Vanilla Extract: Not Just For Baking Anymore?

The following entry was authored by guest contributor Nicky Uribe, a 3L law student at The University of Tennessee College of Law, who is working as a law clerk this summer at Oberman & Rice.

The sweet smell of vanilla can send many of us back to our mother’s kitchen.  Whether she was baking cookies or cake, maybe even pancakes, she probably used vanilla extract.  For many cooks, vanilla extract is a pantry constant and they would not be caught dead without a bottle.  Believe it or not, though, some people abuse vanilla extract.  In fact, cooking extracts along with other common household items may be abused by alcoholics.

WATE TV News reported on July 2, 2010 that Germantown’s Ms. Kelly Moss was arrested on charges of DUI and refusing a blood alcohol test.  The police reportedly found Ms. Moss slumped over her steering wheel. You may be wondering, “What does this have to do with vanilla extract?”  Everything.  Ms. Moss had no alcoholic beverages in her possession.  Indeed, the police did not accuse her of consuming any; she was found with diet cola cans and partially empty bottles of vanilla extract.

It could have been a perfect recipe for a vanilla cola, but Ms. Moss’s history makes it more likely than not that she was attempting to become intoxicated from the high alcohol content in vanilla extract.  On July 7, 2010, CBS reported that this was Ms. Moss’s third DUI arrest.  Vanilla extract is 35% alcohol per volume. Ms. Moss apparently mixed the extract into diet cola.  Witnesses stated that they became concerned when her vehicle jumped a curb.  That incident, along with her inability to walk, slurred speech, and partially empty extract bottles, gave the police probable cause to arrest her.  We cannot know all of the particulars in this case.  Yet one thing seems clear, anyone who resorts to abusing common household items such as extracts, cleaners, cough medicine, or mouthwash to become intoxicated needs help.

No one should abuse substances.  Even vanilla extract, in large amounts, can 1) make you sick and 2) intoxicate you.  The mere fact that a substance is not an alcoholic beverage does not make it safe to consume in large amounts.  Abusing extract and the like do not make one less of an alcoholic.  Also, those who believe that drinking extract until impaired and then driving precludes a DUI charge are misguided and misinformed.  If you, or anyone you know abuses these substances, encourage them to seek the help immediately.

For more information on substance abuse treatment programs in Tennessee, click here.  For assistance with a DUI related legal matter, please contact the Oberman and Rice Law Firm. Steven Oberman and Sara Compher-Rice are available 24 hours a day to assist you with your legal matter.

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