Alcohol and Inflammation

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Can Drinking Alcohol Cause Inflammation?

Yes, excessive alcohol consumption can cause inflammation.

Gut microflora-derived lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is one cause of inflammation. And alcohol can significantly increase the body’s transfer of LPS from the gut.

In healthy individuals, the liver plays a key role in detoxifying LPS. But alcohol can damage the liver, as well as the central nervous system (CNS), which also plays a role in preventing inflammation.

Basically, alcohol can not only cause inflammation, but it can also impair your body’s ability to regulate that inflammation.

This inflammation can further damage your body’s organs. It’s a vicious cycle that can affect your long-term health.

The body’s inflammatory response to alcohol will vary from person to person. It also depends on how much you drink.

Other factors like underlying health conditions will also play a role. For example, if you have a liver condition or weak immune system, your body may have even more difficulty fighting inflammation.

Can Alcohol Contribute to Chronic Inflammation?

Yes, alcohol can contribute to chronic inflammation. In fact, chronic inflammation is often linked to alcohol-related health conditions.

When your body metabolizes alcohol in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, it can disrupt tissue homeostasis. This can cause chronic inflammation in the intestines.4

Alcohol can also cause inflammation in the joints, which is known as arthritis.1

However, alcohol may have some anti-inflammatory benefits. This is because alcohol consumption reduces certain biomarkers of inflammation like the TNF-alpha receptor 2,  interleukin-6, and c-reactive protein (CRP).1 So moderate alcohol consumption may ultimately reduce your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

But the keyword is moderate. Drinking in moderation refers to consuming no more than two drinks per day for men or one drink maximum per day for women.5

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Can Alcohol Cause Joint and Muscle Pain?

Because alcohol can cause inflammation, it can also be the root cause of joint and muscle pain. Alcohol intake can bring on or trigger existing joint and muscle pain.

Joint and muscle pain can be very painful. The more alcohol you consume and the longer you abuse alcohol, the worse this pain can feel.

This is especially true if you suffer from gout, which is a common and painful type of inflammatory arthritis.1

What Health Conditions Can Develop From Alcohol Inflammation?

Alcohol inflammation can cause a number of health conditions.

Aside from regular weight gain, alcohol inflammation can cause fatty liver disease. This is a buildup of fats in the liver. Not everyone who has fatty liver disease has alcohol-induced fatty liver disease, but it is common with prolonged alcohol abuse.

Alcohol inflammation can also worsen arthritis, particularly if you suffer from gout, which is painful inflammatory arthritis.1 Alcohol can bring on gout attacks because it may be rich in purine.

If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you may also be affected by alcohol inflammation. Alcohol consumption can trigger a flare-up in IBD. This is due to its pro-oxidant effects and damage to gut barrier functioning.6 Chronic alcohol intake can cause intestinal inflammation, alter the intestinal microbiota composition, and affect its immune homeostasis.4

Tips for Reducing Alcohol-Induced Inflammation

Alcohol-induced inflammation can cause health complications. These may range from mild to severe depending on how much alcohol you consume and for how long. Other health conditions will also influence the way alcohol affects you.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce alcohol-induced inflammation. The best way is to stop drinking alcohol. Cutting back on alcohol and only drinking in moderation may also help.

If you have trouble cutting back on drinking or quitting altogether, seek professional help. You may be dealing with alcohol use disorder (AUD), and giving up alcohol alone can be both challenging and dangerous.

Another way to fight alcohol-induced inflammation is by staying hydrated. Because alcohol dehydrates you, and dehydration can exacerbate inflammation, drink water while and after you drink alcohol. Staying hydrated can also help to prevent a hangover the next day.

If you are suffering from health complications as a result of alcohol-induced inflammation, consult your healthcare provider. Your doctor can prescribe you a treatment plan or medications for conditions like fatty liver disease, arthritis, and IBD.

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Do You Have a Drinking Problem?

If you are worried you have a drinking problem, you are not alone. In fact, about 18 million adults in the United States struggle with alcohol use disorder (AUD).2 AUD refers to drinking that causes distress or harm.

The symptoms of AUD vary depending on severity. However, generally, AUD symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:2

  • Having cravings for alcohol
  • Drinking alone often
  • Using alcohol as a coping mechanism
  • Needing to drink more and more alcohol to achieve the same drunk effect
  • Drinking despite the physical, mental, emotional, and/or financial consequences
  • Allowing alcohol use to disrupt day-to-day activities
  • Letting alcohol interfere with personal and professional relationships
  • Developing alcohol-related medical conditions
  • Having a weakened immune system

If you or someone you know is struggling with a drinking problem, seek professional help. Detoxing from alcohol or cutting it out cold turkey can lead to alcohol withdrawal. This can be dangerous and even deadly.

Alcohol withdrawal can happen when heavy and prolonged alcohol use is stopped suddenly or consumption is significantly reduced.3 It can happen within just a few hours or occur within a few days. 

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Sleeping problems
  • Hand tremors
  • Mood changes
  • Irritation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and addiction, including:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center.

These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to professional medical monitoring. 

The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer.

Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Partial hospitalization programs provide similar services to inpatient programs.

Services include medical care, behavioral therapy, and support groups, along with other customized therapies. 

However, in a PHP program, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program.

PHPs accept new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program and still need intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs.

These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment.

They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school. Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Sometimes medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment.

Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal.

Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat AUD. 

When combined with other evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.

Support Groups

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) are open to anyone with a substance use disorder.

They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober.  Support groups can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

Updated on January 15, 2022
8 sources cited
  1. Alcohol.” Arthritis.
  2. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 11 Aug. 2021.
  3. Alcohol Use Disorder.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 11 July 2018.
  4. Bishehsari, Faraz, et al. “Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation.” Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2017.
  5. Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 May 2021.
  6. Swanson, Garth R, et al. “Pattern of Alcohol Consumption and Its Effect on Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2010. 
  7. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  8. Wang, H Joe, et al. “Alcohol, Inflammation, and Gut-Liver-Brain Interactions in Tissue Damage and Disease Development.” World Journal of Gastroenterology, Baishideng, 21 Mar. 2010.

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