As a legal and easily accessible substance, alcohol is consistently ranked the most dangerous, addictive drug in the world. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 15 million individuals in the United States suffer from alcoholism.
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The dangers of alcohol misuse are well-known, however, the statistics show that alcohol consumption is only growing. As stated in a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10,000 people die each year due to alcohol-impaired traffic accidents in the United States.
While no alcoholic beverage is considered “safe” when consumed in excess, beverages like beer, hard ciders, and wine are lower in alcohol content and, therefore, dangerous levels of intoxication are easier to avoid. In contrast, there are beverages that contain dangerously high alcohol content and can cause physical damage and impairment after only one drink. These dangerous, alcoholic beverages include Everclear, Absinthe, Four Lokos, Moonshine, Bacardi 151, Changaa, Spirytus Rektyfikowany, Knockeen Hills, Death In The Afternoon, and Jungle Juice.
This notorious grain alcohol is typically bottled and sold in its 190 proof form, double the alcohol content of most liquors which sit at 80 proof, or 40% alcohol content. Due to the dangers associated with Everclear’s high alcohol percentage, some U.S. states have prohibited the sale of 190 proof liquor. In response, the manufacturer of Everclear, Luxco, began distribution of Everclear at 189 proof, bypassing these state laws. Because Everclear is undiluted and 92.4% pure ethanol, the grain alcohol is also used as a household cleaner and disinfectant. For an average individual, a cocktail containing one to two shots of Everclear would be sufficient in reaching dangerous levels of intoxication.
Banned in the United States from 1915-2007, Absinthe is commonly referred to as the “green fairy” due to its hallucinogenic properties. Trace amounts of the chemical thujone were thought to be responsible for producing mild hallucinations where the user is known to see a small green fairy, however, upon the study of this occurrence, the appearance of a green fairy is now proven to be exaggerated and more of a pop-culture myth. With slightly lower alcohol content than Everclear, Absinthe is typically produced as a 90-146 proof liquor. As with any alcoholic beverage, the risk of endangering health increases with the amount consumed. Due to Absinthe’s potency, it is important to drink with extreme moderation.
A Four Loko is a malt beverage and the most accessible among these alcoholic beverages. Typically found at gas stations or convenience stores, Four Lokos were temporarily banned in many U.S. states within years of its introduction to the alcohol industry due to the combination of alcohol and caffeine components present in the drink. Many argued that marketing for Four Loko purposefully manipulated its appearance to be mistaken for an energy drink, therefore appealing to younger populations. In 2010, the manufacturing company revised the ingredients to exclude caffeine and sales have been successful since this reformulation. Regarding Four Loko, the University Health Services Director at Harvard University has urged the public to remain responsible, stating that one 23.5-ounce can contain the equivalent of six standard servings of alcohol.
Our beautiful, southern Appalachian region is very familiar with this illicitly manufactured liquor. The name is derived from the time of day it is commonly produced to avoid detection. Throughout the years, states have lifted bans prohibiting moonshine, however, it is still illegal to brew liquor within a personal residence. Due to the reversing of these bans, moonshine has experienced commercial success in recent years. The proof of traditional, prohibition-era moonshine ranged from 63 proof to 190 proof, whereas today the proof ranges from 60 to 120 proof. Although strictly controlled, commercial moonshine still has high alcohol content and should be used in moderation. Illicitly manufactured moonshine remains very dangerous as the alcohol content is not strictly monitored and consuming this liquor should be avoided.
Bacardi 151, which was discontinued in 2016, is a highly alcoholic rum. It was named after its alcohol content— a level of 151 U.S. proof, or 75.5% alcohol by volume. For comparison, typical rum averages 35-40% alcohol by volume. Barcardi 151 was known for being highly flammable due to its high alcohol content, and was often used in drinks involving dire, such as “flaming shots.” Due to its high rate of flammability, Bacardi 151 bottles came with a warning label advising against its use in “flaming dishes or other drinks.” Bacardi 151 was likely discontinued due to lawsuits involving harm from its flammability.
Changaa, originating in Kenya and translated to mean “kill me quick,” is a popular, traditional home-brewed spirit. It is extremely potent and made by the fermentation and distillation of millet, maize, and sorghum. Changaa was illegal for many years in Kenya, but was made legal again in 2010. Changaa has contributed to many deaths as well as blindness and other health effects. This is due in part to the fact that changaa is sometimes adulterated with dangerous substances like jet fuel and battery acid. The water used to make changaa, even in breweries, is sometimes also well below acceptable health standards.
This vodka originating from Poland is a rectified spirit with an astonishing 96% ABV, making its ABV even higher than Everclear. Spirytus Rektyfikowany is used as a mixer and as a base for drinks.
Death In The Afternoon
Created by Ernest Hemingway, this dangerous cocktail combines an ingredient already on our list, Absinthe, with another form of alcohol: champagne. The preparation, as described by Hemingway, is “Pour one jigger (around 30ml) absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”
Knockeen Hills, originating in Ireland, is an Irish spirit called a poitín. With a 90% ABV strength, it was banned in the 1660s, though it was still made illegally for many years. Later, its production was made legal again and today Knockeen Hills has even sought protection of its heritage and production methods.
Jungle Juice is more a general idea of a drink than an exact recipe. The concept of jungle juice is to mix various liquors with fruit juice such as Hawaiian Punch. Jungle Juice is a beverage very high in sugar and with a very sweet taste, which is what can make it particularly dangerous. The sweetness of Jungle Juice can mask the high level of alcohol mixed into it, and result in consequences such as intoxication and alcohol poisoning.
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