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Updated on March 15, 2023
3 min read

Can Alcohol Abuse Cause Anemia?

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol and anemia go hand in hand
  • Prolonged and heavy alcohol use can cause defects in red blood cells
  • Anemia from alcohol abuse is reversible
  • A professional should help you prevent and treat alcohol addiction

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a health condition where your blood produces low amounts of healthy red blood cells (RBC).1 People with anemia don’t have enough hemoglobin.2

Hemoglobin gives RBCs their color and carries oxygen into the blood cells. Healthy RBCs survive for about 90 to 120 days and are oxygen-rich.

When your body doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood, you may feel tired, weak, or short of breath.1 Other symptoms of anemia include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat

Different Types of Anemia

Anemia is a common condition. About three million people in the United States live with some type of anemia.

The different types of anemia are:3

  • Anemia due to deficiencies in vitamin B12, folate, or iron
  • Anemia of chronic disease
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Idiopathic aplastic anemia
  • Megaloblastic anemia
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Thalassemia
  • Alcoholic anemia

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The Connection Between Alcohol and Anemia

Your body needs various vitamins and nutrients to make enough red blood cells, including:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Folic acid
  • Iron

Your body may not produce enough nutrients if you feel run down or sick. Your body’s production of these nutrients may also slow due to:6

  • Poor diet
  • Certain medications
  • Changes to the lining of your stomach

Heavy alcohol consumption can irritate the lining of your stomach. It can also affect your overall health, affecting how your body absorbs and produces vitamins and nutrients.

Can Alcohol Cause Anemia?

Drinking alcohol too much or too often can affect your overall health, including your red blood cells and how they function. This effect can cause anemia.5

Here’s how alcohol consumption causes anemia:

  • Heavy alcohol consumption can suppress blood cell production
  • Alcohol can also produce structurally abnormal blood cell precursors, which cannot mature into functional cells4
  • Heavy alcohol consumption can also cause blood clots, increasing the risk of heart conditions like strokes

Alcohol can cause a decrease in red blood cell (RBC) production, which can eventually result in anemia.4

Alcohol abuse can also affect your white blood cells, which defend your body from bacterial invasions. That’s why many alcoholics also suffer from bacterial infections.4 

Can Alcohol Make Anemia Worse?

Alcohol abuse can worsen anemia, whether it’s iron deficiency anemia or another type. If you’re living with anemia, avoid drinking alcohol. Healthy red blood cells can deteriorate with more alcohol consumption.4

What Are the Risks of Drinking While Anemic?

There are many risks of drinking while anemic. Some of the most critical risks include the following:4

  • Lower red blood cell production
  • Inflammation
  • Blood loss
  • Blood cell destruction
  • Heart valve problems
  • Mood deficiencies

Chronic alcohol abuse not only makes anemia worse, but it can also lead to other serious health problems, like the following:

  • Liver disease
  • Liver cancer
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Internal bleeding
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure

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Treatment for Alcohol-Induced Anemia

The best way to manage anemia caused by chronic alcohol use is by quitting or cutting back on alcohol. However, treatment for alcohol-induced anemia may vary depending on the person.

People develop different symptoms that may vary in severity. Depending on the signs and other health conditions, healthcare providers can treat them with different medicines or practices. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with excessive drinking or alcohol addiction, seek professional help immediately. No one should navigate the road to recovery alone, as it can be dangerous and even deadly due to alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Fortunately, there are resources available to help you. Support is available in various forms to recover from alcoholism safely and effectively:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Support groups
  • Inpatient rehabilitation
  • Outpatient rehabilitation
  • Family interventions (often a first step for a loved one struggling)

If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, causing anemia, talk to your healthcare provider about the local resources available. 

Your doctor can prescribe you a treatment for your symptoms of alcohol-related anemia and help point you in the right direction to get the addiction support you need.

Updated on March 15, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on March 15, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Anemia.”, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
  2. Anemia: Medlineplus Enciclopedia Médica.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  3. Anemia.” Penn Medicine.
  4. Ballard, HS. “The Hematological Complications of Alcoholism.” Alcohol Health and Research World, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  5. Haematological Changes in Alcohol and Substance Use Disorders- an Overview.” ClinMed Journals.
  6. What Is Anemia?” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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