Some urban legends and myths revolve around surgery occurring to a person who has had too much to drink.

Is it possible to, as a side effect of the patient drinking too much, reach a point where surgery can be performed without the patient regaining consciousness?

  • 8
    I'm assuming you are asking this purely "academically"? Otherwise one should also consider the small point of alcohol thinning your blood, making surgery a bit trickier. – Nanne Mar 1 '11 at 15:35
  • 1
    Just as an anecdotal sidenote: I can only say that when I had my right ACL reconstructed, I'd have welcomed a bottle of vodka after surgery. I don't think it'd have been enough to get me THROUGH surgery, though. I found out the unpleasant way that I am one of those individuals who are morphine resistant. It acted as a stimulant and I was awake and jittery for 20 hours post-op before they finally found a different painkiller for me. – Darwy Apr 2 '11 at 19:46
  • 1
    In the urban legends and historical practices alcohol generally isn't used to ensure that the event happens without the patient noticing or that the patient doesn't regain consciousness; it gets used when (generally out of necessity) performing surgery to a mostly conscious patient who is and will be experiencing horrible pain. The mind-numbing, body relaxing and amnesiac effects of drinking a lot of alcohol (not necessarily until losing consciousness) has are/were considered effective [citation needed, that's the urban legend part] in reducing the mental trauma of enduring that pain. – Peteris Feb 17 '19 at 2:44
  • In Dec 1809 Ephraim McDowell performed what is sometimes reported to be the first successful abdominal surgery. While some accounts say no anesthesia was used, others describe the woman being given sips of brandy to help control the pain. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 17 '19 at 2:46

I've found a paper about Ethanol as a general anesthetic and in their introduction they state

[..] ethanol can produce a state of general anesthesia and historically has been used for this purpose (Dundee et al., 1969). Ethanol causes amnesia and loss of consiousness in man, and in experimental animals can cause immobility in response to a noxious stimulus. Immobility in response to a noxious stimulus is the endpoint of the most common operational definition of general anesthesia.

The article cited inside that quote is "Use of alcohol in anesthesia" which I can't access.

It seems ethanol has been used as an anesthetic, although it is probably difficult to administer and most likely very dangerous. Most anesthetics have a very narrow therapeutic range, so the amount needed to kill someone is not that much higher than the amount needed for the drug effect.

With ethanol you will have the problem that many people will probably throw up before you can get enough alcohol into them to render them unconscious.

| improve this answer | |

To answer the question: Yes, ethanol is a general anaesthetic drug (at least when administered intravenously, which is what most studies are about).

About the dosage: It is mentioned that app. 2 to 3 ml/kg of absolute ethanol are required intravenously to induce anesthesia. (Dundee 1970).


A re-evaluation of alcohol as an intravenous anaesthetic for minor gynaecological surgery in fit patients revealed an unacceptably high incidence of undesirable sequelae. (Isaac et al, 1971)

It's a bad anesthetic drug.


| improve this answer | |
  • 9
    'Undesirable sequelae' is intriguingly vague. What sort of problems recurred because alcohol was used? – Oddthinking Feb 7 '15 at 23:22

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .