Where does the phrase “blind drunk” come from?
Wood alcohol (methanol) attacks the optic nerve and destroys retinal cells, rendering the drinker blind. During Prohibition, all alcohol was illegal as a beverage, so it was impossible to distinguish between legitimate alcohol and the poisoned version. People who drank in speakeasies–especially the cheap ones in poor parts of the city, in places like New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, etc.–might be buying wood alcohol. Who could tell the difference? No one, at least not until the side effects set in.
Here’s what wikipedia says: Methanol ingested in large quantities is metabolized first to formaldehyde and then to formic acid or formate salts, which are poisonous to the central nervous system and may cause blindness, coma, and death. It is used to denature alcohol which is intended for industrial uses. This addition of methanol exempts industrial ethanol from liquor excise taxation.
Did it always kill? No. It depended on how much you drank and the individual’s health. But it made drinkers sick and could kill. I use it in my books when I need something poisonous.