Drinking alcohol does not prevent or treat coronavirus infection and may impair immune function
While hand sanitizers containing 60-95% ethyl alcohol can help destroy the coronavirus on surfaces, drinking alcohol—including beverages with high percentages of alcohol—offers no protection from the virus. The concentration of alcohol in the blood after one standard drink is in the range of 0.01–0.03% (a blood alcohol level of 0.01–0.03 gm%), which is a tiny fraction of the concentration needed to produce an antiseptic action. Indeed, a blood alcohol concentration of 0.40% can be fatal.
Far from offering protection, alcohol misuse makes the body more susceptible to viral infections and can worsen the prognosis. Alcohol in the body at the time of exposure to a pathogen tends to impair the body’s immediate immune response to the pathogen, making it easier for an infection to develop. Longer term, excessive alcohol consumption impairs immune cell functions in the lungs, making the body’s immune response less effective. Excessive alcohol use also damages the cells that line the lung surface and this damage can go undetected until an infection occurs in the lungs. Alcohol misuse is also associated with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). In fact, individuals who misuse alcohol chronically are more likely to develop ARDS, more likely to need mechanical ventilation, have a prolonged stay in the intensive care unit, and have a higher risk of mortality from ARDS. All of these effects of alcohol misuse could certainly complicate COVID-19 prevention, treatment, and recovery.
1) Review that addresses all three statements: Boé, D.M.; Vandivier, R.W.; Burnham, E.L.; and Moss, M. Alcohol abuse and pulmonary disease. J Leukoc Biol. 86(5):1097-104, 2009.
2) Higher ARDS incidence with chronic alcohol consumption: Simou, M.; Leonardi-Bee, J.; and Britton, J. The effect of alcohol consumption on the risk of ARDS: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. CHEST. 154(1):58-68, 2018.
3) Increased ventilation and prolonged stay in an intensive care unit : Moss, M.; Parsons, P. E.; Steinberg, K. P.; Hudson, L. D.; Guidot, D. M.; Burnham, E. L.; Eaton, S.; and Cotsonis, G. A. Chronic alcohol abuse is associated with an increased incidence of acute respiratory distress syndrome and severity of multiple organ dysfunction in patients with septic shock. Crit. Care Med. 31, 869–877, 2003.
4) Higher ARDS mortality in individuals who misuse alcohol chronically: Moss, M.; Bucher, B.; Moore, F. A.; Moore, E. E.; and Parsons, P. E. The role of chronic alcohol abuse in the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome in adults. JAMA 275, 50–54, 1996.