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Updated on September 14, 2023
5 min read

What is Moonshine?

Moonshine, or hooch, is a type of high-proof liquor. It is often an unaged whiskey with high alcohol content.

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

Is Moonshine Dangerous? 

Moonshine is dangerous because of the following reasons: 

Distilling Process

Moonshine’s distilling process involves boiling fermented sugar. However, ethanol’s boiling point is 173.1 degrees Fahrenheit, while methanol is much lower at 148.5 degrees.

During distilling, methanol vaporizes faster and can become concentrated in toxic amounts. You can only separate and discard methanol with the right equipment.5

Methanol Risks

The risks of methanol include blindness and the production of formic acid in the body.

Blindness can occur if moonshine is distilled in lead pipes or if methanol permanently damages part of the central nervous system (CNS) that controls eyesight.5

The body may also convert methanol to formaldehyde, an ingredient in embalming fluid. Formaldehyde then turns into formic acid, which is poisonous.

Quality Control

Many amateur moonshine distillers don’t follow protocols, so quality control isn’t always possible. Like any poorly made alcoholic spirits, toxic bacteria can grow in a moonshine still, making you sick.6

What are the Side Effects of Drinking Moonshine?

Drinking moonshine, like any alcohol, can take a toll on your health. Moonshine can be poisonous, which can make you sick, leave you blind, or both.

Other health issues can also occur from alcohol use: 3

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

Excessive alcohol use causes about 95,000 deaths each year.7

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Does Drinking Moonshine Increase Your Alcohol Tolerance?

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

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

Five types of alcohol tolerance 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 most significant 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 tolerating alcohol better if you continue to drink it in the same environment over many occasions. 
  4. Learned tolerance: If you have learned tolerance, you can perform a task under the influence because you have “practiced it” many times.
  5. Metabolic tolerance: Your liver enzymes break alcohol down faster, reducing the duration of the intoxicating effects that alcohol would otherwise have on you.

Symptoms of Moonshine Overdose (Alcohol Intoxication)

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

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

Binge drinking puts you at a higher risk of overdosing on alcohol, including moonshine.

Binge drinking is a 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

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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 unlawful for tax evasion purposes. However, making moonshine is technically legal in the United States if you have the proper permits.

Making moonshine at home without the U.S. government’s knowledge is illegal because of the risky ingredients and lack of quality control. Distilling alcohol of any kind at home is a dangerous practice.

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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

AUD refers to a pattern of drinking that causes distress or harm. Its 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.  Alcohol withdrawal can occur if you drink heavily for a prolonged period, then suddenly stop or significantly reduce your intake.

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/Resources for Alcohol Misuse & Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse or addiction, know that help is available.

Treatment options include:

  • Inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation centers are available nationwide. Rehab will provide you with medical professionals and mental health experts who will support you along the road to recovery
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you identify the triggers that drive you to drink and develop healthier ways to cope with your stresses
  • Medications like disulfiram, naltrexone, and acamprosate can help treat your addiction. None of them are addictive, and all of them may be used alone, or in combination with other treatment types

Summary

It's not recommended to drink moonshine, as it can be dangerous. Moonshine is a spirit often made with unsafe ingredients and improper distillation techniques. You must be aware of the risks associated with drinking moonshine. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse or addiction, many treatment options are available.

Updated on September 14, 2023
8 sources cited
Updated on September 14, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Alcohol and Tolerance - ALCOHOL Alert No. 28-1995.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. Alcohol Poisoning or Overdose.” Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
  3. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2021.
  4. Becker HC. "Alcohol dependence, withdrawal, and relapse." Alcohol Res Health, 2008.
  5. Aronoff, G. “6 Common Distilling Myths and the Facts Behind Them.” Blog Insights From Oregon State University - Online Marketing, the Business of Beer, Gardening and More.
  6. Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.
  7. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  8. 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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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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