Last week my friend texted me: “i’m convinced the alcohol is killing my germs bc i get less sick every time i go out.” I “lol’d” but then started to seriously think, could my friend’s alcohol consumption actually being killing her germs and getting rid of her illness?
I did some research. Alcohol by itself or as the main concentration is not FDA approved to act as a disinfectant. In a medical situation ethyl and isopropyl alcohol are bactericidal water-soluble chemical compounds that can sterilize and kill bacteria. Because ethyl alcohol is also known as drinking alcohol, I figured I had found my answer, drinking alcohol disinfects. But I still considered to research. I found that absolute ethyl alcohol works to disinfect by breaking down proteins and lipids killing bacterial and viral germs, but in order for the ethyl to be affective and actually break down these germ cells, it has to be used at a concentration of 70%. Any concentration higher will dehydrate and any lower will not be strong enough to have any effect. Isopropyl alcohol functions in the same way.
My discovery that a 70% concentration of the alcohol is necessary to kill off any germs, made me question my initial instinct that yes drinking alcohol kills your germs. Concentration of alcohol in alcoholic beverages ranges from about 4%-40%. This means that the necessary 70% concentration is not there. An alcoholic beverage does not have the same effect as pure alcohols used for medical uses for this reason.
Another reason drinking alcohol does not kill your germs in the way that disinfectant alcohol does is based on your anatomy. When you are sick your respiratory system is infected. The alcohol that you drink goes straight to your your stomach through your esophagus, not passing through the location of the sickness. Germs are usually found in the trachea but they won’t be killed here because the alcohol consumed will not sit in your throat long enough and saliva from swallowing will wash the remaining alcohol away.
Germs from a cold or flu virus enter the patients bloodstream, but like the germs in the throat, they will not be killed by consumption of an alcoholic beverage either. Once the germs enter the bloodstream a concentration of about 60%-80% is needed to kill the germs. A concentration that high in a person’s bloodstream means more alcohol than blood. A person with a BAC of 60 to 80% will die.
The best treatment for a sick body is rest and hydration. Drinking alcohol interferes with both of these. Alcohol causes dehydration through excessive urination and vomiting, both affected by the production of the anti-diuretic hormone. Excessive urination means a higher concentration of salt and lower volume of water in the body and because alcohol decreases the production of the anti-diuretic hormone, the amount of urine is increased causing dehydration. Not only does it interfere with hormone production, alcohol also interrupts REM sleep. Drinking alcohol causes your body to skip over the first stages of REM sleep, going straight into a deep sleep.
So no, drinking a beer or taking a shot is not going to kill your germs. Alcohol masks any other feelings, which is why alcoholics never feel hungover because they keep drinking, covering up the symptoms of a hangover. If you are sick and drinking alcohol the only thing you’re doing is covering up your symptoms. The human body does not allow for high enough concentrations of alcohol needed to kill bacterial or viral germs causing a sickness.