From Our 2015 Archives
Palcohol: Risky for Teens and People in Recovery?
By Kathleen Doheny
Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH
March 13, 2015 -- The powdered alcohol product known as Palcohol may be available on store shelves this summer. Some health officials are concerned it will only worsen underage drinking.
Federal regulators with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved the new product this week. Five states have banned sales of powdered alcohol, and 28 states have proposed laws this year to ban or regulate it.
In the U.S., about 5,000 people under age 21 die each year due to alcohol-related accidents, homicides, suicides, and injuries, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Mark Phillips, the creator of Palcohol, doesn't see what the fuss over his product is about. He calls efforts to outlaw it the work of those who want a ''nanny state."
What Is Palcohol?
It's a powdered, freeze-dried version of common drinks. It includes rum, vodka, a Cosmopolitan, and a "powderita," Phillips' version of a margarita.
Each pouch-like package weighs about an ounce. Along with the powdered alcohol, it also includes natural flavorings and the sweetener sucralose. You add water or a mixer to the package and shake it to create an average-sized mixed drink. By itself, the powder has about 80 calories a package. One packet equals one shot of alcohol, according to Palcohol's web site.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a division of the U.S. Treasury Department, worked with the FDA to approve the product, says Tom Hogue, a spokesman for the bureau. The bureau reviews the formulation and labeling of distilled spirits products. The FDA reviews the non-alcoholic ingredients.
The FDA doesn't have concerns about those ingredients at this time, says Theresa Eisenman, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Hogue says that states ''have very broad authority to regulate the sale of alcohol within their borders."
Powdered alcohol will trigger abuse by young people, says Scott Krakower, DO, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, N.Y. "I think it's going to appeal to adolescents and will potentially be harmful," he says.
The easy-to-carry product may also tempt people in recovery from alcoholism, he says, since the package seems simple to conceal. He fears some people will try to snort it, which he views as especially dangerous due to choking hazards. Some may combine powdered alcohol with other drugs, such as heroin, he says.
"We worry the sale of powdered alcohol will lead to increased alcohol and drug abuse, with serious implications and health consequences for the country's youth," says Harris Stratyner, PhD, vice president of Caron Treatment Centers in New York.
Another expert says it's simply too soon to know whether powdered alcohol will worsen the underage drinking problem. "We don't have any good science on this [one way or the other]," says Brandon Korman, PsyD, chief of neuropsychology at Miami Children's Hospital.
On Thursday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) proposed federal legislation to stop the production and sale of the product, calling it ''Kool-Aid for underage drinking."
Palcohol Creator: Concerns Unfounded
Snorting the powder won't be appealing, Phillips says on his product's web site. "It really burns. Imagine sniffing liquid vodka."
The package is 4 inches by 6 inches, so it's harder to conceal than some bottled alcohol, he says. Spiking a drink, another expressed concern, would take much longer with a powder than a liquid, he says.
Phillips expects the product to be available where liquor is sold and online, too. It will be more expensive than liquid alcohol, he says, but he didn't offer more details.
SOURCES: Mark Phillips, spokesperson, Palcohol. Harris Stratyner, PhD, vice president, Caron Treatment Centers, New York. Brandon Korman, PsyD, chief of neuropsychology, Miami Children's Hospital. Scott Krakower, DO, assistant unit chief of psychiatry, The Zucker Hillside Hospital, North Shore—LIJ Medical Group; assistant professor of psychiatry, Hofstra North Shore—LIJ School of Medicine, Glen Oaks, N.Y. Tom Hogue, spokesperson, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Theresa Eisenman, spokesperson, Food and Drug Administration. National Conference of State Legislatures. Heather Morton, National Conference of State Legislatures.