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Is whiskey good for a cold?

Colds are one of the most common illnesses, affecting people frequently during the fall and winter months. While there is no cure for the common cold, many people look for ways to find relief from the uncomfortable symptoms like sore throat, congestion, coughing, and fever. Some people believe that drinking alcoholic beverages, especially whiskey, can help treat colds. But is this really effective or just an old wives’ tale?

Quick Answers

– There is no scientific evidence that drinking whiskey can cure or effectively treat colds.

– Drinking alcohol can worsen some cold symptoms like dehydration and interrupt sleep.

– Whiskey contains antioxidants that may provide minor relief for sore throat pain but other remedies are more effective.

– Drinking whiskey may be unsafe if you are taking cold medications that contain acetaminophen or sedative drugs.

– While whiskey may make you feel drowsy temporarily and promote relaxation, the effects are short-lived and it is not an effective long-term cold treatment.

Does Whiskey Have Any Medicinal Benefits?

Some of whiskey’s purported benefits for colds come from its ingredients. Whiskey contains ethanol, which some believe has antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. However, there is limited scientific research supporting this. The ethanol content needs to be very high, more than 40% alcohol by volume, to have any potential germ-fighting effects. Most whiskies are 80-90 proof, or around 40% ABV. This is likely not high enough to impact cold viruses or symptoms in any significant way.

Whiskey also contains antioxidants like ellagic acid, gallic acid, vanillin, syringaldehyde, and eugenol. Antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. This may provide minor relief for sore throat pain associated with colds. However, the antioxidant content in whiskey is fairly low compared to other foods and beverages. You would likely get greater antioxidant benefits from fruits, vegetables, green tea, or herbal teas.

The bottom line is that while whiskey has traces of compounds that, in theory, could help with cold symptoms, the amounts are far too low to have any major medicinal impact. There are no scientific studies demonstrating whiskey’s efficacy for treating colds.

How Does Drinking Whiskey Affect Cold Symptoms?

While whiskey is not an evidence-based cold remedy, let’s examine how it may subjectively affect common cold symptoms:

Sore Throat

Whiskey’s antioxidants may provide minor temporary relief for a sore, scratchy throat. The alcohol content can also give a numbing effect. However, the relief is very short-lived. Sipping warm broth, tea, or gargling saltwater are more effective and longer-lasting sore throat remedies.


Whiskey does not contain any expectorant or decongestant properties. It does not help loosen mucus or reduce sinus congestion from a cold.


Whiskey is not an effective cough suppressant. The alcohol can irritate the throat and may worsen coughing.


Whiskey does not lower fever caused by a cold virus. In fact, drinking alcohol may raise body temperature slightly and dehydrate you, making fever symptoms feel worse.

Aches and Pains

The sedative effects of whiskey may temporarily mask body aches from a cold. However, it does not have any lasting pain-relieving properties.


Alcohol like whiskey may help you relax and feel drowsy, promoting sleep. However, whiskey disrupts sleep quality. This makes fatigue and tiredness from a cold feel worse the next day.


Whiskey can cause dehydration due to its diuretic effect. This exacerbates dehydration from cold symptoms like fever and nasal congestion.

Potential Risks of Mixing Whiskey and Cold Medicines

It’s unsafe to drink whiskey if you are taking typical over-the-counter cold medications, including:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) – increases liver toxicity risk
  • Dextromethorphan (cough suppressant) – increases drowsiness
  • Guaifenesin (expectorant) – increases alcohol absorption, drowsiness
  • Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) – increases drowsiness
  • Pseudoephedrine (decongestant) – increases heart rate, blood pressure

The risks include:

  • Excessive drowsiness, sedation, dizziness
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Worsened liver damage
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea, vomiting, headaches

You should avoid drinking any amount of whiskey if you are taking prescription drugs for colds like codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, phenylephrine, or antibiotics.

Safer, More Effective Cold Remedies

Rather than relying on whiskey’s unproven benefits, focus on evidenced-based natural remedies to safely treat cold symptoms:

  • Get extra rest – Sleeping allows your body to heal.
  • Stay hydrated – Drink water, broth, caffeine-free tea.
  • Use humidifiers – Moisturizes dry nasal passages.
  • Take warm baths or showers – Relieves congestion and aches.
  • Gargle salt water – Soothes sore throats.
  • Take zinc supplements – Zinc has antiviral effects.
  • Apply essential oils – Menthol, eucalyptus, peppermint oils clear congestion.
  • Use honey – Coats and soothes sore throats.
  • Try chicken soup – Provides hydration and nutrition.

Over-the-counter medications like NSAIDs (ibuprofen), decongestants, expectorants, and cough suppressants can also safely treat cold symptoms with proper dosing. See your doctor if your cold is severe or if you have complications like bronchitis or sinus infections.

The Bottom Line

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • There is no scientific proof that drinking whiskey helps treat or cure colds.
  • The antioxidants may provide minor sore throat relief but have minimal effects on other symptoms.
  • Whiskey can worsen dehydration, sleep quality, and symptoms when mixed with cold medications.
  • Natural remedies and over-the-counter meds are safer, more effective options for cold relief.

While some people tout whiskey as a cold cure-all, it has no proven medicinal benefits. Drinking moderate amounts may provide temporary symptom masking thanks to its sedative effects. But whiskey is not a wise or effective way to treat colds in the long run. You are better off using traditional evidenced-based remedies and avoiding alcohol until you are fully recovered.