Heal It with Booze
"Giles knows his single malt antiseptics."In fiction, no one ever has TCP... but everyone has vodka. This trope occurs when a character pours liquor on a wound to disinfect it, or drinks alcohol as an anesthetic. Note that in the latter case this trope would only occur when the character is using alcohol specifically as an antiseptic right before having a wound stitched up or a bullet extracted etc, and not when a character is just generally self-medicating with alcohol. In Self-Surgery situations, booze can do double duty as anesthetic for the pain and Liquid Courage for the squeamishness. Not to be confused with Booze-Based Buff, where the alcohol grants abilities and is basically a power up. If the alcohol instantly remedies a characters ailments, it's more Health Food than this trope.
— Anya, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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Anime & Manga
- Subverted in an episode of Irresponsible Captain Tylor, where the ship's doctor considers using his personal stash when crew injuries are piling up. He considers it, takes a swig as if he's preparing to spray it, then decides it'd be a waste. Played straight in subsequent episodes when he does use it.
- Shaman King: Horohoro uses sake as a disinfectant after tangling with a bear in Colorado.
- In Toriko, Mansam used some booze to heal a gaping chest wound. Granted, this was because the booze was absorbed by his Gourmet Cells.
- In Attack on Titan, Krista pours a bottle of wine on Reiner's arm after a Titan mauled it. This leads to a sad moment when Gerger finds the bottle and tries to enjoy OneLastDrink as a Titan grabs him. He starts crying when he realizes it's empty and demands to know who drank it all. It's doubly sad considering Reiner is actually a Titan Shifter with a Healing Factor, meaning Gerger was denied one last drink for no reason at all.
- In Wild's End liquor is used to sterilize a character's burned hands as seen in the page image.
- In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Esmeralda uses a bottle of wine on Phoebus' wounds.
Phoebus: Great, I could use a drink. [cries in pain as she pours it on wound] AAAH! Yes! Hmmm. Feels like a 1470 Burgundy. Not a good year.
- This Emergency! fic. Even paramedics don't always take enough first aid gear camping with them,and John is mauled by a bear. Roy cleans him up with what he has,but naturally,it isn't enough and John still needs hospital care. Roy eventually finds a group of men on their own campout,but though they help,no one has anything to stop infection. Roy,desperate to stop the infection-which already has John feverish-uses Wild Turkey to dull the pain,then clean the wounds. Not much dulling happened,though,and it was still pure agony for John when the stuff was poured on.
- It happens in Braveheart (1995): Mel Gibson's childhood pal Hamish and his father Campbell have just helped Mel defeat the local English lord, but Campbell sustained a wound in the process. He's blind drunk on whisky awaiting his son and friends helping him to Heal It with Fire. After a comedy moment where first one, and then a second clansmen say "Here, you do it, [cauterise the wound with the poker], I'll hold him down!", Campbell asks Hamish to pour some on the wound first: "Pour it straight in the wound, boy. I know it seems like a waste of good whiskey, but indulge me."
- In the beginning of Cowboys and Aliens, Meacham the preacher pours whiskey over Lonergan's wound before stitching it up.
- Death Proof. After being shot by one of the girls he tried running off the road, Stuntman Mike sterilizes the wound with some liquor, screaming as he does so. Then he drinks from the bottle to calm his nerves. Cue Spit Take when he sees the girls in their car speeding up in his rearview mirror, intent on revenge.
- In The Final Sacrifice, Rowsdower pours a drink on a branded mark.
- Done in the beginning of John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). The Norwegian shoots Bennings in the leg and they're given a flask of booze that they take a swig from before pouring it over the wound.
- In Serenity, after being shot through the leg by a Reaver harpoon, Jayne busies himself by pouring his flask over his leg wound... and then taking a swig.
- In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, after Gale is whipped bloody by the peacekeepers, Mrs. Everdeen cleans his woulds with some type of clear spirit. Haymitch, being The Alcoholic, takes a swig from the bottle after she is done.
- In From Russia with Love, James Bond helps treat Kermin Bay's gunshot wound with some alcohol.
- City Heat (1984). A mafia mook who gets shot in the ass goes to a Back-Alley Doctor for treatment. The drunken 'doctor' pours booze on his behind to disinfect it, and at that point our protagonists walk in and threaten to literally set his ass on fire if he doesn't talk.
- In the Ciaphas Cain novel Death Or Glory he has a tracker who's helping guide their convoy to safety give his stash of whisky to the vet they've got working as a doctor (both because he's probably running out of antiseptic and because he wants to keep their tracker sober).
- In West of Honor, the main character gets a minor wound, but due to an alien fungus has to get sent back to base to receive weeks of treatment. He later meets with a Private who was also wounded in the same battle, but got out earlier. It turns out the soldier used Brandy to disinfect the wound.
- Variation in the Destroyermen novels. The Lemurians use the paste left over from fermenting polta fruit to make seep as an antiseptic and topical anesthetic.
- In the first book of David Eddings' The Elenium, Sparhawk does first aid on one of his companions by scrubbing the wound out with some cheap wine before bandaging it. When he gets back to base, Sephrenia, the team's medic/sorceress, is less than impressed.
- Everworld: April tries to treat Galahad's wounds and start a blood transfusion with limited 20th-century knowledge. She orders someone to get wine instead of water, as the water being germ-free is dubious at best.
- Hurog: This being a low-tech fantasy world, alcohol is the go-to antiseptic. The heroes do know that it is not particularly pleasant to have this used on a wound, and Ward is a bit shocked when the person on whom alcohol is used in this way doesn't wake up even then.
- The Reynard Cycle: Hirsent must resort to this in order to save Reynard's life in The Baron of Maleperduys. It's justified in that she had lost her surgical kit.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, there are some instances of rudimentary surgery/medical care performed wherein a wound is sterilized with heated or boiled wine. Justified, since it is a Medieval European Fantasy, so there are no other antiseptics around.
- In The Stainless Steel Rat Is Born, after his friend is injured, the protagonist treats him with moonshine in some widow's home.
- Inverted in Liquidate Paris by Sven Hassel. The Squad have to do an appendectomy, advised by a doctor who's speaking to them over the radio. At one point the doctor tells them there should be a bottle of sterilizing alcohol in their first aid kit. The soldier who looks says, "There is! If I'd known that before, it wouldn't still be there!"
- After a shootout in No Deals, Mr. Bond, James Bond loses consciousness due to the bite that he received from a trained attack dog. When he comes to, he is sorry to hear that vintage wine from the year 1914 was used to clean the wound.
- Inverted in Carpe Jugulum; Nanny Ogg has a bottle of medicinal alcohol clearly labelled "External use only". She offers it to the Nac Mac Feegle after they dismiss her best scumble as "bludy lemonade".
- In the first Deverry novel, Nevyn has to clean Cullyn's wounds with alcohol after a less talented medic allowed them to get infected. Nevyn would later admit that Cullyn was the first man he'd ever met (In 400 years, not that he admitted that part) who hadn't screamed upon getting mead poured into an open wound.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Burn Notice, Michael gets trapped in a bank robbery with Special Agent Bly. Bly goes cowboy and gets winged in the arm for his trouble, and Michael starts pretending to be a doctor. While treating Bly, he pours vodka over the wound both to disinfect and to punish him for being a jerk.
- In one episode of the Russian TV series Dalnoboischiki ("Truckers") a provincial doctor complains that he has to use vodka as both disinfectant and anesthetic, since he has no real medical drugs.
- In The Dukes of Hazzard the two protagonists are on probation for running moonshine for their uncle. He no longer does the bootlegging, but he's stated to still distill a little, "for medicinal purposes."
- Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Spectre of the Gun". Morgan Earp punches Captain Kirk in the face and injures his lip. McCoy treats Kirk by touching his lip with a cloth and Kirk flinches.
McCoy: What's the matter?Kirk: What do you call that stuff? Fire?McCoy: Taos Lightning straight bourbon.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, The Final Mission, Captain Picard and Wesley Crusher crash-land and are stranded on a desert moon along with the shuttle pilot. Picard confiscates an alcoholic beverage from the shuttle pilot, stating that it would be better used as an antiseptic and drinking it will only increase dehydration (correct, see the Real Life examples).
- Sam and Dean Winchester from Supernatural have used this method for years. Demonstrated one time when they were Trapped in TV Land on Dr. Sexy, MD—Doctor Dean got shot and Doctor Sam had to operate.
"I need a pen knife, some dental floss, a sewing needle, and a fifth of whiskey. Stat!"
- Sam also did this to his arm in I Know What You Did Last Summer after he and Dean got smacked around by the demon Alastair.
- Disney's The Swamp Fox series has one of these in the episode 'Tory Vengeance'. Francis Marion gives some to his nephew as an anesthetic after the boy is shot-sadly, he can't do anything for the wound. Justified, though, as it was the 1700s, and medical care as we know it didn't exist.
- In one episode of the 2007 version of Flash Gordon, Baylin had taken a bottle of vodka that she had mistaken for water in a decorative container. When she got injured Dale corrected her by pouring it on the wound.
- Happens multiple times throughout the Sharpe series, usually with rum.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- In "End of Days" while patching up the Potentials after a big battle, Andrew and Anya get a bottle of whiskey for this purpose, but end up drinking it themselves.
- Likewise in "Lovers Walk". Vampire Spike passes out dead-drunk after his break-up with Drusilla. He's woken up the next day when the rising sun sets his hand on fire, so he dunks it in a fountain and flees for his car, where he retrieves a bottle of bourbon among a pile of empties, drenches the injury causing him to shout in pain again, then drinks from the bottle. "This is just too much."
- In one episode of Angel, Fred is infected by a parasite that soaks up all the water in her body—so they force it out by making her drink an entire bottle of vodka.
- A subversion in Roseanne: Dan comes home after he beats up Fisher, Jackie's abusive boyfriend. His hand was hurt in the fight and Roseanne tells him to put alcohol on it. He says "Good idea," and grabs a beer out of the fridge. The two-part episode was a high point in the series.
- Person of Interest. Finch winces more than Shaw does when he sees her pour alcohol over a bullet wound in her shoulder.
Mythology and Religion
- In one of St. Paul's letters to his friend Timothy, Paul urges him to drink some wine for his stomach problems, and that such an act is not sinful or bad because a) the intent is to make Timothy's ailing stomach feel better , not to get wasted and/or engage in any kind of drunken debauchery and b) Paul acknowledges in other parts of his writings that a little worldly pleasure now and then isn't necessarily a bad thing.
- Although some mega-teetotal churches have been known to suggest that Paul was instructing Timothy to rub the wine on his stomach as an ointment - because drinking it would be, like bad, and not something that Paul would ever suggest...
- In the Bible itself, wine is sometimes used to clean wounds. Considering the varying quality of water at that time, a good idea.
- The Straight Dope tested this experimentally. It turned out that high proof alcohols do indeed work as a disinfectant, but lower proof ones (like beer or wine) don't.
- In Fallout: New Vegas expansion DLC "Honest Hearts", you have to scavenge a first aid kit. When you find it, many of its components are contaminated. Not a direct usage of this trope, but hard liquors can be used to re-sterilize the contaminated components.
- Neo Scavenger allows you to drink whiskey to temporarally relieve pain (while dehydrating you and making it worse afterwards), pour it on wounds to (painfully) clean them and quickly sterilise dirty rags to use as bandages.
- Referenced in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, when Dan offers a couple of ninja-drug-using punks a drink. He chooses something with a higher alcohol content, suggesting that it might "help sterilize all those cuts on [their] face." Then pointed out as a bad idea by the Alt Text:
Please do not pour beer on your wounds and tell your legal guardian that I was the one who suggested it.
- In one Celebrity Deathmatch, Sylvester Stallone cauterised a wound by pouring alcohol on it and then lighting it on fire, causing the judges to reverse their opinions about him not being a badass.
- In one episode of The Head, a conveniently placed bottle of whiskey is used sterilize a mutant rat bite. The character who was bitten, being Russian, utters the immortal line "No whiskey! Vodkaaaaa!"
- There is one instance where booze is a lifesaving antidote: methanol poisoning, usually resulting from the consumption of wood alcohol, alcohol fuels, windshield washer fluid, some antifreezes, and similar. If someone's been determined to have been poisoned by methanol consumption, the absolute antidote is ethyl alcohol - yes, plain old drinking alcohol. It's often administered by IV for faster effect.
- Similarly, if you are consuming something with a lot of aspartame (which metabolizes, in large enough amounts, to sublethal but possibly injurious amounts of methanol) have an alcoholic drink with it unless you are driving or operating machinery or otherwise have a contraindication for alcohol. But before you start chasing your Diet Coke with a shot of Jack Daniels, know that unless you work with raw aspartame on a industrial level, you need to drink a bathtub-full of Diet Coke to reach toxic levels. Avoid aspartame if possible - while not lethal, small amounts can give you a headache. Some people experience this after as little as one piece of candy with aspartame. While you could try to treat that with alcohol, it is probably not a good idea, considering that alcohol also causes headaches in some people.
- Alcoholics forced into immediate and sudden withdrawal from all alcohol will often develop a fatal withdrawal syndrome called delirium tremens - and must be given alcohol again to end it and prevent death. Physically dependent alcoholics have to quit or reduce drinking slowly or be weaned off alcohol in a medical setting to prevent this from happening.
- Alcohol was both the very first anesthetic and the very first painkiller to be discovered and used, due to drunkenness often heavily increasing pain tolerance. Modern medicine has advanced well beyond that point in all but the most desperately deficient settings, with the advent of far safer and more reliable surgical anesthesia and the variety of painkillers that work via other means (from aspirin and other anti-inflammatories to opiate-based narcotic painkillers).
- Alcohol was also the very first psychiatric medication/sleep aid to exist, although its use as such in modern times is recognized as a very bad idea due to its tendency to deepen depression as a depressant, result in less restful sleep, and its addictiveness when used to deal with emotional suffering. That, unfortunately, doesn't stop people from trying to self-medicate mental illness with it.
- There was a case in 1995 where a woman had severe chest pains and breathlessness while the airplane was in flight (she'd had an accident earlier, and her injuries caused a tension pneumothorax) . Two doctors diagnosed this and performed surgery that MacGuyver would be proud of. Cognac was used as a disinfectant. The patient quickly recovered, was taken to hospital when the plane landed in London and recouperated quite nicely. The surgeon celebrated the successful operation by drinking the rest of the brandy.
- In a famous cholera epidemic in England, brewery workers survived and didn't become infected because of their drinking beer rations instead of water. Boiling/high pressure and fermentation of beneficial bacteria both combat virulent bacteria, making the beer far safer than the standing well water at the Broad Street Pump.
- In a similar example, while alcohol is dehydrating, beer is the least dehydrating alcoholic beverage due to its fluid volume and often fairly low alcohol content, and if your hydration choice is between beer or non-fortified wine (especially that safely bottled or canned) and water of questionable sanitation or worse, seawater, drink the beer or wine. The diarrhea from infected water sources or the dehydration and purgative diarrhea from seawater will kill you much more certainly than any dehydration from the alcohol content.
- Also, while higher proof alcohol will dehydrate and possibly kill you if consumed instead of water, it can work as an emergency water purifier. If you have nothing else to purify water, pouring a half shot of tequila or vodka or whiskey or rum into it and shaking it, then letting it sit covered for around 3 minutes, will kill living contamination such as amoeba, bacteria, viruses, and parasites (though not remove chemicals or heavy metals or radioactivity), and the resulting mixture will be more hydrating than dehydrating.
- Many a survival guide advocates bringing some high-proof alcohol along for this, but warns against actually drinking it, as it both dehydrates you (desert survival) and cools you off (tundra survival).
- Alcoholic beverages, such as hot toddy's and hot buttered rum were once used to treat colds and flus. Not so much anymore, since, as mentioned before, they dehydrate you. Still valid enough as a treatment as long as proper hydration is done otherwise, and Ny Quil is actually effective because of its high alcohol + antihistamine content over anything else in the mixture. The reason? Vasodilation (which helps congestion clear up) and the ability to induce sleep - which is one of the best treatments for colds, the flu, and similar illnesses. That said, don't administer with acetaminophen unless you want liver failure.
- Gin and Tonic was used to treat malaria. Technically it's the quinine in the tonic water that treats malaria, but the gin makes it easier to actually drink it since it's so bitter.
- The myth of refreshing a frostbitten patient with a dose of brandy got debunked over time — alcohol causes vasodilation and a quick boost of warmness to the extremities of the body, but shortly afterwards the human cools himself or herself even quicker and hypothermia ensues. That said, it might be okay if the patient is already in a warm location (e.g. they are warming up indoors from only mild cold exposure/minor frostbite, which is what fueled the myth - people who were generally okay but just uncomfortably cold/with mild frostnip) but if they are still out in the cold or have medically significant hypothermia, it's a very bad idea. Specifically what's happening is alcohol makes your circulatory system open up and flow faster, especially to your extremities, which would make them warm better by having warm blood flow through them. The catch is that your circulatory system constricts in the first place to keep that warm blood centralized for your organs as much as possible and away from places that lose heat quickly like your fingers. So drinking alcohol will warm your extremities, but only by spending more of your internal body heat, it MIGHT help in a warm environment where you aren't in danger of losing body heat, but if you're out in the cold you're just disabling your body's defense mechanism to ration out heat, using up your total amount that much faster.
- Rock & Rye (Rye whiskey with rock candy) is a fabulous cough medicine, even when sipped very slowly.
- Prior to 2010 Diageo, the company that owns Guinness, offered a free pint of the black stuff to anyone who donated blood to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. This started decades earlier when Guinness was advertised as giving one strength◊, and popular wisdom in Ireland holds that Guinness would restore one's iron levels after giving blood.