There are few things as annoying as getting sick, especially when you have already made plans. Most of us have found ourselves wondering whether just one or two drinks will actually make a difference. After all, if you feel terrible an ice cold beer will probably help, right? As it turns out, probably not. Let’s take a closer look at the truth behind drinking when you have a cold.
Many people claim that since most colds derive from unwanted bacteria in your system, and alcohol kills bacteria, than drinking is a great way to kill that bacteria and become healthy again. This is a tricky one, because it is technically true. However, the reality is you’ll die of alcohol poisoning long before you can get enough into your bloodstream to kill the alcohol.
To put it in perspective: in the United States the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving is .08%. Scientists estimate that for the alcohol to kill bacteria in your system, your blood alcohol content would have to be 60%. Even the most impressive of drinkers would be dead long before they were able to hit that mark.
So, drinking won’t kill the bacteria, but will it make your cold worse? In short, it might. If you have a fever you certainly should not be drinking. Remember, alcohol is actually an immunosuppressant. Which means, whether you are sick or not, consuming alcohol will weaken your immune system.
Since your body treats alcohol as a toxin, it prioritizes processing it over everything else. That means that if you are sick, your body will actually stop fighting the cold to focus on processing the alcohol. So, drinking won’t actually make your symptoms worse, but it can make them last longer, which is the last thing anyone wants.
It’s also worth noting that if you are not sick yet, but are on the edge of a cold, drinking alcohol will likely push you over that edge into full on sickness.
Another factor to consider is the medications you may be taking to deal with your illness. Alcohol reacts with different medicines in different ways, sometimes to the detriment of the person taking them. For example, it’s almost never a good idea to consume alcohol with antibiotics. This is because many antibiotics are actually processed by the liver, just like alcohol. By combining booze with antibiotics you can easily overload your liver. Liver failure can result in death without a transplant, which are notoriously difficult to get.
Now, there are some situations where drinking with a cold might actually help you. This is usually the case with a common cold that you may be on the tail end, or very beginning of. If your symptoms are light, but severe enough to keep you from sleeping, a little nightcap may be just the trick to get you the sleep you need to fight off that cold. However, it’s a fine line between a sleep aid and drunk, so it’s probably best to only stick with one or two drinks if you are feeling under the weather.
The bottom line is this: it’s probably not a great idea to drink when you are sick, but it’s up to you. Listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel horrid, alcohol is only going to compound the problem. If you’re only feeling a bit under the weather, a drink or two is not going to kill you.