Dangers of Moonshine

  • Meta description – Moonshine may give you the “kick” you’re looking in a drink but that kick can be costly to your health. If you don’t know who’s making it or how it’s made, the dangers of moonshine far outweigh its effects.

Moonshine, white lightning, hooch, and rotgut are just a few names illegal alcohol goes by. Rotgut, in particular, may best describe what  a dangerous brew can be when certain precautions aren’t taken. More often than not, the dangers of moonshine lie in the manufacturing process where shortcuts are taken and “enhancements” are made. While there’s nothing wrong with a good, stiff drink, more than a few cautions should be taken when drinking moonshine.

What Is Moonshine?

A lack of government oversight most often distinguishes moonshine from other alcoholic drinks. This makes moonshine illegal. It also means you never really know what your drinking. Unless you know the person who made it, you leave yourself wide open to the dangers of drinking moonshine.

Moonshine is made all over the world though, particularly in areas where alcohol is illegal or expensive to buy. Since the manufacturing process isn’t government-monitored, mistakes and shortcuts can be made. Also, making your own moonshine can be a tricky endeavor so dangerous batches of homemade brew are not uncommon.

It’s typically made from fruits or grains through a fermentation process that uses yeasts or bacteria to convert sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. As simple as this sounds, manufacturing processes can vary quite a bit. This is where the dangers of making moonshine come into play.

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Dangers of Moonshine

Moonshine distilleries don’t have to follow any laws, regulations nor do they have to pay taxes. With no oversight concerns, equipment maintenance and sanitizing procedures can all fall by the wayside. These conditions make for potentially dangerous brews.

Here are a few of the dangers that come with drinking moonshine –

Methanol – A Deadly Byproduct

The fermentation process used to make moonshine produces alcohol in two forms: methanol and ethanol. Ethanol is the drinkable version. Methanol, known as wood alcohol, is a byproduct that’s toxic when large amounts end up in the finished product.

The distillation process that follows produces concentrated ethanol by boiling the fermented product. The problem moonshiners run into is ethanol has a boiling point of 173.1 degrees Fahrenheit while methanol’s boiling point is 148.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This means methanol evaporates at a faster rate than ethanol and can become concentrated. When done correctly, it only forms in small amounts and is easily separated out and discarded. Without the right equipment, high concentrations of methanol can end up in the drink.

What makes methanol so dangerous is the human body converts it to formaldehyde, an ingredient used to make embalming fluid. The body then converts formaldehyde into formic acid, a material that poisons the body’s cells. In large enough amounts, death is a real possibility. Not surprisingly, most of the dangers of drinking moonshine stem from the amount of methanol that may be present.

Bacteria Levels

Sanitation practices have a tremendous bearing on the quality of drink that comes out of a moonshine distillery. The vats used during the fermentation process must be sterilized on a regular basis or else harmful bacteria will grow inside the vats. These bacteria can become a source of added methanol that makes its way into the finished product.

Another way harmful bacteria can show up in the fermentation process has to do with unforeseen temperature or environmental changes. Changing temperatures can cause foreign bacteria to grow, which becomes another source of methanol. These dangerous bacteria may also produce the toxin that causes botulism, a type of food poisoning. When the process isn’t monitored correctly, a potentially good batch of moonshine can turn deadly.


Blindness, yet another consequence of ingesting methanol, is one of the more drastic dangers of drinking moonshine. Methanol not only causes cell destruction but can also cause permanent damage to parts of the body’s central nervous system. The optic nerve that enables vision can be destroyed in the process resulting in irreversible blindness.

Alcohol Poisoning Risks

Anyone who drinks knows alcohol content varies depending on the type of drink you have. Alcohol by volume, or ABV, measures how strong different types of drinks are. For example, the alcohol content for gin can range from 35 to 40 percent while whiskey falls within 55 to 60 percent range. Since government regulations require alcohol ABV content to appear on packaging, you know what you’re getting with legally-made alcohol drinks. This may not be the case with moonshine depending on who’s making it.

The “kick” or strength of the drink is part of the appeal of homemade liquor. Herein lies another danger of drinking moonshine. These concoctions can be as strong as 150 proof, which translates to a 75 percent alcohol content. At these high levels, it doesn’t take long at all for alcohol poisoning risks to become an issue. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning to watch out for include:

  • Blacking out
  • Vomiting
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Comatose-like behavior


To make more profit, some distillers try to enhance the “kick” in their brew by using additives to make their moonshine taste stronger. This is a practice carried out by the less reputable distributors. Various materials used to accomplish this include rubbing alcohol, lye, paint thinner and even methanol. These dangers of moonshine speak for themselves.

Another way additives can make it into the final product is through the brewing process. Rather than use safe, clean vats, some distillers may cut corners and use car radiators or old fuel drums to brew moonshine. Considering the heat that’s used in the process, metal contaminants, antifreeze along with any number of other toxic materials can boil off during the brewing process. 

Treatment Considerations

If you’re in the market for some good moonshine there’s a chance you’re looking for a stronger drink than usual. While not all moonshine is dangerous, consuming drinks that have a high alcohol content on a frequent basis comes with other serious health risks. Liver disease and diabetes can easily develop when the body can’t metabolize these stronger alcohols at a fast enough rate.

Alcoholism is another unforeseen consequence. As a general rule, the more alcohol you consume the faster the body becomes dependent on it to function. The same goes for your mind, meaning you start to think you need alcohol to cope with daily life. Where moonshine is concerned, alcohol dependence can happen a lot quicker when you’re drinking 150 proof alcohol every day. When this happens, it may be time to consider getting treatment help.

Sources –

  • popsci.com – Popular Science, “Can Drinking Moonshine Really Make You Go Blind”
  • cdc.gov – Centers for Disease Control, “Pruno: A Recipe for Botulism”
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – British Journal of Ophthalmology, “Acute bilateral blindness caused by accidental methanol intoxication during fire ‘eating’”


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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