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Zimbabwe's alcohol poisoning: A case of death by ignorance

Story Highlights

  • Overnight, Kuda's friend's body had finished processing the ethanol from the the alcohol. Next, it started on the methanol, metabolising it into highly toxic formic acid. His body gradually became more and more acidic, giving him chest pains, gastric pain, headaches and blurred vision.

By Staff Writer

OVER the past few weeks if not months, reports have circulated of large numbers of people falling ill after drinking some whiskey, with one event having occurred towards Christmas at a popular night spot in Harare.

The illnesses – often deaths too – are blamed on bad alcohol; cheaply made home-brew which contains potentially lethal levels of methanol.

While authorities have been worryingly mum over this potentially catastrophic issue, the reality is that every day around the countryside and in towns people gamble on a bottle of cheap booze, and end up in the mortuary.

A reader of Zimbabwe Voice says that he has been drinking bootleg alcohol. It is his “energiser” for work as a kombi driver, he says, but is worried that people have of late suddenly been dying from alcohol poisoning.

“I don’t mean to brag but I had money. I drank every day,” he says.

“I drank several of them a day with my colleagues and conductor”, says Kuda*. “I have however stopped because someone from my neighbourhood died on New Year’s Day from the bootleggers’ alcohol.”

Kuda continues: “We drank together on New Year’s eve. Overnight, it became clear he was suffering from more than a hangover. He woke up in the night with crippling stomach pains. “It was like… this,” he says, crunching a plastic bottle in his hands. He tried to make himself sick, but “it was all black” and he eventually passed out. It was shocking.”

Methanol is produced during the brewing process and concentrated by distillation. Commercial manufacturers such as Delta Beverages will reduce it to levels which are safe for human consumption.

However, unscrupulous backyard brewers or others in the supply chain may sometimes add industrially produced methanol, to make it go further and increase profits. It is also possible for high levels of methanol to be produced by contaminating microbes during traditional ethanol fermentation.

Overnight, Kuda’s friend’s body had finished processing the ethanol from the the alcohol. Next, it started on the methanol, metabolising it into highly toxic formic acid. His body gradually became more and more acidic, giving him chest pains, gastric pain, headaches and blurred vision.

Even if doctors had managed to save him, the effects would have been life-changing. Some people who survived alcohol poisoning go on to suffer temporary full-body paralysis and full movement is never restored. their eyes may become severely damaged – over the following years they lose sight completely.

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It doesn’t help that the best antidote to methanol is ethanol. That also means that if a person has drunk both ethanol and methanol – as Kuda’s friend had – it can be a while before the poisoning takes effect.

But also, shots of vodka or gin will stave off the effects of the methanol until the affected person can get professional help.

Zimbabwe Voice has been told that several bootleggers have sprouted in cities such as Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and Gweru. People say even the police are aware of the existence of these illegal alcohol peddlers, and have made arrests in some cases, only for the alcohol kingpins to wriggle their way out and back into the business.

There also have been reports that Mbare in Harare is the hot-spot for backdoor alcohol manufacturing and packaging. We found the material below which may help you or your loved ones become better prepared for this latest scourge.

The Dangers of Alcohol Poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is the dangerous result of consuming too much alcohol over a short period of time. If you drink too much alcohol too quickly, it can be life-threatening. No matter a person’s alcohol tolerance, weight, age or gender, alcohol poisoning can affect anyone.

As you drink more, your blood alcohol content (BAC) level continues to climb. Eventually, it becomes so high that your basic mental, physical and emotional functions are no longer able to work properly.

However, a person can feel the effects of alcohol abuse and potentially trigger alcohol poisoning, even after they’ve stopped drinking. Your BAC levels keep increasing for up to 40 minutes after your last drink.

The consequences of alcohol poisoning can be aggressive and fatal. Do not try to self-treat the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, as you can cause more harm than good. If you or a loved one are experiencing the signs of alcohol poisoning, act quickly and call emergency medical support.

Since every person is different, there is no way to determine how much a person can drink before they’re at risk of alcohol poisoning. One of the most common causes of alcohol poisoning is binge drinking.

Consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in such a short timeframe significantly increases your chances of harmful consequences, like alcohol poisoning.

Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

There are various warning signs and symptoms associated with alcohol poisoning. However, you should not wait to experience severe side effects before seeking medical attention. Finding help sooner rather than later can make the difference between their speedy recovery or life-threatening complications.

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The most common symptoms of alcohol poisoning are:

  • Irregular breathing
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Pale, clammy and bluish-tinged skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Seizing
  • Confusion
  • Incoherency
  • Comatose

These warning signs and symptoms can put your life in danger if left untreated for a substantial amount of time. Don’t wait to get help. If you suspect potential alcohol poisoning, call emergency medical aid to get attention immediately.

Who Is at Risk?

Alcohol poisoning can affect anyone who has consumed an excessive amount of alcohol in a short amount of time. However, certain groups of individuals are more susceptible to over-drinking that may potentially lead to alcohol poisoning, including college students and middle-aged adults.

When young adults head off to college and live on their own for the first time, they feel more free and independent. Social events, sports games and other gatherings are several activities that include heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking.

Students may face peer pressure to participate in drinking games to feel the effects of alcohol much faster.

Effects of Untreated Alcohol Poisoning

If the symptoms of alcohol poisoning are ignored and left untreated, they can be detrimental to a person’s health. This is why it’s crucial to seek medical treatment immediately at any sign of alcohol poisoning.

Not properly treating alcohol poisoning can lead to a number of short- and long-term side effects. In addition, you may be more likely to continue the dangerous pattern of excessive drinking, increasing the likelihood of over-consuming again.

A lack of alcohol poisoning treatment can lead to:

  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Irregular breathing
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Death

Alcohol poisoning should not be treated lightly, as it is a serious condition with deadly effects. You can make the difference in someone’s life by recognizing the warning signs of alcohol poisoning and seeking out immediate help.

Now that you know something about alcohol poisoning and how it’s taking lives, why don’t you share this content with friends and loved ones? It could help save a life…

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