Background The burden of alcohol-related diseases differs widely among countries. Since the 1980s, a band of countries in Central and Eastern Europe have experienced a steep rise in deaths from chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis. A possible risk factor is the consumption of illegally produced home-made spirits in these countries containing varying amounts of aliphatic alcohols and which may be hepatotoxic. However, little is known about the composition of such beverages.
Aims To compare the concentration of short-chain aliphatic alcohols in spirits from illegal and legal sources in Hungary.
Design Samples taken from commercial retailers and illegal sources were collected and their aliphatic patterns and alcohol concentrations were determined by gas chromatographic/mass spectrometric (GC/MS) analysis.
Findings The concentrations of methanol, isobutanol, 1-propanol, 1-butanol, 2-butanol and isoamyl alcohol were significantly higher in home-made spirits than those of from commercial sources.
Conclusions The results suggest that the consumption of home-made spirits is an additional risk factor for the development of alcohol-induced cirrhosis and may have contributed to high level of liver cirrhosis mortality in Central and Eastern Europe. Restrictions on supply and sale of alcohol from illicit sources are needed urgently to reduce significantly the mortality from chronic liver disease.