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What is Moonshine?

Moonshine, also known as hooch, is a type of high-proof liquor, often considered an unaged whiskey, with a high alcohol content

What is Moonshine Made From?

Like whiskey, moonshine is typically made from fermentable sugar, but it may be made from other ingredients like cornmeal and yeast. Fermentation to make moonshine produces both ethanol (drinkable) and methanol (a wood alcohol that can be toxic).

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Why is Moonshine Production Illegal in the United States?

Moonshine is and is not an illegal liquor. In American history, moonshine is illegal for tax evasion purposes. However, making moonshine is technically not illegal in the United States if you have the proper permits. Some producers are allowed to make moonshine if the U.S. government is aware of it. 

That said, making moonshine on your own is illegal because of the risky ingredients and lack of quality control. Therefore, moonshine is an illegal homemade alcohol. In fact, distilling your own alcohol of any kind at home is a dangerous practice.

What are the Side Effects of Drinking Moonshine?

Drinking moonshine, like any alcohol, can take a toll on your health. For example, the following health issues can occur from alcohol use: 3

  • Alcohol can increase your risk of certain cancers
  • Alcohol can increase your risk of fatty liver disease
  • Alcohol can increase your risk of heart disease
  • Alcohol can damage your brain and other organs
  • Alcohol can increase your risk of death from physical injuries and car crashes

In fact, excessive alcohol use causes about 95,000 deaths each year.7

Moreover, moonshine can be poisonous, which can make you sick, leave you blind, or both.

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Is Moonshine Dangerous? What are the Risks? 

The distilling process to produce concentrated ethanol involves boiling the fermented sugar. However, ethanol’s boiling point is 173.1 degrees Fahrenheit, while methanol’s boiling point is a much lower temperature: 148.5 degrees

Methanol vaporizes faster and can become concentrated in toxic amounts. With the right equipment, it can easily be separated and tossed out. But, without it, the methanol is difficult to discard.5

The dangerous part happens when the body converts methanol to formaldehyde, which is an ingredient in embalming fluid. Formaldehyde then turns into formic acid, which is poisonous.

Moonshine can also cause blindness since methanol can permanently damage the central nervous system (CNS) and, specifically, the optic nerve that controls vision.5 If moonshine is distilled in lead pipes, it can also make you go blind.5

Many amateur distillers of moonshine also do not follow protocols, so quality control of the alcoholic substance  is not always possible. For example, toxic bacteria can grow in a moonshine still that can make you sick.6 But any poorly made alcoholic spirits can carry bacteria.

Does Drinking Moonshine Increase Your Alcohol Tolerance?

Frequently drinking any alcohol, including moonshine, will increase your tolerance for alcohol. If you drink heavily and for a prolonged period of time, alcohol will likely affect you less.1

This means that the same amount of moonshine will produce a lesser effect over time. In other words, more moonshine is necessary to have the same effect.

There are five types of alcohol tolerance that can form with prolonged alcohol use: 

  1. Functional tolerance: This refers to when your brain adapts to compensate for the effects that alcohol has on your behavior and bodily functions.
  2. Acute tolerance: This happens when impairment is greatest soon after the start of the drinking session, and it’s less noticeable later on, even if your BAC stays the same. 
  3. Environment-dependent tolerance: This refers to you being able to better tolerate alcohol if you continue to drink it in the same environment over many occasions. For example, you may have a stronger tolerance while drinking at home if you regularly consume alcohol there.
  4. Learned tolerance: If you have a learned tolerance, it means you can perform a task while under the influence because you have “practiced it” many times.
  5. Metabolic tolerance: This refers to your body’s ever more rapid elimination of alcohol. Your liver enzymes that break it down can do so faster, which means they reduce the duration of the intoxicating effects that alcohol would otherwise have on you.

Symptoms of Moonshine Overdose (Alcohol Intoxication)

Binge drinking puts you at a higher risk of overdosing on alcohol, including moonshine. Binge drinking refers to a drinking pattern that brings your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent or more.9 This generally happens after four to five drinks in about two hours for women and men, respectively.9

Overdosing on moonshine or any alcohol can be fatal. If you suspect that someone you know has overdosed on alcohol, call for emergency medical attention immediately

If someone has overdosed on alcohol, they will develop alcohol poisoning. This means that there is too much alcohol in their bloodstream. Therefore, parts of the brain that control basic functions like breathing, temperature control, and heart rate can shut down.2

Symptoms of alcohol overdose include the following:2

  • Confusion and stupor
  • Unconsciousness
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • No gag reflex
  • Seizures
  • Breathing problems (slow or gapped)
  • Slow heart rate
  • Slow reaction time
  • Low body temperature
  • Clammy skin

Signs You Have a Drinking Problem

If you are concerned that you may have a drinking problem, you are among millions of other Americans. About 18 million US adults struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD).3 This refers to a pattern of drinking that causes distress or harm.

AUD symptoms vary depending on how severe your case is. However, AUD signs and symptoms generally include:3

  • Experiencing cravings for alcohol
  • Finding yourself drinking alone regularly
  • Drinking alcohol as a way to cope
  • Needing to drink more alcohol to achieve the same desired effects
  • Drinking even despite the physical, mental, emotional, and/or financial toll it may take
  • Allowing alcohol use to disrupt day-to-day activities
  • Allowing alcohol to hurt personal and professional relationships
  • Developing alcohol-related medical conditions
  • Having a weakened immune system

If you or someone you know is dealing with any of the above signs and symptoms of AUD, seek professional help. Detoxing from alcohol alone, or quitting cold turkey, can be dangerous and even deadly. Either can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms that typically require medical attention/professional monitoring.

Alcohol withdrawal can occur if you drink heavily for a prolonged period, and then suddenly stop or significantly reduce your intake.4 It can happen within hours of your last drink, or it can occur a few days later. Either way, it can be very serious.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Sweating
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Bodily tremors
  • Mood swings
  • Irritation
  • Hallucinations
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

Treatment Options for Alcohol Misuse & Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse or addiction, know that help is available. For example, both inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation centers are available across the country. Rehab will provide you with medical professionals and mental health experts who will support you along the road to recovery.

Therapy is another option. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you identify the triggers that drive you to drink and develop healthier ways to cope with your stresses. Therapy can also unpack underlying depression, which may be (and often is) at the root of alcohol misuse.

Other holistic therapies are also available. These include spiritual and religious practices.

You and your doctor may also choose to use medications to treat your alcohol addiction. Medications to treat alcohol addiction include disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate. These are the only medications that are currently approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this purpose.8 None of them are addictive, and all of them may be used alone or in combination with other treatment types.

Whatever route you decide to take, do not wait to reach out to a trusted professional. Seek help before you let it consume, or take, your life.

Resources

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Alcohol and Tolerance - ALCOHOL Alert No. 28-1995.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Alcohol Poisoning or Overdose.” Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 Aug. 2021.

Alcohol Use Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 July 2018.

Aronoff, Greg. “6 Common Distilling Myths and the Facts Behind Them.” Blog Insights From Oregon State University - Online Marketing, the Business of Beer, Gardening and More.

Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 May 2021.

Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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