Getting Drunk Off a Humidifier Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be
Apparently inhaling vodka out of a humidifier is a cheap, shitty, ineffective way of getting drunk. Who knew?
Recently, I was watching a Simpsons marathon when I came across the season 22 episode "Homer the Father." In the episode, Homer fills a humidifier with vodka and falls asleep in a cloud of alcoholic vapor, while Bart steals nuclear secrets for the Chinese. "Hey," I said to myself, “That seems pretty nice. Could it actually work?” (The humidifier part, not the stealing nuclear weapons part.)
Last year, a couple of my friends at VICE tried to smoke alcohol, with funny, albeit overly complicated and unsatisfying results. My theory was that a humidifier would do all the necessary grunt work instead of making a couple of comedians with a bicycle pump soberly exhaust themselves. It wouldn’t be as funny, but I might be able to chillax and kick back, while bathed in soft, wet vodka fog. So I turned to the internet, a.k.a. the most comprehensive collection of quality drug advice. I found that I was certainly not the first to ask the question, “Can you get drunk by putting alcohol in a humidifier?” In fact, a decade ago, the first “alcohol vaporizing/nebulizing” machines were introduced into the United States by way of English inventor Dominic Simler and his Alcohol WithOut Liquid machine (AWOL). Ostensibly, it worked by running oxygen bubbles through alcohol to create an alcoholic mist to be imbibed, although one enraged YouTube user said he’d been scammed, claiming the device was just a repackaged nebulizer for pulmonary disease.
In a promotional video for the device found on the official AWOL website, one of the users/actors states: “In ten years’ time, I can see everybody doing this.” Unfortunately for Dominic and his alcho-vapor, the machine was banned in 17 states within two years, although imitation products still pop up occasionally. Today, the inventor works in “broking dax options,” whatever the fuck that is, and has been at it since 2007, so I assume that the whole "inhaling alcohol" venture didn't pan out. Maybe because he was charging between $299 and $2,500 for the devices. I mean, look at how ridiculous that machine is. Until he turned it on, I honestly thought it was the boombox playing that weird early-2000s club-jamz soundtrack going on in the background.
Then I found a gastronomy project from 2009 in London, called Alcoholic Architecture, which was supposed to be an “air-bar,” pumping one part gin and three parts tonic vapor through massive humidifiers in the walls. But the consensus was that it only got patrons a little heady, and they had to wear what was basically a hazmat suit to enter. Plus the project only ran for ten days. The creators seemed more interested in food stunting than getting drunk. But the fact that nobody died, and they were somehow able to get permits for this, was a pretty good indicator that it was somewhat safe when done correctly.
The day before the experiment, I candidly asked my doctor what he thought would happen. After calling the idea “stupid” and “something you’d see on that TV show that used to be on, that’s now made three movies,” he told me that alcohol was a poison and a cardiac suppressant, and said I should look up any incidences of death from inhalation of alcohol. As any good doctor, he told me not to do it, but later forwarded me a study about alcohol inhalation, which says that rats who are given vaped alcohol quickly become little rat alcoholics, to which he added, “If the rats like it, humans will love it.”
The only warning I really heeded was that of a possible fire, since I live with roommates and can’t afford being kicked out of my apartment. I didn’t want to combine any heating elements with my liquor. Luckily, the drugstore near me carried a small, ultrasonic humidifier that worked by using a metal diaphragm vibrating at an ultrasonic frequency to produce a fine mist, same as the giant machines powering Alcoholic Architecture. I also picked up a breathalyzer and a 500 ml bottle of cheap vodka. If I wasn’t going to be tasting it anyway, why bother with the good stuff?
Back at home, I set up the machine and discovered that I’d need to attach the bottle of vodka to the machine itself, but the adaptor didn’t fit into the bottle. Luckily, my dad was an engineer, so after a quick, nonspecific call home for advice, I rigged up a connector out of an old water bottle and duct tape and started up the machine. At first, nothing came out of the nozzle, and I wondered if I’d broken the damn thing. I looked at the front; the little light shone green. I popped off the top and the vodka bubbled over the sides, but no vapor. Alcohol must be heavier than water, I guessed, so I added a couple capfuls of water to the tank. After a few seconds, liquid vapors began to gently leak out of the nozzle. It was rank.
I breathed in deep to catch as much as I could, and exhaled. Terrible. I had to take a clean breath to stop from gagging, and ended up alternating breaths so I could actually take in the poisonous stream. For what it was worth, this $29.99 store brand humidifier was pumping out a clean stream of distinctly acrid, rubbing alcohol-smelling, watered-down vodka vapor. It reminded me of taking a shot I wasn’t ready for. This was definitely going to take a minute to get used to. For science.
After about five minutes, I took a break. I definitely felt slightly buzzed, and had a sort of lightheadedness, so I went for the breathalyzer. It read 0.12. “That’s ridiculous,” my roommate and photographer said. “Are you okay?” I tried again: 0.11. There was no way I was that drunk, it had only been a few minutes and, hell, my speech wasn’t even slurred. Could it be my Ukrainian roots? I rifled through the booklet to see if I could calibrate the device, and saw that they recommended waiting 20 minutes before testing yourself, to make sure the alcohol was absorbed. Then I realized that I was literally breathing alcoholic vapor into a breathalyzer; so of fucking course it was going to read some crazy high number. I might as well have put the breathalyzer up to the humidifier nozzle. Though, if I was being that illogical, maybe I was drunk. I waited 20 minutes and tried again. The screen read 0.00, but by then the buzz had already faded.
It occurred to me that when you drink alcohol, it sits in your stomach, slowly being absorbed, whereas a vapor leaves you just as quickly as it comes in. I’d have to get smashed and see how long that took, and how long it stuck around. I still had half of the bottle left, with most of the other half in the machine’s tank. This could take a while. I put on some TV and went to work letting the waves wash over my mouth and nose, breathing deeply. The inhalation became easier as time went on, but every so often I had to wipe off my wet mustache and blow my nose. Besides that, every three minutes or so, the flow would peter out and stop, and I had to shake the device to get it working, spilling vodka all over the table. Occasionally, I added water when the flow would weaken. I finally found that a one-to-three ratio of water to vodka was giving me the best results.
After 20 minutes of deep breathing, I was definitely out of it. Not hammered, but surely unable to drive or deal with children. I had a headache and my eyes stung a bit. I turned off the machine and went outside to wait on the breathalyzer, but just for fun hit it in advance. I blew a 0.14. I remember reading a Tucker Max story where he got himself a breathalyzer and challenged people to drinking contests, getting really excited because he hit some ridiculous numbers immediately after taking a bunch of shots. No shit, dude. RTFM.
I sat on the patio and felt my drunkenness fade away. Within a few minutes, I was already back to a relatively sober state from not constantly inhaling vodka. After ten minutes I blew a 0.03. After 20 I was back to 0.01. The headache lessened but persisted, and I didn’t feel totally sober; more sleepy than drunk. I realized that a breathalyzer was probably the worst way to gauge drunkenness after inhaling alcohol. I decided to give it one more shot, and went inside.
This time, around the seven minute mark, I had a headache and my face felt disgustingly heavy. I laid back and let the humidifier keep blowing in my face, no longer interested in taking deep, heavy breaths. I rested my stinging eyes for a second, and fell asleep. I woke up to my roommate yelling from the other room asking if I was dead yet. I didn’t notice he’d ever left the room. After a total of 15 minutes, I didn’t feel very good. I blew into the breathalyzer: 0.09. My entire living room smelled like a shitty dad. Enough was enough.
While I aired out the apartment, I took a hot shower to clear my lungs of liquor. After about a half-hour I felt pretty close to sober, though still pretty sleepy. I blew a 0.02, and by the end of the next hour my BAC had dropped back to zero. The rest of the day I just felt slightly hungover. We drank the rest of the bottle that night, and found the experience more enjoyable and less time consuming.
Getting drunk off a humidifier is a really boring, shitty way to get drunk. On the plus side, it’s crazy cheap to pick up one of these ultrasonic machines, and after some kludging and cutting with water, you can get nicely drunk in a ridiculously short amount of time. It appears that the absorption rates by inhalation are much higher than via the stomach, kind of like how smoking weed is way more effective than eating an edible, and lasts less time. The downside is that smoking weed cannot kill you, whereas vaping straight alcohol can absolutely kill you, and pretty quickly at that. Honestly, I don’t want to be responsible for the first humidifier alcohol death, so I would keep it at five to ten minutes at a time, if that.
All in all, this is a pretty good way to get a quick, shitty buzz, but a terrible way to get, and stay drunk. Don’t die.
Follow Jules Suzdaltsev on Twitter.