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Can Drinking Alcohol Kill Germs?

photo of wine
By Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RNJune 22, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

If you’re thinking you can vanquish the coronavirus by throwing back a couple of margaritas every day, I’m afraid I have bad news: drinking alcohol does not kill germs inside your body. [cue sad trombone]

I can understand why you might wonder about this, though, since we’re all encouraged these days to use hand sanitizer products – and those are made mainly of alcohol. It’s true that alcohols of all kinds kill germs on surfaces, but alcohol performs differently inside the body – and that’s a good thing.

Chemically-speaking, there are three main types of alcohols: isopropyl, ethyl and methyl. All kill germs by breaking down the cell membrane, which causes the inner components of the cell to dissolve. Most hand sanitizers contain isopropyl (“rubbing”) or ethyl (ethanol) alcohol.

Ethyl alcohol is the type of alcohol found in drinkable spirits as well, but when you consume it, the digestive process quickly breaks down the ethanol molecules, which makes it difficult for them to kill any bacteria they encounter. That’s actually a good thing, because your body contains billions of good bacteria that you can’t live without. If ethanol could kill germs inside your body, it would wipe out those good bacteria along with the bad.

But don’t get the idea that this somehow means it’s OK to drink as much alcohol as you want. Over-consumption of booze can have many toxic effects on your body, including irritating the lining of the gut, overworking your liver (which leads to cirrhosis – or scarring – of the liver), and destroying brain tissue.

And, for heaven’s sake, never, ever drink isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) or methyl alcohol (also called methanol, which is found in fuels, solvents and other products), as consuming either of these types of alcohol can kill you.

Getting back to booze – alas, that daily glass of wine or bottle of beer will not disinfect your insides and could, in fact, damage your gut, liver, and brain if you drink too much. A better way to use alcohol for disinfection is to use hand sanitizer regularly. And save the weekend cocktails for recreation instead of medicinal purposes.



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