You may have heard of powdered alcohol, but how much do you actually know about it? And more importantly, is powdered alcohol legal in the UK?
This is what we’re here to explore. Alcohol powder is more common in the USA, but there have been reports of it being used in the UK – including in UK prisons [i]. It has many names – dry alcohol, dry booze, powdered alcohol, alcohol powder and many more.
Read on to learn more about powdered alcohol, including the science behind it and how it compares to liquid alcohol – and of course, where the law lies regarding alcohol powder in the UK.
What is Powdered Alcohol?
The idea of powdered alcohol is simple – you simply add water to alcohol powder, shake until mixed well, and then enjoy the beverage. It seems like an easy concept, but how exactly does it work? What does it taste like? What is the science behind it? Read on to find out.
There are a variety of types of alcoholic powder – you can find cocktails, whiskey, other spirits, and even powdered alcohol wine.
In Europe, you can purchase versions of powdered alcohol such as Booz2go or Subyou, and in America, you can find Palcahol – which comes in a variety of flavours such as rum, vodka, and many cocktails such as Lemon Drop, Mojito, Cosmopolitan, and Margarita.
There is more than one way to consume powdered alcohol – as well as mixing powdered alcohol with water, you can also find powdered alcohol in pill form or in a capsule.
You simply swallow a tablet or two and feel the effects, leaving you feeling drunk. You can also feel the effects via nebulization – you breathe in the water vapour. However, the most common form of powdered alcohol is a sachet of powder – this is how it is typically sold online.
Most powdered alcohol products state that their powder is 50% alcohol by weight and 10% alcohol by volume.
Liquid alcohol is also measured by volume, and most spirits are typically between 40% and 50% ABV. It can be difficult to know how much powder alcohol you’re consuming as the measurements and alcohol content tend to differ from liquid alcohol.
The Science Behind Alcohol Powder
Powdered alcohol has been around for roughly 50 years – and was first sold in Japan over 30 years ago. However, the idea hasn’t necessarily spread or ‘taken off’ – and they aren’t seen in stores in the UK.
Although the concept of powdered alcohol seems simple, the actual method behind the creation of alcohol powder can be difficult to grasp. Alcohol powder uses compounds (cyclodextrins) to hold the alcohol.
Cyclodextrin compounds are made from starch and have been around since 1891. Enzymes convert the starch into a cyclic molecule that is made of sugar molecules linked together in rings, known as cyclodextrin.
Cyclodextrin compounds feature a middle cavity. This cavity can allow all forms of molecules, which is why it’s known as an inactive ingredient. Inactive ingredients carry other ingredients – active ingredients – like in prescription tablets.
They have a variety of uses commercially – for example, holding fragrances for long-term release in the perfume industry, or removing cholesterol from animal products.
In the alcohol industry, cyclodextrins absorb ethanol alcohol molecules. When liquid alcohol molecules are locked inside cyclodextrin, they create a powdered form of alcohol.
Cyclodextrins are thought to absorb roughly (or more than) half their weight in alcohol. Alcohol is released by adding the powder to water – when it dissolves, the ethanol is released from the compound. As the cyclodextrins aren’t toxic, they are considered safe to consume. [ii]
What Does a Powdered Alcoholic Beverage Look Like?
Powdered alcohol can take many forms – you can find powdered alcohol that comes in a sachet that you simply pour into water to make an alcoholic drink, or in a pill. However, the main form of powdered alcohol is white powder.
Powdered Alcohol vs Liquid Alcohol – The Dangers
Traditional alcoholic drinks don’t come without their dangers – alcohol abuse, addiction, binge drinking, alcohol dependence, and alcohol poisoning are all potential dangers when drinking alcohol frequently.
However, in 2022, we have a firm understanding of the dangers of liquid alcohol. The UK Government and the NHS recommend that we drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, spread across the span of three or more days. This equates roughly to six medium glasses of wine or six pints of 4% beer. [iii]
Although there is no level of drinking that is considered 100% safe, sticking within these guidelines will likely lower the risk of developing alcohol-related health issues.
Unlike liquid alcohol, there hasn’t been sufficient research conducted on powdered alcohol, so we may not be aware of the risks associated with consuming alcohol powder.
In fact, some people have very serious concerns about powdered alcohol products. Here are some of the main dangers to consider.
Powdered Alcohol Can Lead To Alcohol Poisoning
Just like liquid alcohol can lead to alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose, powdered alcohol also poses a risk of alcohol poisoning.
People may add more powdered alcohol to their drinks to feel stronger effects or may be unaware of how much-powdered alcohol they should be adding – especially when the packets are imported.
Alcohol poisoning should be considered a medical emergency – as well as feeling or being sick, people could choke on their own vomit and die, have a heart attack, develop hypothermia, have seizures due to low blood sugar, or stop breathing. [iv] This is just one concern of many – here are some more.
Powdered Alcohol Can Be Misused
Traditional alcohol can be misused, but so can powdered alcohol. Although the recommended use of alcohol powder is to mix with water, people may snort the powder to feel the effects stronger and quicker.
People may also swallow the powder without mixing it with water, which can have dangerous effects and increase the risk of alcohol poisoning and alcohol-induced blackouts.
Powdered Alcohol Can Be Used To Spike People
Due to the nature of powdered alcohol, it can be used to spike drinks or food. Although powdered alcohol manufacturer Palcahol claims that people would be able to tell if their food was spiked with the powder, it could still be used to spike already intoxicated people or those who aren’t familiar with the taste.
This can be dangerous for many reasons – not only can it affect a person’s mental state and awareness, but can also have negative physical effects. It can also lead to sexual harassment.
Young People May Use Powdered Alcohol
The legal drinking age in the UK is 18 – however, that doesn’t stop many young people from drinking alcohol. The same applies to powdered alcohol. Powdered alcohol is considered more affordable than traditional alcohol, and may be easier to access for younger people.
Younger people would also be able to hide powdered alcohol better as it is compact – easy to conceal and transport without being detected.
The packaging of powdered alcohol tends to be colourful which can attract younger people too. Underage drinking can be dangerous – the law is there for a reason.
Powdered Alcohol Isn’t Easily Monitored
As powdered alcohol is compact, and not everybody is aware of how it looks, it can be easily taken into venues undetected.
In the UK, many venues aren’t legally allowed to sell alcohol and alcohol consumption is prohibited due to licensing issues, so they prohibit alcohol consumption.
People could sneak alcohol powder into venues and mix it with water, and nobody could know. This can not only be bad for the business but be dangerous for the person consuming the alcohol.
Authorities may have a hard time monitoring powdered alcohol consumption – whether it be in prisons, schools, or in the general public.
Powdered Alcohol Could Tempt Those in Addiction Recovery
It is no secret that alcohol can be addictive – there are over 600,000 dependent drinkers in the UK. [v] Alcohol rehab involves detoxing from alcohol, which means there is no access to alcohol.
However, addiction specialists may only know to look for alcohol in liquid form – and powdered alcohol could slip under the radar at rehab clinics and sober living centres.
As powdered alcohol is generally cheaper and easy to transport and hide, it could tempt recovering alcoholics to relapse and make it difficult for them to stay sober.
We Don’t Know Much About Powdered Alcohol
Unlike liquid alcohol, we don’t know much about powdered alcohol. As it is considered a relatively new product, experts aren’t 100% sure about the long-term effects that it can have on your health.
There are many factors to consider with powdered alcohol. Mixing powdered alcohol with other substances such as heroin, sedatives, and prescription medication could be dangerous – and we aren’t certain just how dangerous it could be.
They could even have life-threatening consequences – but more research needs to be conducted before powdered alcohol products are considered safe in the UK.
The Law on Powdered Alcoholic Beverages
The law on powdered alcohol is very different in the UK than it is in the USA. In March 2015, powdered alcohol was authorised for sale in the USA.
However, it isn’t for sale in convenience stores in the states and isn’t for sale in the United Kingdom. Currently, there are no plans to sell the substance in the UK.
Experts want to ban powdered alcohol in the UK as we don’t know much about the long-term effects, and whether it can be mixed with other substances such as illicit drugs or prescription drugs.
In the UK, alcohol is considered (according to the Licencing Act 2003), as ‘cider, spirits, beer, wine, and other fermented, spirituous, or distilled liquor. Powdered alcohol being included in this list would ensure that powdered alcohol is regulated under the Licencing Act 2003.
If the guidelines aren’t made clear to those already consuming the substance or planning to try it, it would be completely unregulated.
This means that it could be sold on unlicensed premises, or sold to underage people (those under the legal limit to purchase or consume alcohol – under the age of 18). Banned powdered alcohol could have the same effect – but the guidelines would be a lot clearer.
However, vapourised alcohol is currently being sold in a select few licensed premises. That being said, the UK Government isn’t aware of it being sold without a licence.
Vapourised alcohol is being treated the same as liquid alcohol in terms of licensing – but the legal position is yet to be clarified. [vi]
Powdered Alcohol and Liquid Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction can have many negative effects on your life – it can affect your finances, your relationships, your family, your career, and of course, your mental health and physical health. It has been found to be a causal factor in over 60 medical conditions. [vii]
It can be difficult to break alcohol addiction alone, especially by using the ‘cold turkey’ method. This is why many people choose to go to alcohol rehab to break their addiction and prevent relapse.
Rehab begins with detox – which means all access to alcohol will be cut off. Detoxification deals with the physical aspect of addiction, rather than the social or behavioural aspects.
You may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms during this stage – which is why some people prefer a medical detox with medical assistance/ medical supervision. Some people get given detox medication to ease the process.
After detoxing, you may move on to the next stage of rehab treatment – therapy. Therapy in rehab can build your confidence and strength, and give you an understanding of your addiction – for example, root causes or triggers. You may be offered a range of therapies depending on the treatment facility you choose.
Some forms of therapy in addiction rehab include CBT, DBT, interpersonal therapy, family therapy, group therapy, and counselling.
Leaving rehab can feel scary – so many people prefer to continue treatment as an outpatient. Secondary treatment can involve support groups (e.g Alcoholics Anonymous), extended counselling, or group therapy sessions.
The main goals of secondary treatment/ aftercare are to prevent relapse and ease the transition from rehab to your normal life.