Can drinking cure/prevent sickness?

I friend I once knew used to swear he never got sick because of his nightly cocktails. Made sense since alcohol kills germs, right? Well here's the science on THAT!
"There's a lot of nasty, virulent bugs going around this year. Colds and flus are putting people out of commission for weeks on end. This means that by now one of your friends has told you to drink some whiskey because that'll knock the cold right out.

Some people swear by it. But is there any scientific evidence to support that (admittedly fun) hypothesis? Let's see.

It's Friday afternoon, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. Take two shots and call me in the morning. Err, afternoon.

Knocking Out the Virus

First let's address the theory that after you're already getting sick, drinking whiskey (or brandy, or other spirits) will kill the virus and you'll wake up healthy. It's a beautiful idea, but unfortunately no study has ever shown that this is remotely true. Further, it doesn't make any logical sense at all. People think, "Hey, alcohol is used to sterilize stuff and kill viruses outside of my body, so why wouldn't it work inside by body?" The answer has to do with concentrations.

Once you're already infected with a cold or flu virus, it's in your bloodstream. That means that if you want to kill it, you'd have to kill it in your blood. Yes, consuming alcohol does raise your blood-alcohol levels, but not nearly enough. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), "Ethyl alcohol, at concentrations of 60%–80%, is a potent virucidal agent inactivating all of the lipophilic viruses (e.g., herpes, vaccinia, and influenza virus) and many hydrophilic viruses..." In other words, your bloodstream would likely need to be 60 to 80 percent alcohol (more alcohol than blood!) in order to kill your virus. When you consider that a blood-alcohol level of 0.2 percent is enough to put most people in a stupor, and bringing it up to 0.5 can easily cause death by alcohol poisoning, this is not a reasonable solution. You'd kill yourself before you'd kill your cold.

Soothing a Savage Throat

Theory number two. "Oh, you got a sore throat, bro? Throw back some whiskey and/or 151! It'll kill that ish real quick!" Thanks, dudebro. At least this one make a little bit of sense, in theory. Alcohol is used to disinfect surfaces. The surface of your throat is a surface! Q.E.D.! Except not really. A) The spirit probably doesn't stay on your throat long enough to really sterilize it, it's washed away by saliva. B) Even if it did, it would only clear the top part of your throat. When swallowing, liquid is passed down from your pharynx, through your esophagus, and into your stomach. The thing is that most sore throats continue down your breathing pipe, not your food pipe, which is why they are so difficult to sooth. Trying to rinse the soreness away would lead to asphyxiation before relief.

So why does whiskey (and hot toddies and such) sometimes make your throat feel better? Mostly because it gets you a drunk. One of the byproducts of even lower levels of intoxication is that you stop feeling pain so acutely. While this sounds nice, there are risks, aside from the usual drunken ones. First, alcohol is very drying. When you've got a sore throat or a cough, the last thing you want is your throat to be any drier. Dry tissues are far more susceptible to abrasions. Second, alcohol brings your blood vessels closer to the surface of your throat, which greatly increases the chance of damaging your delicate tissues. And third, you know how when you're sick everybody tells you to "push fluids"? Drinking alcohol is like "pulling fluids." It's a diuretic, which means you are likely to wake up dehydrated. No bueno.

An amusing anecdote. A certain family member of mine was in the Navy and stationed on a submarine. He woke up with a sore throat. He figured, "Hell, alcohol kills bacteria, I'll just gargle with some." In the Navy they had access to 99-point-something percent pure alcohol (for cleaning things, I assume). He tossed some into his mouth. It burned like hell. He immediately tried to spit it out, but the alcohol has sucked the water out of his cheeks and lips, puckering him so badly that he couldn't open his mouth, so it just kept burning him. Eventually he managed to get a couple fingers into his mouth, and was able to pry open his lips enough for the alcohol to dribble down his chin. My gene pool, ladies and gentlemen.


Now, this is interesting. There have been two studies which indicate that regular consumption of alcohol may actually make you less susceptible to getting colds in the first place (with caveats). The first study was conducted by Carnegie Mellon University in 1993 to see the relation between smoking, drinking, and susceptibility to the common cold. 391 subjects were "intentionally exposed to one of five respiratory viruses and 26 subjects given saline." The study concluded that smokers got sick more often, people who were smokers and drinkers got sick a normal amount, and people who just drank got sick less than the others..."===
Backyard or supposedly now extinct, independent moonshiners used to partly justify their tradition in terms of isolated Appalachian folk using corn liquor for medicinal and other purposes, that had nothing to do with drunkenness. Maybe that aspect has finally been lifted above the status of old hillbilly myths / unsubstantiated beliefs.

- - - - - - - -

["Popcorn"] Sutton had a long career making moonshine and bootlegging. Most of the time he was able to avoid law enforcement, although he was placed on probation in the 1970s and the 1990s. In 1999, Sutton published "Me and My Likker", an autobiography and guide to moonshine production. Around the same time he produced a home video of the same title and released it on VHS tape.

His first broadcast appearance was in Neal Hutcheson's documentary, "Mountain Talk", in 2002. Sutton next appeared in the film that would become the cornerstone of his notoriety, "This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I'll Ever Make". Filmed and released in 2002, the film quickly became a cult classic and over time drew the attention of television producers in Boston and New York. The source footage from this project was re-worked into the documentary "The Last One" that was released in 2008, which received a Southeast Emmy Award. Some of the documentary footage was later used in the 2011–2012 season of the "Moonshiners television" series produced by Discovery Channel. Sutton was also featured in the 2007 documentary "Hillbilly: The Real Story" on The History Channel.

Sutton considered moonshine production a legitimate part of his heritage, as he was Scots-Irish and descended from a long line of moonshiners. In January 2009, after an ATF raid led by Jim Cavanaugh of Waco notoriety, Sutton was sentenced to 18 months in a federal prison for illegally distilling spirits and possession of a firearm as a felon. Sutton, 62 and recently diagnosed with cancer, pleaded with the U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer to let him serve his sentence under house arrest. Several petitions were made in attempts to reduce or commute Sutton's sentence, to no avail.

Sutton committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning on March 16, 2009, apparently to avoid a federal prison term due to begin a few days later. His wife Pam Sutton discovered her husband in his green Ford Fairlane. Mrs. Sutton said, “He called it his three-jug car because he gave three jugs of liquor for it.” His daughter said he had told her in advance that he would commit suicide rather than go to jail. On October 24, 2009, Sutton's body was relocated from his original grave site in Mt. Sterling, North Carolina, to his home in Parrottsville, Tennessee, providing an opportunity for the first public memorial service to be held. His body was carried to its new resting spot by horse and carriage. Sutton's memorial grew in spectacle as country music singer Hank Williams, Jr. flew in to pay his respects. It was a small memorial only for close friends and family.

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