June 25, 2013 at 7:38 AM ET
It's the dangerous new way teens are getting drunk -- and it's going viral. Now doctors say it could be deadly.
It's called "smoking alcohol." You don't drink the booze, you inhale it. Sounds bizarre, but those vapors give you an instant high.
Here's the problem: Doctors say it's incredibly dangerous and can be extremely addictive. Pure alcohol shooting into your brain. Doctors are issuing an urgent warning: Don't try this at home.
Chances are your teenager has seen it on YouTube, where hits are exploding into the millions: vaporizing alcohol. It looks like a game, but doctors say it can be deadly. One video shows teens putting a small amount of vodka into a plastic bottle, pumping it with air, and sucking in the potent fumes. They do it with beer, whiskey, Champagne, the list goes on. And within seconds, they say, they're drunk.
"These videos scare the hell out of me," says Steve Pasierb, who runs the partnership at drugfree.org. "It's binge drinking in an instant. It's like doing five or six shots into your bloodstream right away."
Here's the danger: When you drink alcohol normally, the liquor takes time to affect you, first going into your stomach, then slowly processed in your liver, and about 20 minutes later, into your bloodstream. But smoking alcohol is absorbed instantly into the lungs, racing to the brain. And, doctors say, it can poison you faster.
"The normal sensation when you drink and you are getting more drunk is to vomit: It's your body's way of expelling alcohol," explained Dr. Robert Glatter of Lenox Hill Hospital. " However, when you inhale alcohol, your brain has no way of expelling it."
And there's more. Experts say some of these videos lure teens in with false promises, like "this can help you lose weight." Or that you can hide your drunkenness from police and your parents.
"It's in your lungs, it's on your breath," Steve Pasierb told us.
"Then you can get a DUI from it?" we asked.
"Absolutely. You can get a DUI. It will be in your blood system."
As for the weight-loss claim, Pasierb said, "When you're consuming alcohol, you are consuming calories, period."
Another myth out there is that smoking alcohol isn't illegal, because you're not drinking. Not true. We checked with criminal defense lawyers who told us that no matter how you consume alcohol, it's illegal under 21.
This is so new that there are no hard numbers yet on how many kids have ended up in the hospital from smoking alcohol. But doctors say it may be hard to tell when someone is sick from regular drinking or this: They test your blood and it shows you have alcohol poisoning, but doesn't say whether you drank it or smoked it. But ER doctors tell us they're watching for it now.