Why do people believe you can’t drink alcohol after rabies boosters?

I’m currently going through my second round of rabies shots within a year (only two this time!)

I have heard it said that you can’t drink alcohol, smoke or even exercise when taking these shots.

I’ve talked to 5 different doctors who all say this is nonsense re: alcohol. As long as you’re not binge drinking or chain smoking, these substances have a minimal immunosuppressive impact. There is nothing in any of the literature about avoiding tobacco or alcohol, at least for the two vaccines available in the US.

But why does this keep getting spread around? Is it just that it’s rabies and people figure better safe than sorry? Or was this once an issue with earlier vaccines?

To be fair…I’ve refrained from drinking up to a month after my final shot for max immunity…even though I’ve been told it’s a myth!

Better question: why do you believe it after five doctors have told you it’s not true?

I don’t believe it. I’m just not drinking :wink:

Better question yet, why are you repeatedly being exposed to rabies virus?

And is your user name an indication that the vaccine was ineffective?

Go easy on the guy. It’s fair to ask where myths come from, isn’t it? Some quick Googling suggests that there is in fact some… uh… “viral” misinformation circulating in regard to alcohol and rabies vaccines. In fact it seems to have been around as early as 19th century, in regards to immunizations in general, up to and including the COVID vaccines in the present day.

The earliest definitive mention I can find is some very early vaccine research indicated that alcohol degrades immunizations in general. Here is one such paper from 1899:

I don’t know if this is the origin of the myth, and that’s some very old research that I imagine has been superseded. Or maybe not superseded! After all, is there really any academic impetus to find out “is it actually medically okay to tell patients to drink all they want after immunization?” I doubt this is a burning medical question.

I’ve also come acrost some posts suggesting that, at one point in time, military recruits were administered vaccinations on Friday so their recovery period wouldn’t fall on work days. Sergeants will use virtually any excuse to advise their charges to be safe with alcohol during leave, so that may have gotten conflated into the concept of vaccine interaction.

Similarly, very few medical professionals are going to respond to the question “should I drink” with “have as much as you want, it’s fine.” They’ll take any opportunity whatsoever to caution moderation or even abstinence if there’s a pretext, and a vaccine that slows you down is a fine pretext for a little harm reduction advice, even if not factually based.

So I don’t believe there’s any real medical guidance around alcohol and vaccines. Just a lot of myth based on old best-practices in the vein of “it never hurts to drink less”.

Another data point that occurred to me… alcohol can impair liver function, so naturally there are numerous drugs that are incompatible with alcohol, and some of these are antimalarial.

So I wonder if there was some confusion between antimalarial risks and immunizations in general. I can imagine someone being jabbed full of needles, being handed a fistful of Lariam tablets, and being told “don’t mix this with alcohol” as they get on the Peace Corps boat to New Guinea or wherever. They have little occasion to drink alcohol anyway, but they remember the advice and pass it along to newer recruits.

The OP asked a question in GQ about the origin of what I presume is an urban myth. Responding with mildly snarky non-responses is not appropriate for this forum. The discussion should remain on the topic of answering the question.



Thanks for the serious and interesting response! Long term reader of this forum and finally had my own question, so figured I’d ask.

Got it, thank you. I’ll learn the subtleties eventually.

I had a bat knock into my face cycling a year ago. ANY contact with a bat (due to how tiny the bites and scratches are) is grounds for rabies shots because of the obvious alternative if not treated.

Second time was another flying object that was the size of a bat against my leg while camping outside in bat heavy territory. My friend swore it was a bat, I figured I would still be protected. But the ER doctor said “Boost him!” And that was that…

Are animals “treated with alcohol” nowadays? What were the treatments meant to cure in 1899?

My cats were treated two years ago with Everclear IVs for suspected antifreeze poisoning.

A cat needing antifreeze poisoning treatment and an anthrax vaccine is living an exciting life.

Pretty sure this wasn’t a veterinary treatment but rather they were lab animals intended to test eventual human treatments.

I had to take the rabies vaccine when I first went to Thailand in 1988, and no one told me not to drink. And it being Bangkok, I certainly was indulging.

Fast forward 14 or 15 years. I had grown complacent about getting my 10-year booster, accidentally walked too close to a street mongrel and her litter, and she ran out and bit me on the calf. Just a little nip, but this was one of the mangiest, scroungiest dogs you’d ever want to see. I headed straight to the hospital. (Then on the way to the hospital, the taxi I was in got into a minor accident, and I ended up looking for another one. A very weird day.) Since I had blown off my 10-year booster, I had to take the whole series over several weeks. Still no one told me not to drink, and drink I did.