What’s in Your Cocktail?  You would be wise to ask that question and be very picky about what you drink, especially when it comes to any unlabelled or ‘free’ cocktails while travelling overseas…

In recent years there have been many widely reported cases of tourists becoming seriously ill after drinking dodgy cocktails while on holiday abroad.  Young people backpacking and on gap year adventures are particularly vulnerable.  Excessive consumption of alcohol is common, especially at events like full moon parties in Thailand.

A few years ago, an Australian nurse on holiday in Indonesia was left with kidney and brain damage after drinking a cocktail made with fruit juice and a rice wine called ‘Arak’.   The cocktail was found to be laced with methanol.  Injuries resulting from methanol poisoning can also lead to visual impairment, blindness, coma and death.  In Bali in 2009 more than 20 people died from drinking methanol tainted drinks.  Methanol is a toxic substance found in products like anti-freeze, paint, and solvents.  Symptoms of methanol poisoning are often delayed and can include headache, vomiting and blurred vision – similar to the symptoms of a bad hangover.

In some of the unfortunate cases of methanol poisoning reported in Southeast Asia the victims did not have holiday insurance and the cost of repatriation caused a serious financial burden on their families, running to tens of thousands of dollars.  Play it safe and avoid complimentary drinks and those offered at roadside stalls or unlicensed premises.

Problems of this type are not confined to Southeast Asia.  Last year the Foreign Office reported on a number of deaths and hospitalisations in the Czech Republic from drinking counterfeit and home-made spirits tainted with methanol.  The ban on the sale of spirits over 20% has now been lifted, but visitors should take care.  Check to make sure the bottle has an original seal around the cap or cork and try to buy alcohol from supermarkets and legitimate vendors. The wave of poisoning killed more than 20 people in the Czech Republic and Poland, with cases also reported in Slovakia.

On a similar subject, drink spiking is an evil that is a threat just about anywhere in the world these days and travellers must take care to avoid becoming victims of rape and/or robbery.  So-called date rape drugs are mostly tasteless and colourless and cannot be detected in drinks, including soft beverages, tea and coffee.   Never leave drinks (or food) unattended and do not accept free drinks offered by strangers. Avoid dining alone so that a friend can watch your drink and food if you leave the table.

Remember to check whether the water is safe to drink at your holiday destination, as contaminated water is likely to also be in the ice cubes in your drink – which can lead to sickness.  Oh, and we should  not need to remind travellers that excessive alcohol consumption may lead to denial of related claims with any travel insurance policy!  Have fun, but stay safe and be sensible with your drinking.

Flickr cc Image:  Cycosmos (Burning cocktail)

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