Recovery Center Blog

Does Alcohol Weaken the Immune System?

Written By Recovery Centers - June 15th, 2022
Does Alcohol Weaken the Immune System?

Drinking alcohol is extremely common in America. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “85.6 percent of people ages 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime”.[1] Additionally, about 26% of people engaged in binge drinking, a type of heavy drinking that involves drinking more than the suggested limit in a short period.[1]

Because of the prevalence of alcohol use in this country, you need to understand the risks associated with heavy drinking. While the normalization of alcohol makes it easy to ignore the risks, some of the dangers of alcohol use are extremely concerning.

One of the risks of heavy alcohol consumption is a weakened immune system. And, with COVID-19 still lingering in our country, having a weak immune system is something you might not be able to afford.

How Does Alcohol Weaken the Immune System?

Your immune system is complex, being made of many cells and proteins that recognize infections and attack them. Sometimes, it takes your immune system some time to build up a response to infection so it can attack it and expel it. When it takes too long, this is when you get an infection. Unfortunately, alcohol can slow down your immune system even further, leading to an increased risk of bacterial and viral infections.

Because alcohol can suppress the immune system, it may take longer for the body to recognize an infection. This can cause infections to last longer and cause heightened symptoms. In severe cases of a suppressed immune system, your body may become unable to fight off the infection. As a result, the infection would continue to develop until it became dangerously strong, possibly becoming life-threatening.

Short-Term Effects

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a single episode of drinking could cause your immune system to be suppressed for up to 24 hours.[2] This means 24 hours of extreme vulnerability to bacterial infections and viruses.

The short-term effects of alcohol on the immune system include:[3]

  • A disrupted gut barrier that allows bacteria to pass into the blood
  • Damaged epithelial cells in the intestines cause difficulty in absorbing nutrients
  • Inflamed gut
  • Damaged microorganisms in the gut
  • Damaged immune cells in the lungs

Long-Term Effects

Drinking alcohol frequently can lead to dependency and tolerance that causes you to drink higher amounts of alcohol to experience your desired effect. If you drink alcohol heavily over a long period, you will experience increased adverse effects on your immune system.

The long-term effects of alcohol on the immune system include:[4]

  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Pneumonia
  • Septicemia
  • Chronic urinary tract infections (UTI)
  • Lung abscesses
  • Empyema
  • Cellulitis
  • Meningitis
  • Liver disease and failure
  • Adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)

The long-term effects of alcohol on your immune system are complex, affecting you at a chemical and cellular level. These effects can become devastating over time, making it extremely important for you to seek help if you suffer from alcohol use disorder or alcoholism.

Diseases Related to Heavy Alcohol Use

Alcohol can lead to immune suppression, but it is also known to lead to an array of other diseases.

When you drink alcohol regularly, you are allowing it to compound in your system. This means that over time, you will have toxic levels of alcohol circulating in your body. As a result, some of your vital organs and bodily functions will not be able to function properly, leading to the development of infections, viruses, and diseases.

Some of the diseases associated with chronic alcohol use include:

  • High blood pressure and heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • An array of cancers
  • Infectious diseases like HIV
  • Learning and memory issues
  • Dementia
  • Alcohol use disorder (alcoholism)

Supporting Your Immune System After Drinking

If you enjoy a drink or two when you go out with friends, it is still important to care for your immune system the morning after. Additionally, if you have quit using alcohol after being addicted to the substance, it is important to know how to boost your immune system and help it repair itself.

According to Harvard Health, the following are some simple ways to support your immune system after alcohol use:[5]

  • Avoid smoking cigarettes
  • Follow a diet that includes fruits and vegetables
  • Get proper amounts of sleep
  • Engage in exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce as much stress as possible
  • Follow a good hygiene routine

While these tips can help increase your immune system and repair minimal damage, the best way to improve is to quit drinking completely. The devastating effects of alcohol are much higher than the benefits you may receive.

Finding Help for Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are serious conditions that can lead to an array of issues, including immune suppression and diseases like HIV. Because of these risks, you or a loved one needs to receive professional help to overcome alcohol use disorder.

Contact Recovery Centers today to get connected with a top-rated alcohol addiction treatment center near you.

References:

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/
  4. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/10report/chap04b.pdf
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system