Powdered alcohol, which will begin to appear in alcohol retail establishments under the name Palcohol late this summer, is a growing concern for student affairs administrators. How will this substance impact alcohol use and abuse on college campuses? Do we need to update our substance abuse prevention strategies to help intervene and prevent the misuse of Palcohol? The answer isn’t clear just yet, but knowledge and proactivity is key to any effective prevention strategy.
Here are six things you need to know about powdered alcohol:
1. Dehydrated/powdered alcohol is not new.
The first US patent for the processes of creating powdered alcohol was filed in 1974. Powdered alcohol is created when alcohol is absorbed into cyclodextrins (sugar molecules), which absorb up to 60 percent of their own weight in alcohol. Only the current branding of Palcohol is new. According to Mark Phillips, the creator of Palcohol, the primary reason for the creation and sale of powdered alcohol was for camping and other outdoor activities where the portability of liquid alcohol represented a barrier.
2. Powdered alcohol has a low density of alcohol per volume.
When we think of powdered alcohol, the first image that comes to our minds is a Crystal Light or Starbucks Via-like mixer that could be added to a bottle of water, which would turn it alcoholic. However, powdered alcohol is packaged in three ounce packages, and all three ounces are required to make one standard size drink. This is 10-20 times the volume of other drink additives.
3. Mixing powdered alcohol takes a significant period of time.
There is concern that powdered alcohol can be used to spike a drink, however this is unlikely to be successful. In order to fully dissolve the powdered alcohol, it must be consistently agitated (shaken, or stirred) for 90-120 seconds.
4. Powdered alcohol is regulated and will be sold like an alcoholic beverage.
Standard purchase and possession laws will apply. Additionally, many local and state regulatory boards and legislatures have been taking action to ban the sale of powdered alcohol altogether.
5. Powdered alcohol can be eaten and snorted, but with very limited efficacy.
Another concern about powdered alcohol is that it will be placed on food or snorted. While either is possible, it is a highly inefficient means of consuming alcohol or for feeling the effects of intoxication. For consumption, a substantial quantity of powdered alcohol would have to be put on food to cause the euphoric effect of alcohol consumption. For snorting, a user would need to snort roughly 100 lines of powdered alcohol to consume one serving.
6. Powdered alcohol is expensive.
Because of the chemical processes required to create powdered alcohol, the packing and labeling requirements, and the taxes associated with sale, powdered alcohol is expected to show up at retail at about four times the cost of liquid alcohols. As a reminder, young drinkers (including underage drinkers) are price sensitive for the purchase of alcohol.
We encourage administrators and student affairs staff to be knowledgeable and prepared for the use and abuse of powdered alcohol on campus. In a live briefing, Addressing Palcohol: Comprehensive Prevention Tactics for Novel Alcohol and Substance Abuse Concern, experts in campus prevention discuss powdered alcohol, other novel forms of substance abuse, and what can be done to keep students and campuses healthy and safe. We also suggest taking a look at the wealth of resources available on the NASPA BACCHUS Initiatives site, where administrators and peer educators can find helpful information and find opportunities to share ideas about how to keep students safe and healthy.