For centuries, booze was essentially the only medicine. Teething baby? Rub some alcohol on their gums. Got a cough? Keep a flask on you. Getting your left arm amputated? Take a few swigs before your dentist/doctor/tailor/barber-surgeon starts cutting.
Obviously, medicine has come a long way since then, and you’re no longer required to be conscious when undergoing surgery. Still, we’ve not yet developed any sort of “cure” for the common cold, any miracle flu treatment or much of a solution at all for that pesky little coronavirus going around.
When you’re deep in the throes of the flu or a bad cold, the best you can hope for in terms of relief is that you’ll pass out for a few hours and not be plagued by any weird fever dreams — for the most part, this is what cough medicine is really for (hell, cough medicine itself usually contains alcohol). Coughing less is good, but the ultimate goal is to pass the fuck out.
With that in mind, can’t a solid dose of whiskey do the trick?
According to one dude in his 20s who got sick with the coronavirus, yes. But according to various actual medical experts and studies, it’s a toss-up. While we know that excessive drinking can seriously damage the body, making us more likely to get sick and less likely to recover quickly, studies have also shown that moderate drinking seems to be fine. In fact, there’s even some evidence that a-drink-or-two-a-day consumers might even be less susceptible to viruses.
In terms of the coronavirus, James Hamblin, preventative medicine physician, Atlantic writer and lecturer of public health policy at the Yale School of Public Health, is rightfully hesitant to make any claims about whether or not it’s safe to drink. “Some of the best advice we have right now is to get back to the basics of making yourself as baseline healthy as possible — sleeping, eating well, moving around, and, if possible, not being too stressed out,” he says. And unfortunately, “excessive drinking puts stress on the body.”
“As a general rule, drinking a lot impairs the body’s ability to fight off disease. In a time when people are feeling pretty powerless, there are a few things people can do to try to prepare for this, and that would include generally living a pretty healthy life if possible.”
Sabine Hazan, gastroenterologist and CEO of genetic sequencing research laboratory ProgenaBiome, reiterates that excessive drinking will impact your overall health. “If you drink mass amounts of alcohol, it’s not going to help you fight a virus,” she says. “You’re actually putting yourself in an immunosuppressed state. When you drink alcohol, you’re killing off good and bad bacteria. A study from the National Institutes of Health found that small amounts of alcohol actually improve the gut microbiome. But large amounts of alcohol clean out your gut bacteria. So if a virus penetrates, you have no bacteria to fight it off.”
For this reason, alcoholics may be more susceptible to viruses and may experience them longer. But for moderate drinkers, it’s probably no biggie. “With the cold and flu, you’re probably going to get through it,” says Hamblin. “If you’re hungover and you have a cold, you’re probably going to feel worse, but if you like to have a drink, have a drink.”
That said: “I wouldn’t mess with that in this moment,” Hamblin continues. “You won’t know if it’s a cold at first or if you have the coronavirus.”
Generally speaking, then, a drink might make you feel better in the moment. A hot toddy, which combines whiskey with lemon, honey and hot water, might actually suppress your cough. “I’ve made them when I’ve had colds; they’re good for relieving chest congestion,” says Gary Legum, a writer from Virginia. “Though, I’d recommend a bit more whiskey than most recipes call for.”
And again, if you just have a cold, no real harm done! You’re allowed to have a drink. It definitely won’t cure you, but it’ll probably make the experience a bit more tolerable.
Considering how little we know about the coronavirus, though, maybe it’s better to sober this one out. I’m so sorry.