Some alcohol beverages are produced by companies that are not licensed or regulated. This type of alcohol includes traditional alcohol, illicit alcohol, and surrogate alcohol, which makes up roughly a quarter of all alcohol consumed around the world. These drinks are produced in accordance with longstanding community traditions or home recipes solely for personal or community consumption. In other situations, the drinks are made or distributed illicitly to avoid licensing and taxes imposed by government or health or quality regulations. Consuming these products carries the same risks as consuming other alcohol beverages, but some products may carry even greater risks.
Traditionally produced drinks, also known as informal alcohol, are not normally labeled with the alcohol content or even package size, but their production and use has been informally regulated by custom and practice and they have been enjoyed for generations. However, unscrupulous producers who seek a quick profit may make similar products with methods that are not traditional, so the drinker may be at risk of alcohol poisoning. Under uncontrolled conditions, the quality, taste, and alcohol content of traditionally produced drinks may be different with each batch, making it difficult for consumers to know exactly how much alcohol they are consuming.
Illicit alcohol has greater risks that go beyond the illegal status of production and distribution. These drinks may contain widely different amounts of alcohol. Some may be made from non-ethanol sources of alcohol or may contain toxins that may be harmful or fatal to the consumer. For instance, a source of alcohol that sometimes appears in tests of illicitly produced alcohol, methanol — also known as wood alcohol — is very toxic, so even a small amount (just 10 milliliters of pure methanol) can cause blindness, and 30 milliliters of methanol can kill an individual.
In all regions of the world, in both industrialized and developing countries, contaminated alcohol and methanol poisoning cause blindness and fatalities, which are regularly reported in the international press.
Some illicit alcohol is made and packaged to look just like legitimate products. These counterfeit products may seem like a bargain, but it is impossible to know what a counterfeit product actually contains. When you buy a particular brand of alcohol, be suspicious of an unreasonably low price, and make sure that the packaging is authentic and secure. An off-taste may be an indicator of a counterfeit product.
Fuels, cosmetics, and disinfectants that contain a form of alcohol should never be ingested. They often contain ingredients that are dangerous for people to consume.