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The lethal drink: Adulteration of alcohol and misuse of sanitizers


There have been a number of deaths occurring due to consumption of adulterated alcohol and hand sanitizers. This is a serious issue and everybody should be aware of it.

By Rahul Das

Alcohol, in terms of chemistry, is a chemical compound which contains a hydroxyl group     (- OH group). In general, alcohol refers to a type of beverage used for consumption. Alcoholic beverage is prepared by the process of fermentation of raw materials containing sugar or carbohydrate (fruits, palm, rice, cashew, etc). Some examples of alcoholic beverages include rum, beer, vodka, whiskey, wine, brandy, gin, etc. Alcoholic beverages are mainly consumed for the purpose of recreation.

However, a major concern is the ‘Adulteration of alcohol’. Adulteration of alcohol is the mixing of pure alcohol with other chemicals known as adulterants. The main purpose of alcohol adulteration is to create higher toxic effects and lowering the cost of production. Some of the adulterants which are mixed with ethanol include methanol, isopropyl alcohol, furfural, etc. The most commonly encountered chemical used for adulteration of Country-made liquors is methyl alcohol or methanol. Methanol is very toxic to human body and often leads to death of an individual.

A large number of deaths take place every year due to the consumption of adulterated alcohol. This type of death occurring as a result of consumption of methylated alcohol or adulterated alcohol is known as ‘Hooch tragedy’. This is mainly due to the low cost and easy availability of this type of alcohol in local vendors or shops. Another reason is the lack of awareness and proper knowledge about adulterated alcohol.

 In Manipur, in the year 2017, a hooch tragedy took place in Imphal-West district which led to the death of 5 individuals and over 80 individuals were hospitalised. The adulterant was found to be methanol as per the test reports of the food testing laboratory of the state. In India, hooch tragedies take place year after year. In 2020, more than 100 people died in the state of Punjab after consumption of spurious liquor.

Apart from adulterated alcohol, there has been a rise in the death of people due to consumption of hand sanitizers. Alcohol based hand sanitizers contains mainly a mixture of ethanol and methanol or isopropyl alcohol. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 there has been an increase in the use of hand sanitizers by general public. There are several cases where deaths of individuals have been resulted due to the consumption of hand sanitizers containing mainly methyl alcohol. However, isopropyl alcohol is also toxic to the human body and should not be ignored. Deaths have been reported in many states of India due to consumption of alcohol based hand sanitizers.

Awareness regarding the lethal or deadly effects of the consumption of adulterated alcohol or spurious liquor and alcohol based hand sanitizers will be helpful in lowering these types of cases in our country.

(Rahul Das is Assistant Professor & Head of Forensic Science Department working under Madurai Kamaraj University, Tamil Nadu. He is interested in bringing awareness about important issues among the public. He can be reached at [email protected])

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