Unsafe alcohol

If you think a hangover is the worst effect of counterfeit alcohol, think again.

Criminals produce counterfeit alcohol, which often contains substances such as antifreeze, nail polish remover and even paint stripper. Fake alcohol can cause blindness and organ failure and can even lead to death.

What are the dangers of fake alcohol?

The reason fake alcohol is so dangerous is because it is often produced using toxic chemicals that are simply not safe to drink.

Genuine and legally made alcohol products contain the chemical ethanol, which can be drunk safely in moderation. However, counterfeiters will look to cut costs by substituting ethanol with cheaper and possibly toxic substances.

 What are the symptoms of poisoning from fake alcohol?

  • Confusion
  • Loss of coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular or slow breathing
  • Blue-tinged or pale skin
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Stupor (being conscious but unresponsive)
  • Unconsciousness (passing out).

How to spot fake alcohol

The UK Food Standards Agency and DrinkAware.co.uk offer the advice below.

Think about the “4 Ps”:

  1. Place: Only buy your alcohol from reputable and licenced retailers, bars and supermarkets.  Do not buy alcohol from door to door salespeople, unlicensed market traders or from customers in bars.
  2. Price: If the product is being sold well below its normal price, or doesn’t seem to include normal taxes on liquors, then it is probably fake.  
  3. Packaging: Check for poor quality packaging, spelling mistakes and unusually shaped bottles.Look for the contact information and address of the manufacturer. If it is missing, the alcohol is fake.  Inspect the seal on the bottle. If the seal is broken or damaged, then the contents might have been interfered with and are not safe to drink.Check for fake bar codes. If you have an app on your mobile that scans bar codes, scan it and see if it’s listed as the correct product.
  4. Product: Beware of bad smells! If it smells like paint stripper or nail polish remover, then it probably is!

If it contains particles or sediment, or the contents have separated in the bottle, then the product is likely to have been thinned with tap water.

If you notice any of the warning signs listed above, do not buy the product, and definitely do not drink it!

Shop safely - Alcohol fraud

What to do if you suspect you have bought fake alcohol

If you think you or a friend have drunk fake alcohol, you need to seek medical attention.

If you think you have seen fake alcohol for sale, do not buy it. Report the product and the vendor to your local product standards authority.