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Alcohol and Health

Is Drinking Alcohol While Sick Dangerous? Scientists Say Yes.

Published:
June 20, 2023
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7 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 20, 2023
·
7 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 20, 2023
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7 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 20, 2023
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7 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 20, 2023
·
7 min read

We've all heard it, right? That glass of whiskey, wine, or brandy will "kill the germs" and cure whatever ails us. There is even a term for it: the "Hot Toddy Effect." And we can't dismiss the psychological comfort that some of us get from this ritual. But is it bad to drink alcohol when you have a cold? What about drinking beer while sick? Or drinking alcohol while sick in general? Let's see what science has to say.

“Alcohol When Sick”: An Old Wives’ Tale Revised

Sorry to burst your bubble — despite what you might have heard from your nana, research shows that drinking can make it harder to recover from illness. The main reason has to do with the immune system, which can be compromised by alcohol. Not exactly what we want when we're battling a nasty cold or flu, is it?

A 2015 study from Alcohol Research reported that alcohol can disrupt our immune response and lung health. By messing with our body's ability to defend us from infections, it becomes easier for us to get sick in the first place.

Part of the reason has to do with the link between alcohol and inflammation. When we are sick, the immune system triggers an inflammatory response to fight off the infection. However, with frequent alcohol consumption keeping the immune system busy by triggering a state of chronic low-grade inflammation, it’s less able to respond with full force when we want it to.

A Dangerous Mix

Another important side of the story has to do with medication. Many of us take medicine when we're sick. Unfortunately, alcohol can interact with a variety of medications — often negatively! — leading to unpleasant or dangerous side effects and reducing the ability of the medication to work its magic.

For instance, combining alcohol with acetaminophen — a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold and flu medicines — can potentially cause liver damage. Mixing alcohol with antibiotics can lead to nasty side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and rapid heartbeat.

So, while a warm Hot Toddy might feel soothing on a sore throat, we need to consider the broader impact on our health, especially if we're on medication.

The Dehydration Dilemma

Now let's talk about hydration. When we're sick, staying hydrated is super important. Water helps flush out toxins and keeps our cells functioning properly. Alcohol, however, is a diuretic. It encourages our body to lose more fluid than we take in, which can lead to dehydration.

Dehydration can exacerbate many illness symptoms, like headache and fatigue. So, drinking alcohol when we're sick could potentially make us feel worse. Not really the result we're after, is it?

Is Moderate Drinking a Safe Bet?

But what about moderate drinking? Contrary to popular belief, recent studies have shown that when it comes down to it, no level of alcohol is completely safe. Even moderate drinking increases our overall risk of various health issues — so it’s important to weigh the potential benefits against the risks.

Drinking Alcohol While Sick: The Verdict

So, is it bad to drink alcohol when we’re sick? All in all, it seems the cons significantly outweigh any pros. Our goal should always be to support our bodies, and alcohol when sick might not be our best ally.

We can still enjoy the coziness of a soothing drink, while also giving our bodies the best chance to bounce back. There are plenty of other comforting, warming drinks to enjoy that won't potentially hinder our recovery. So, next time we're feeling under the weather, let's reach for a mug of hot tea or a bowl of nourishing soup instead of that glass of wine or whiskey.

We've all heard it, right? That glass of whiskey, wine, or brandy will "kill the germs" and cure whatever ails us. There is even a term for it: the "Hot Toddy Effect." And we can't dismiss the psychological comfort that some of us get from this ritual. But is it bad to drink alcohol when you have a cold? What about drinking beer while sick? Or drinking alcohol while sick in general? Let's see what science has to say.

“Alcohol When Sick”: An Old Wives’ Tale Revised

Sorry to burst your bubble — despite what you might have heard from your nana, research shows that drinking can make it harder to recover from illness. The main reason has to do with the immune system, which can be compromised by alcohol. Not exactly what we want when we're battling a nasty cold or flu, is it?

A 2015 study from Alcohol Research reported that alcohol can disrupt our immune response and lung health. By messing with our body's ability to defend us from infections, it becomes easier for us to get sick in the first place.

Part of the reason has to do with the link between alcohol and inflammation. When we are sick, the immune system triggers an inflammatory response to fight off the infection. However, with frequent alcohol consumption keeping the immune system busy by triggering a state of chronic low-grade inflammation, it’s less able to respond with full force when we want it to.

A Dangerous Mix

Another important side of the story has to do with medication. Many of us take medicine when we're sick. Unfortunately, alcohol can interact with a variety of medications — often negatively! — leading to unpleasant or dangerous side effects and reducing the ability of the medication to work its magic.

For instance, combining alcohol with acetaminophen — a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold and flu medicines — can potentially cause liver damage. Mixing alcohol with antibiotics can lead to nasty side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and rapid heartbeat.

So, while a warm Hot Toddy might feel soothing on a sore throat, we need to consider the broader impact on our health, especially if we're on medication.

The Dehydration Dilemma

Now let's talk about hydration. When we're sick, staying hydrated is super important. Water helps flush out toxins and keeps our cells functioning properly. Alcohol, however, is a diuretic. It encourages our body to lose more fluid than we take in, which can lead to dehydration.

Dehydration can exacerbate many illness symptoms, like headache and fatigue. So, drinking alcohol when we're sick could potentially make us feel worse. Not really the result we're after, is it?

Is Moderate Drinking a Safe Bet?

But what about moderate drinking? Contrary to popular belief, recent studies have shown that when it comes down to it, no level of alcohol is completely safe. Even moderate drinking increases our overall risk of various health issues — so it’s important to weigh the potential benefits against the risks.

Drinking Alcohol While Sick: The Verdict

So, is it bad to drink alcohol when we’re sick? All in all, it seems the cons significantly outweigh any pros. Our goal should always be to support our bodies, and alcohol when sick might not be our best ally.

We can still enjoy the coziness of a soothing drink, while also giving our bodies the best chance to bounce back. There are plenty of other comforting, warming drinks to enjoy that won't potentially hinder our recovery. So, next time we're feeling under the weather, let's reach for a mug of hot tea or a bowl of nourishing soup instead of that glass of wine or whiskey.

Ready To Get Better and Stay Better for Good?

If you’re ready to take charge of your wellness, the Reframe app is here to help you develop a healthier relationship with alcohol. We're proud to have supported hundreds of thousands of people in dialing down or completely eliminating their alcohol intake. With our practical tools, neuroscience-based courses, coping techniques, and a built-in progress tracker, our leading app equips people just like you to form better habits and lower the risks tied to excessive drinking.

Our daily articles give you a deep dive into the brain science behind alcohol. And to make sure the learning sticks, we follow up with daily activities that reinforce the information from the readings. Moreover, you get access to a wealth of courses covering a multitude of topics designed to guide you towards living your best life.

Our community of global users is always available for a chat on our 24/7 Forum, and we also have daily Zoom check-in calls. Plus, our licensed coaches are ready to give you a helping hand. Our in-app Toolkit comes packed with resources to assist you in tackling the hurdles that come with changing your relationship with alcohol – whether you’re facing cravings, mood fluctuations, or an unsupportive circle of friends.

Why choose Reframe? We're all about science, not stigma. Whether you're simply interested in exploring sobriety, aiming to trim down your drinking, or looking to ditch alcohol entirely, we're here cheering you on, without judgment. We're rooting for you to uncover all the amazing possibilities that come along with reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption.

The best part? You get a 7-day free trial of the Reframe app, so there's really no reason not to try us out. We're certain that you'll unearth a whole new world beyond alcohol, and start flourishing again! Isn't it time you got back to living your best life? We want to help you get there!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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