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Hot Toddy or Not?

While my fellow Skepchick writers are busy picking up the slack created by my bloggy silence, I am attempting to recover from an annoying cold (picked up somewhere in New Jersey at Christmastime, reinforcing your every stereotype about the blasted state). Yesterday, I took the obvious route to recovery with plenty of generic Tylenol Cold followed by Nyquil. Result: still sick today.

Now, multiple people have independently suggested that I combat the invading virus with a “hot toddy.” I’ve been schooled on the basic recipe, consisting of hot water, lemon, honey, and whiskey. Of those, I lack everything but the whiskey. Okay, and the water, but I’m not accustomed to water mingling so freely with my beloved Bushmill’s.

Here’s my dilemma: as much as I enjoy a good excuse to drink, doesn’t it seem more logical that alcohol might have a negative impact on the old immune system? I know there’s a dash of the stuff in my Nyquil, but surely not as much as a shot of whiskey. Right? I’ll be Googling around for the answer, but thought I’d pose the question to you smarties first. Here it is all summed up:

Will booze make me feel better?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. No idea about the booze. I'd suggest soup or hot tea with honey. Don't know if those really help either. Maybe it's just whatever you consider a comfort liquid. Although when I get sick, I usually find that coffee tastes terrible.

  2. Booze MAY make you feel better… not sure if it will improve your health too much, though. I know PLENTY of people who swear by various booze-related remedies for cold symptoms, at least, but that DOES sort of fly in the face of what doctors have always said about bed rest and lots of fluids being the best way to get better more quickly. After all, alcohol dehydrates you and, if (as I believe the theory to be) you are trying to drink fluids to flush out your system, I'm not sure how well that will work.

    Then again, I don't know if the old "rest and clear liquids" trick is just another folk remedy that's somehow been accepted by doctors as a more helpful-sounding way of saying "A cold is a virus and there ain't nothin' we can do 'bout that 'cept let it run its course, so get comfy and deal with it, Sniffles."

    As for me, well, as a non-drinker booze has never been my drug-of-choice, as it were. But since I drink copious quantities of tea even when healthy, that's usually the route I take when ill, also.

    Get well soon! :)

  3. There is but one remedy for the common cold: Entenmann's (preferably Cinnamon Twist danish, but it's not a hard, fast rule) and lots of orange juice. Forget about the calories and sugar, too; after all, this is for your health and well-being. Also, for those that might be skeptical and think it's empty calories that you can't taste anyway because of a stuffed up nose — this stuff just LOOKS like cinnamony, sugary bliss; even if you can't taste it fully, you know it's good. As for the orange juice, vitamins and fluids or something, bla bla.

  4. Cinnamon Twist Danish?! Get frelled! Modern Science has PROVEN that ONLY the chocolate frosted cake doughnuts are to be used for medical purposes!

  5. Hot toddies are a wonderful thing when sick. I just had one the other day to try to combat a cold. The hot plus the lemon was very soothing to my throat.

    I figure if you don't overindulge to the point where the alcohol is damaging your liver (so, like a toddy a day), and you make sure you are drinking other, non-alcoholic fluids, you should be fine.

    The other thing to look out for is if you are taking a pain reliever (Tylenol, Ibuprofen) or cold remedy (NyQuil, Robutussin, etc). They come with explicit warnings not to take them and have more than 3 drinks per day.

    Here's the recipe I usually use, if you need a good recipe:

    1 fresh, whole lemon

    ginger and cinnamon, to taste (powdered is fine)

    liberal amounts of honey or brown sugar

    1-2 shots of alcohol

    hot water

    pat of butter (optional)

    Heat up water. While water is heating, juice lemon. Add honey/sugar, stir together. Add hot water, leaving enough room for the alcohol. Add alcohol, and spices. Taste, add more sweet or spice as needed. Float pat of butter on top. Drink slowly, but drink while hot.

    Beats the hell outta Theraflu.

    Feel better, Rebecca!

  6. Hot Toddies are great. My recipe is similar to the one above, only instead of cinnamon and ginger, I use a little clove and maybe some ginger.

    Another thing I like to do when the old rhinovirus comes a-knockin' is this:

    in a small glass: juice of 1 lemon, some ground ginger, as much cayenne as you can handle, one clove of raw pulverized garlic, and some vodka. I guess hot water would work instead of vodka…I dunno. I like it.

  7. Hot Buttered Rum, as taught to me by a nun:

    Mix equal parts brown sugar, butter, and vanilla ice cream. It is helpful to melt the butter first.

    Scoop two or so tablespoons of the mixture into a mug. Toss in a shot or so of rum, I recommend Black Seal. Top off with hot water. Stir. Drink. Make some more. Reflect on how it's way more boozy than you thought. Make another. Forget you have a cold.

  8. I find that if you bundle up and stay in bed under a pile of blankets, with plenty of whatever you like to drink on the nightstand, and sleep as much as possible– within ten days (two weeks at most), you'll be cured!

    –It helps to have a pussycat sitting on you whilst you lay under the covers.

  9. My hot toddy is hot tea instead of water with the lemon, honey, and whiskey.

    Nyquil contains alcohol and citric acid so you may as well consume it in a more comforting form.

    It's delicious.

    I pair it with my favorite pain reliever to relieve any body aches.

    Get better soon because, you know, you are a radio star and your public needs you.


  10. The effects of the alcohol is basically the same as the Tylenol or NyQuil. Non of them are designed to do anything to fight off an illness, their purpose is to mask the symptoms so that your life isn't quite as miserable while you are sick. So, while the Tylenol and Nyquil might work better than the alcohol, they all are basically doing the same thing.

  11. The point of the alcohol is just a bit of anesthesia and to help keep you in bed. The dehydration is comparatively minor, especially since you should be drinking lots of fluids besides the hot toddy….

  12. I am with Satans Parakeet.. It really just makes you less noticing of the symptoms.. however, contrary to the warnings on the labels, I frequently have in the past (in my crazy college days, yeah, never as a responsible PARENT…heh heh) added a shot of rum to a neo citron. DO they sell that in the states? Anywho, makes you sleep like a baby and never kills you, unless you go roller blading in traffic I guess.. And sleep, any sleep, is what triggers your body to shut down power to the deflectors, the unoccupied decks and transfer it to life support…whoops, nerd alert.

  13. "When the choice is between whiskey and not-whiskey, I always side with the whiskey.", Beautiful. Yea I had some of that in Dublin, it is wonderful, I suggest picking up some low shelf whiskey though since it you're mixing it with water. But imagine drinking hot lemony water with a little bit of whiskey. Its also known as Punch and Hot Whiskey. Rum is used in America whereas Whiskey is used in Ireland.

  14. I know whiskey will make you "feel" better (short term) but I'd take the advice of Stan Marsh and take the cure of "our people"…Dayquil, Chicken Noodle Soup and Sprite.


    Feel Better.

  15. Here's the update: I'm happy to report that the whiskey worked! Got me to sleep pretty much as well as the Nyquil, the only trouble being that I was a bit stuffy at first, so it might not have worked as well toward the awful, awful start of the cold. No Nyquil hangover, too, which was nice.

    Also, the kitties have been attached to me since I came home from Christmas in NJ. I think they prefer me being sick and laying around all day cuddling with them.

  16. Kitties are like that. They are inherently lazy beings, sleeping so many hours a day, and have great respect for shows of laziness/sleepiness from their owners. Plus, it saves them having to generate as much of their own warmth when they can leech it off of you!

    (As I type this, there is a cat lying in the warm spot I left when I got out of bed a while ago.)

  17. Usually, a cold triggers lots of mucus production, and sometimes a little excess heat, which requires extra coolant. So the idea of “drowning a cold” is in part an attempt to replenish the liquids you’re losing during the cold. Combined with the fact most people kinda lose their appetite when they’re ill, it’s important to compensate for the aditional loss of fluid intake from your food.

    I’ve heard somewhere that the cold virus dislikes cold and wet (just like most of the mamals it lives on I guess). Supposedly, this is why a cold triggers mucus production.

    As for alcohol, as people have said, it numbs the pain a little. Take too much, and you’ll have a hangover, everyone already knows that. But it’s not like you would feel much difference anyway.
    On the other hand, it might upset your stomach, which is already likely to be sensitive because of the cold.

    The dehydrating effect of alcohol is far smaller than the rehydration from it being a liquid. I think coffee might even be worse than alcohol as far as dehydration goes.

    And of course, don’t be sacriligeous and use a cheap(er) kind of whiskey to mix and heat, not “the good stuff“.

  18. I'd have to disagree on the coffee vs. alcohol part based on my experiences with both. That said if you keep it in moderation a hot toddy or two won't hurt you. I'm pretty sure the warnings away from alcohol are to discourage people from drinking large amounts as that weakens your immune system as does smoking.

    Don't expect a miracle either though. All you can do with a cold is intake plenty of vitamin C and ease the symptoms with various remedies. I use a toddy when I don't have any lozenges and my throat is sore it soothes it for a while. Sometimes I use tea with honey (and lemon if I have it) instead (I'm actually brewing up a batch as I type).

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