Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Vodka-infused tampons - just when you think you've been asked everything!

I've been doing this for a long time and one of the most challenging parts of what I do is answering young peoples' questions about 'all things alcohol and other drugs' ... I've been asked so many curly questions over the years, many by those who genuinely want an answer to something they are concerned about, through to those really out-there questions usually asked by someone trying to be as sensational as possible in an attempt to shock others in the room (including me!) and get a quick, cheap laugh! Of course, many of the really difficult and often personal questions are asked by individuals who approach me after my presentation and if these are challenging at least you don't have to consider the rest of the class when you try to deliver an appropriate answer, but it is those that are asked in front of the entire year group that can be the most difficult to deal with. I truly thought I had been asked almost everything and there was very little left that could shock me or put me on the spot in this area - well, boy was I wrong! This week (first week back in 2015 - five schools in three cities across five days!) I was asked twice (not once but two times - at two different schools!) about my thoughts on vodka-infused tampons ...

Now I really shouldn't have been surprised and to be honest I had been expecting questions on this issue a number of years ago when stories about alcohol-infused tampons began to pop-up in the US (a quick search on YouTube and you will find a number of stories that ran in 2012 on the topic). Around that time I was contacted a number of times by a couple of Australian journalists who had seen these stories to ask whether I had seen any evidence of this practice here. I hadn't and after a quick look at the US news stories I worked hard to try and encourage reporters not to cover it as there didn't really appear to be strong evidence that it was actually happening - there were lots of anecdotal reports of health workers and teachers saying they had heard of teens doing it, but no-one could actually find someone who admitted to it. A couple of the more tabloid news outlets in this country did run small stories but luckily it never got a major run and I thought we had successfully killed it!

Now I'm sure that there are some of you who are still dying to know why anyone would use an alcohol-infused tampon ... If you take a look at the stories (there are many of them on the web) you will see that this "new teen craze" (in 2012!) is promoted due to two major 'benefits' - getting drunk faster (the theory being that putting alcohol into contact with the mucous membranes of the vaginal walls will result in faster absorption into the bloodstream) and avoiding detection (if your parent (or police officer) thinks you are drunk and asks you to breathe on them, there will be no alcohol on your breath). An additional supposed benefit according to some of the stories is that this route of administration can also reduce the risk of getting sick after intoxication because it bypasses the stomach.

So is it true? Are young women really using vodka-infused tampons?

When it comes to any of these really out-there so-called trends my first stop is always a great website called Snopes.com. It is a great resource that examines some of the rumours that are doing the rounds and tries to find out if there is any truth to them (wouldn't it be great if the media did that when they are putting together a piece on some of these issues?) - it's certainly not perfect but it is a great place to start your search when you are looking for facts and not heresay. Based on the available evidence the website then gives an assessment as to whether they believe the claim is true or false. They looked at the issue back in 2012 and, not surprisingly, decided that it was false. To briefly summarise their problems with the claim, they believed that even a 'super plus' tampon (whatever that is!) would not be able to hold enough vodka for the effect that teens would be after, the discomfort from the experience would likely be greater than any potential benefit and most importantly, it would be extremely difficult to insert a saturated tampon into any orifice! Now this does not mean that no-one has ever done this - certainly there are a couple of documented cases where health workers have treated young women who have attempted to do this - but is it (or was it) a craze that is sweeping the world? Absolutely not!

So why have I had two Year 10 girls ask me about this now? Both girls told me that they had recently heard about it through social media - they had received links to stories on the topic and it had been promoted in exactly the same way that it had been back in 2012 - you could get drunk faster and it was undetectable. Young people (particularly that 'pointy-end' of the market - the real 'risk-takers) are always looking for new ways of getting drunk as fast as possible, whether it be drinking games or whatever (around the same time as girls were supposedly doing strange things with tampons, there was lots of talk about American male college students playing around with 'anal beer bongs' - same principle, different orifice!), and this is what usually gets teens into trouble as far as alcohol poisoning is concerned. If the level of alcohol in your body rises too quickly, the greater the risk of overdose. Drinking slowly over a longer period of time reduces the risk - but that's not what some young people want - it's all about getting drunk as fast as you can.

I've learnt over the past 25 years to be extremely cautious about these so-called "new teen crazes" - without a doubt there will someone somewhere who will be dumb enough to try it, but usually the rest of it is all talk and we have to be careful not to fuel the fire and make it more of an issue than it really is. That said, two 15 year-old girls asking the same bizarre question in the same week indicates that this story is certainly doing the rounds again. As far as parents and those who work with young people are concerned, I believe it's much better to be forewarned and prepared just in case you get asked anything about it or read something about it in one of your daughter's Facebook postings ...

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