Can your alcoholic beverage kill germs in your body?

Maybe you’ve been in a situation like this before.

At a party, your friend chomps down on some cheese dip and crackers that have been sitting out for far too long. “It’ll be fine,” he says. “I’ll just have another beer; the alcohol will kill the bacteria.”

Or your sister with a bad cold offers you a sip of her martini. “Don’t worry, you won’t get germs because of the alcohol!”

Alcohol is a disinfectant, right? So can a few drinks kill the germs in our bodies?

The answer, like most things, is complicated. The alcohol content of your germ-destroying hand sanitizer is about 60–80%, and most beverages are far less than that. One study examined how alcohol affected bacteria in the mouth and found that a beverage with 40% alcohol (like straight vodka) was somewhat effective in inhibiting bacteria growth, particularly over at least a 15 minute period. Alcohol with a 10% concentration, like in some beers and wines, was pretty much ineffective.

Since you’re drinking just occasional sips that get washed down with saliva, and not consistently flowing alcohol down your throat (at least we hope you aren’t) there’s not likely to be much of a bacteria-killing effect in your mouth. So if some bacteria gets on the rim of your friend’s glass as he passes over a drink to share, you shouldn’t trust the liquid inside to keep you safe.

In your body, it’s impossible for any alcohol you drink to kill an ongoing sickness. If you’ve got a cold or virus, your bloodstream is affected. Now think back to the 60–80% range. Attempting to reach a blood alcohol content that high would kill you far before you reached it — 0.5% can be deadly. Not to mention, as Gizmodo reports, alcohol will dry out your throat and make it easier for abrasions to form. As a diuretic, alcohol makes it harder to stay hydrated, which is important when recovering from a sickness.

So in conclusion, no, alcohol is not a suitable replacement for infection treatments, disinfectants or proper food and drink safety practices. It especially won’t cure your cold. Sorry.

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