Consuming alcohol may worsen the effects of COVID-19.

There’s a pervasive myth that alcohol prevents COVID-19. While hand sanitizer containing alcohol may kill the virus on surfaces, drinking alcohol doesn’t cure or prevent a COVID-19 infection.

Alcohol consumption may make your symptoms worse, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Alcohol can also weaken your immune system and contribute to risk-taking behavior (like not wearing a mask) that could increase your chances of contracting the virus.

At the same time, people with active alcohol use disorder shouldn’t suddenly stop drinking without medical supervision, as alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous.

If you don’t have a physical dependency on alcohol, and you drink lightly or moderately, consider stopping while you have COVID-19.

Alcohol can cause digestive upset, difficulty sleeping, trouble with concentration, and other unpleasant side effects that may worsen your symptoms.

Alcohol can also impair the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off COVID-19. You might opt for an immune-boosting mocktail or herbal tea instead.

Going “cold turkey” when you have a physical dependence on alcohol can be dangerous. Detoxing from alcohol needs to be done under medical supervision.

If you’re ready to enter treatment and stop drinking, you’ll likely have to wait until your COVID-19 infection is no longer transmissible before you enter a detox program.

To find a detox program, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or use the NIAAA’s Alcohol Treatment Navigator.

You can take a couple of steps to avoid contracting or transmitting the COVID-19 virus while drinking.

For example, consider having a small gathering at home instead of going to a crowded bar or club. Try to keep your home as well-ventilated as possible, and encourage your guests to stay home if they’re feeling unwell.

You can also reduce the risk of COVID-19 by:

  • asking your guests to take a COVID-19 test before arrival
  • avoiding sharing glasses or bottles with others
  • ensuring that your vaccinations are up-to-date
  • encouraging your guests to stay up-to-date on their vaccinations

If you’re going to go out:

  • Avoid crowded venues, especially indoors.
  • Opt for well-ventilated spaces, such as outdoor patios or parks.
  • Wear a mask as much as possible.

Long-term, chronic alcohol use is associated with lung disease, which can worsen the symptoms of COVID-19, according to research. Alcohol can also increase your risk of other respiratory conditions, like pneumonia.

A 2021 study found that people who drink at least once a week are more likely to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) during COVID-19 hospitalization. This may be because alcohol use can weaken your immune system, making you more prone to infectious diseases.

It’s also worth noting that the effects of alcohol — and a hangover — may be particularly unpleasant if you also have COVID-19 symptoms.

Not much is known about long COVID and alcohol consumption.

Some research suggests that alcohol intolerance is common for people with long COVID. This may be because COVID-19 can affect liver functioning.

Drinking alcohol may worsen the symptoms of long COVID. For example, some research suggests that poor sleep can make long COVID worse, and difficulty sleeping is a common side effect of drinking alcohol.

Because drinking alcohol and being hungover can lead to digestive upset, headaches, mood changes, and difficulty thinking clearly — all symptoms of long COVID — it may worsen these symptoms.

Can you drink alcohol when taking antiviral medication for COVID-19?

There’s no consensus on whether alcohol affects the antiviral medications used to treat COVID-19.

Common antiviral medications used for COVID-19 include remdesivir (Veklury), nirmatrelvir with ritonavir (Paxlovid), and molnupiravir (Lagevrio).

It’s not clear whether alcohol affects their safety or effectiveness. However, these medications can cause unpleasant side effects, like headaches, which may be worsened with alcohol use.

Consult a healthcare professional about whether you can drink alcohol while using these medications.

Are you more likely to develop long COVID if you drink alcohol during an active infection?

No research suggests that you’ll develop long COVID if you drink alcohol while you have a COVID-19 infection.

However, the 2021 study mentioned above suggests that people who drink alcohol often are more likely to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) during COVID-19 hospitalization.

ARDS is a common complication of COVID-19 that can be fatal.

Is it possible to develop an alcohol intolerance after clearing the initial COVID-19 infection?

Anecdotally, some people with long COVID develop an alcohol intolerance. While one preprint study suggests that alcohol intolerance is a common symptom of long COVID, there’s very little research on the topic.

Drinking alcohol may worsen the symptoms of COVID-19 and long COVID. It’s a good idea to avoid alcohol if you’re currently ill with COVID-19.

However, if you’re physically dependent on alcohol or drink heavily, stopping drinking without medical supervision may be dangerous. If you’re ready to seek treatment, do so after your infection has cleared.

You can find support at:

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.