BackSociety » Health » Medical Musings: Beware Of Fake Alcohol In Vietnam

Medical Musings: Beware Of Fake Alcohol In Vietnam

Vietnam drinks a lot of alcohol. In fact, it tops the list in Southeast Asia at nearly 3 billion liters yearly. While beer is the alcoholic beverage of choice for many, spirits are also a popular option.

This active drinking culture makes for a lively nightlife, but also can occasionally lead to serious medical illnesses - mainly in the form of methanol poisoning from fake alcohol which can have deadly consequences.

The word “alcohol” as we commonly know it more specifically ethyl alcohol. Containing ethanol, this is the chemical in booze that causes people to become intoxicated. There are many other types of alcohol used in different applications as well. For example, methanol is wood alcohol, isopropyl alcohol is rubbing alcohol and ethylene glycol is antifreeze. All of these chemicals are related closely to one another, and all are potentially poisonous if ingested. In fact, ethylene glycol ingestion is a very common way of attempting suicide in the West.

After having a drink of ethanol, some of it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. It then slows down the activity in your brain, causing the feeling we refer to as “drunk.”

Over time, the body breaks down ethanol into different chemicals and, eventually, into an acid. These byproducts take time to be cleared from the body and are the cause of hangovers.

Methanol is different. Like ethanol, once broken down, it is converted into different chemicals. However, the byproducts of methanol breakdown cause damage to the body. One of the products of methanol breakdown is formic acid, and it only takes a small amount of it to acidify the body and cause organ failure.

Methanol poisoning is probably the most common health risk associated with the intake of counterfeit alcohol as it can cause blindness, kidney failure and seizures.

Those patients who develop serious complications from methanol poisoning rarely fully recover and many die from their illness.

With all of this said, it is important to keep everything in perspective: plain old pure booze causes way more deaths every year than the tainted stuff does. Just recently, a new report was released reminding us that ethanol leads to more deaths per capita than cigarettes, methamphetamine, opiates and even heroin.

Here in Vietnam, alcohol is heavily taxed, making the price of imported alcohol very high for bars and restaurants. Shady bar owners can save a lot of Dong by simply filling up real bottles with counterfeit alcohol (you can occasionally find people selling used liquor bottles on the street specifically for this purpose). The alcohol put back in the bottles is likely a mixture of ethanol and methanol, or one of any number of other chemicals.

To add insult to injury, only a very small amount of alcohol in Vietnam is regulated appropriately, inspected, or tested rigorously. There have been reports of breweries or distilleries producing thousands of bottles of counterfeit liquor and distributing them.

So what’s a person to do? If you’re serious about your mixed drinks, only imbibe at establishments that you are familiar with, and avoid offerings that have suspiciously low prices. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably is. If you do buy liquor, buy from reputable sources, and when the bottle is empty, damage it so it can’t be used again.

Above all else, use common sense and you’ll be able to drink with the best of them.

Dr. Ostrander is a board-certified American family doctor, practicing at Columbia Asia Saigon International Clinic. For appointments, please contact the clinic at 08 3823 8888, or e-mail

[Photo via Hannah Swithinbank]

Related Articles

in Health

300 Years to Clean up 800,000 Tons of Unexploded Ordinance in Vietnam: Official

At a conference on unexploded ordnance in Vietnam, an official announced that it may take up to 300 years to clear the country of the deadly war remnants that are still inflicting casualties to this d...

in Health

40% Of Pregnancies In Vietnam End In Abortion: Report

Vietnam’s defunct but lingering family planning policies, poor sex education programs and easy access to clinics has resulted in one of the highest abortion rates in the world, according to a recent r...

in Health

4K Turkey Dash For the Orphans @ The Crescent

On November 17, come down to the Crescent to join Transcend People’s 4k Turkey Dash for the Orphans and Operation Smile in Vietnam.

in Health

7 Reasons Why Vietnamese Food is Good for You

While you may have to watch out where you’re buying your produce in Vietnam, the cuisine itself is about as healthy you can get. The Huffington Post recently talked to the Vietnamese owners of Pho, a ...

in Health

After 5 Years, Boy Finally Has Battery Removed from Nose

Doctors in central Vietnam treated a 10-year-old boy in Tam Tri Da Nang General Hospital earlier this week for emitting “unpleasant odors” from his nose, according to Tuoi Tre.

in Health

BBGV 14th Annual Fun Run For Charity

BBGV Annual Fun Run for Charity is an event which allows you to have fun with your fellow co-workers, friends and family but also participate in something which raises money for disadvantaged people t...