Moonshine was born from prohibition, during which the production, transportation, sale, and use of liquors were forbidden. Ironically, instead of reducing alcohol use in the United States, prohibition drove many Americans to create their alcoholic concoction known as moonshine. Moonshine contains a high concentration of alcohol, making it one of the strongest and most sought-after liquors in the country. However, among the many risks of drinking moonshine is “moonshine blindness.” Many who have consumed bad batches of moonshine blame the drink for their loss of sight but, is this myth or fact?
Known as “rumrunners,” some got into the alcohol smuggling business not only for the sake of making alcohol but also because the lawlessness of the 1920s allowed the bootlegging trade to boom. At the time, illegally produced alcohol was known as moonshine or “hooch” and is said to be the original “Mountain Dew.” Moonshiners would make the drink at night up in the mountains to avoid legal detection, hence the name.
Moonshine is a type of alcohol that’s made from fermenting a sugary source, such as fruit. Traditionally, the concoction is made with a mash of corn and sugar. Then, the alcohol is separated from the mash in the distillation process.
Moonshine is set apart from other types of liquors and spirits because it’s not aged. Certain drinks, like brandy and whiskey, are aged in barrels for certain lengths of time to remove the harsh flavor of raw alcohol while adding distinct flavors that come from the barrel’s wood. Moonshiners skip this test, leaving moonshine with not only a strong and raw alcohol taste but also a higher percentage of alcohol than other drinks.
Considering the higher concentration of alcohol that moonshine contains, its risks are much higher than normal alcoholic drinks. Common moonshine side effects include:
The thing is, not only can moonshine consumption lead to everything from alcohol poisoning to blackouts, but bad moonshine can also make you blind, too. Or so they say.
Yes, moonshine can make you go blind, but it’s not as straightforward as you think. Methanol ingestion from drinking moonshine is believed to be the cause of blindness among moonshine consumers. When methanol is consumed, it changes to formaldehyde, which is a gas that’s used in making building materials and household products ranging from pressed-wood products to permanent-press fabrics. You might also recognize it as a type of chemical that’s used as a tissue preservative in autopsies.
Formaldehyde, when consumed or even absorbed through the skin, can cause damage to the eyes and cause severe blindness. The chemical also causes damage to the optic nerve, which carries signals from the retina (what the person sees) to the brain. These dangers, however, could be avoided if the first few ounces that come out of the distillery are discarded.
Unfortunately, this step is often neglected, meaning that methanol is left in batches of moonshine, exposing consumers to risks. Batches of moonshine that contain methanol are referred to as bad batches, hence the phrase “bad moonshine blindness.” Some bootleggers also intentionally include antifreeze products like methanol to cut the alcohol and earn more profit, similar to how drug dealers use heroin cutting agents to make more money with less of the actual drug.
Cases of moonshine poisoning and going blind from moonshine happened mostly in the early moonshining days when moonshiners were less cautious in their production. Some bootleggers even used car radiators that contained lead as condensers to distill alcohol, further increasing the risk of incidents like lead poisoning.
While bad moonshine can make you go blind, mad bootleggers’ tales are things of the past, and the distillery process has since been refined. Prohibition experiences became the foundation for creating the better distilling practices we use today. However, this doesn’t mean the drink is safe.
As with other alcoholic drinks, if not more so, moonshine comes with the risk of addiction, among other health problems. This drink is also banned in certain areas in the U.S., meaning that the illicit creation of moonshine is still a problem. If you or a loved one is struggling with chronic alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction, don’t wait to get help.
Banyan Treatment Centers offers Chicago alcohol treatment that utilizes various evidence-based practices, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to help clients physically and mentally recover. The goal of our levels of addiction care is not only to help patients recover from the immediate impact of their substance abuse but also to help them develop independence and a routine conducive to a drug and alcohol-free lifestyle.