just add water) and comes in popular flavors including margarita, lemon drop, mojito, and cosmopolitan.

Palcohol: Too Easy To Use?

Pop open a packet and mix the ingredients with water or food, or simply snort the powder for an instant rush of alcohol. Each packet is roughly 50 percent alcohol by weight and between 12 and 60 percent alcohol by volume, although final ingredients vary based on the label.

According to the company, approximately 1/2 cup of Palcohol is equivalent to one drink. While the pocket-sized powder packet is not yet approved for public consumption – and may never be, should public health advocates have their way – Palcohol is raising new fears over the future of addiction.

In April, public health advocates, lawmakers, and addiction specialists were in an uproar over the FDA’s decision to approve Palcohol for commercial consumption. Fortunately, Palcohol’s labels were approved in error, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) quickly rescinded Palcohol’s label approval. The company claimed the controversy stemmed from confusion over how much powdered alcohol was actually in each of the packets, and resubmitted the labels for approval. A decision on re-approval is still pending.

Palcohol Oz

Palcohol, in fact, is not the first attempt at the creation of powdered alcohol. According to patent data, General Foods Corporation (now a Kraft subsidiary) initially attempted to patent an “alcohol-containing powder” in the early 1970s. The company used a process known as hydrolysis to break down a carbohydrate into a white powder. The powder was then combined with pure liquid alcohol, which stuck to the powder and essentially turned the alcohol into white dust.

Palcohol and Addiction: New Dangers for Today’s Youth

While underage drinking is hardly a new phenomenon, Palcohol offers a new, attractive way for underage drinkers to get drunk without purchasing actual alcohol in a liquor store. Underage drinking is a serious problem affecting millions of American youth.

CDC Binge Drinking Stats

Commonly viewed as a quintessential “rite of passage”, more and more underage drinkers are engaging in alcohol consumption in the context of binge drinking. While binge drinking is common amongst young adults, this dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption is not limited to underage drinkers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Binge drinking is most common among young adults aged 18–34 years.
  • Approximately 92% of U.S. adults who drink excessively report binge drinking in the past 30 days.
  • About 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.
  • More than half of the alcohol consumed by adults in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.

Binge drinking is associated with many direct or indirect consequences, including unintentional injuries, car crashes, alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, liver disease, high blood pressure, neurological damage, and sexual dysfunction.

Even without binge drinking, alcohol use by individuals under the age of 21 is a major public health problem. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug in the United States – more so even than tobacco – and is responsible for more than 4300 underage deaths each year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol use by underage individuals is associated with a number of issues, including:

  • Higher absentee rates
  • Poor/failing grades
  • An increased likelihood for fighting
  • Lack of participation in youth activities
  • Unwanted or unplanned sexual activity
  • The disruption of normal growth and sexual development
  • Increased risk for physical assault and sexual assault
  • Higher risk for car crashes
  • Higher risk for brain development problems with potential life-altering long-term effects

Those Most At Risk

Palcohol Flavors

Youth who start binge drinking before the age of 15 years are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and/or abuse later in life than those who do not begin drinking until on or after 21 years of age. In its fun flavors and easy-to-use Kool-Aid-like packaging, public health officials fear that youth will be even more likely to abuse Palcohol, which increases the risk for long-term health problems associated with alcohol abuse. In essence, Palcohol could act as a “gateway” drug to alcohol abuse and binge drinking.

Public health experts have also raised concerns about snorting Palcohol, which could theoretically get individuals drunk almost instantly, as the alcohol would be absorbed quickly through the nose. However, Palcohol’s manufacturers claim that their product is not intended to be snorted, and that they’ve taken safety precautions to reduce the likelihood that individuals would attempt to snort it.

Specifically, Palcohol released the following statement, “We’ve added volume to the powder so it would take more than a half of a cup of powder to get the equivalent of one drink up your nose. You would feel a lot of pain for very little gain. Just use it the right way.”

Snorting half a cup of any powder is hardly appealing and certainly not the same thing as snorting a line or two of coke, for example.

Even if Palcohol is not snorted, however, public health experts still worry that teens could easily abuse Palcohol. It’s all too easy for teens to pop open a few powdered packets and mix up a round – or 10 – of drinks, increasing the risk for long-term health problems and future substance abuse.

Compensating For The “Rewards” of Alcohol Abuse

Finding new ways to compensate for the rewarding effects of alcohol is important, especially as easily-abused substances like Palcohol are developed, is essential to successful treatment.

A study, conducted by The University of Virginia, screened individuals who were alcohol dependent for a specific genetic marker that would predict the amount of pleasure people perceive while drinking. This genetic marker also influenced their future cravings for alcohol once they stopped drinking. Individuals who matched the genetic marker responded positively to Ondansetron as a medication for treating severe alcohol consumption.

Pouring Powder

“By being able to do genetic screening beforehand, clinicians can eliminate a great deal of the trial and error approach to prescribing medicine,” Johnson says. “Personalized medicine allows them to better predict a successful treatment option, as well as reducing both premature medication changes and simultaneous multiple medication regimens.”

The UVA study represents a critical step forward in the treatment of alcohol abuse and dependency, which will become increasingly important as drugs like Palcohol increase the likelihood for substance abuse. In addition to using genetically targeted medication like Ondansetron to treat an individual’s craving for addictive substances, treatment centers will also need to be prepared to adopt behavioral treatment to address these new addictions.

The ease of using Palcohol – the equivalent of mixing a drink with a Kool-Aid packet – increases the accessibility of alcohol. While a small flask may be easy to carry and conceal, a flask can only hold so much alcohol; an individual could easily carry two to three times as much alcohol on their person with the small Palcohol packets. Consequently, this expanded accessibility increases the risk for abuse and addiction, and treatment centers must be prepared to respond to this.

Reducing the Risk for Relapse: The Need for Aftercare

Chain of People

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a chronic illness, and as a result 40 to 60 percent of people who have an addiction relapse at least once. Alcohol is a legal substance that is commonly consumed everywhere from holiday gatherings to company dinners. Staying sober is already a tremendous challenge, and Palcohol could theoretically only make it more tempting for individuals to begin drinking again. Consequently, substance abuse treatment programs must offer comprehensive aftercare programs that take into account a drug’s ready availability and ease of use.

Effective aftercare starts with robust relapse prevention plans, which should be put in place prior to an individual’s completion of a treatment program. Staying alert for signs of relapse is also important. For some individuals, a stressful situation at work or conflict with a family member may trigger the desire to begin drinking again.

For other individuals, it may be the opposite. A string of successes can make an individual feel invincible and strong, in effect strong enough to drink again without abusing alcohol. Unfortunately, for those who abuse alcohol, this is never the case. Effective aftercare programs must have a strong support network in place to help individuals resist the temptation to begin using again.

Addressing Treatment Solutions For Palcohol

Alcohol Bottles

Most people who enter treatment programs have no intention of ever abusing alcohol or drugs again. However, as drugs like Palcohol continue to evolve, aftercare programs must also evolve to better reduce the likelihood for relapse. Different individuals have different aftercare needs. Some individuals will benefit from transitional housing and employment opportunities.

This is especially important for individuals who may lack a strong family support system or who have lost or alienated friends, family, and co-workers because of substance abuse. However, even individuals with a strong support system at home will benefit from an aftercare plan that includes regular sobriety meetings (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous) and a sponsor’s support.

The possibility of trying a new substance like Palcohol can still be very tempting for individuals who have completed treatment. Individuals who do experience a relapse should immediately return to treatment for detox and intensive inpatient care, followed by outpatient counseling and support group meetings.

While Palcohol may not yet be approved by the FDA, Palcohol’s manufacturers are confident that their product will eventually gain approval. Consequently, drug treatment centers must proactively prepare to address the potentially new and challenging treatment problems associated with Pacohol abuse.

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