How Alcohol Can Affect Your Immune System


Alcohol’s effects on the immune system also may make cancer cells more aggressive. Normally, immune cells from both the innate and the adaptive immune system, and the molecules they produce, help to eliminate cancer cells and control cancer growth and progression. However, alcohol-induced disruption of immune cells may allow cancer to grow and progress.

  • Alcohol can affect the immune system in many ways, some of which are still the topic of research.
  • Researchers don’t entirely understand why, but alcohol consumption lowers the number of T cells and B cells in your body, which are responsible for this protection.
  • Your body needs to focus all of its energy on the recovery and healing process.
  • By adhering to the Dietary Guidelines, you can reduce the risk of harm to yourself or others.

The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider. The risk to the immune system is not necessarily from drugs or alcohol, but from the toll, they take on the body.

Alcohol and the Immune System

Indeed, the immune system requires time to establish a response to a foreign invader. Therefore, when a person gets sick, the initial symptoms are bothersome and noticeable. As things progress, an individual’s immune system response improves and becomes strong enough to attack and eliminate the bacteria or virus that is present.

  • “By damaging those cells in your intestines, it can make it easier for pathogens to cross into your bloodstream,” says Nate Favini, MD, medical lead at Forward, a preventive primary care practice.
  • Gut barrier damage can make the body more vulnerable to food poisoning, and epithelial cell damage can hinder the intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients.
  • The effects of alcohol on both cell-mediated and humoral immunity have been well-documented since the early 1960s, wherein researchers found that alcohol abuse significantly reduced both CD4 and CD8 T-cell counts.

There are a number of ways alcohol impairs your immune system, making you more likely to get sick. First, it’s important to know that the microbes living in your intestines, your gut’s microbiome, plays an important role in fighting diseases. When you drink a lot of alcohol, it has many negative effects on your digestive system. It damages the epithelial cells in your intestines, making it harder to absorb many nutrients. It also severely disturbs your gut’s microbiome, significantly altering the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria.

Long-Term Effects Of Alcohol On Immune Function

Similarly, wine intake, especially red wine, has been identified as having a protective effect against the common coldReference Takkouche, Regueira-Mendez, Garcia-Closas, Figueiras, Gestal-Otero and Hernan29. However, the design of this study could be questioned since the duration may have been insufficient to affect the immune system; probably it would take up to six weeks to see changes and differences in the immune system. Prolonged alcohol consumption can weaken the body’s natural defense against diseases, putting heavy drinkers at risk of getting sick and perhaps staying sick. Alcohol in large amounts can be so harmful to the immune system that a person who indulges in excessive drinking could be just as much at risk of getting sick as someone who drinks regularly. Consuming large amounts of alcohol on only one occasion can affect the body’s ability to defend itself against infections. A person can have impaired immune health for up to 24 hours after having too much to drink.

alcohol lowers immune system

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How Drinking Impacts Your Immune System

The immune system is the body’s complex and overlapping system of defenses, all working to protect you against infectious diseases, toxins, cancer, and other threats. Alcohol consumption can deteriorate your overall health, damaging immune cells and impairing their ability to protect you from disease. These effects appear to be particularly attributed to altered immune function, which makes patients more vulnerable to subsequent challenges to the immune system, such as surgery or infection. As a result, these patients are more likely to die during the recovery period. Alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, including cancers of the liver, mouth, and throat (i.e., upper aerodigestive tract), large intestine, and breast. The risk of harm differs depending on the type of cancer, the amount of alcohol consumed, and even genetic factors.

alcohol lowers immune system

If you or a loved one worries about the effects of heavy alcohol use, please contact us today to learn about our treatment options. Long-term sobriety provides health benefits that give the body time to heal and restore the different parts of the immune system. Ethanol, the chemical compound in alcohol, has a wide range of effects on the human body and the various organs and cells within it.

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Let us help you build the foundation for a life free from the burden of addiction. Alcohol is considered a diuretic, which means it causes the body to pass more liquid than normal through urination. The more alcohol you consume, the more you’ll urinate and increase your risk of becoming dehydrated. A specific type of pneumonia, called aspiration pneumonia, occurs when someone accidentally breathes in food or fluid that contains bacteria. Alcohol makes people vomit, and it is very easy to accidentally inhale some of this vomit. When combined with a suppressed immune system, this can be the perfect storm for a bad case of pneumonia.

  • They note, too, that a fully functioning immune system is vital to the success of conventional chemotherapy.
  • Alcohol addiction can occur slowly and incrementally, making it difficult for someone to realize they have it.
  • Indeed, white blood cells are important parts of a person’s immune system.
  • Ark Behavioral Health offers 100% confidential substance abuse assessment and treatment placement tailored to your individual needs.
  • When these particular leukocytes recognize such infectious threats, they send chemical signals that attract other leukocytes to surround, absorb, and destroy these harmful substances.

Drinking alcohol can damage the immune cells that line the intestines to serve as the body’s first line of defense against the bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. Damage to the cells in your intestines makes you more susceptible to catching any type of bacterial or viral illness—including everything from the common cold to COVID-19. One of the most significant effects of alcohol on the immune system is its effect on white blood cells. Excessive drinking can damage the bone marrow, where white blood cells are produced. This can lead to a low white blood cell count, making it more difficult for your body to fight off foreign invaders.

The immune system responds to pneumonia by flooding the infected area of the lungs with fluid and immune cells. While this response is necessary to overcome the infection, it can be dangerous and essentially cause someone to drown. Alcohol abuse can suppress your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections caused by bacteria and viruses which might raise your risk of a bacterial infection such as urinary tract infections (UTIs). The immune system is complex and made of many cells and proteins that recognize infections and attack them. Often, the immune system takes time to recognize and build up a full response to an infection. This is why when you get an infection, you will often have symptoms that get worse as the infection develops.

A secondary lung abscess can develop from a lung obstruction or infection that begins in another body part. A lung abscess can lead to cough, chest pain, fever, fatigue, night sweats, appetite loss, weight loss, sputum, and, empyema. Alcohol use can cause respiratory complications such as pneumonia, empyema, respiratory syncytial virus, tuberculosis, lung abscess, and adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). When alcohol damages the gastrointestinal tract’s barrier, bacteria and toxins can enter the bloodstream easily, potentially leading to septicemia and sepsis. Though little research has been done on how alcohol use affects the risk of COVID-19, it seems likely that someone who uses alcohol would be more likely to catch it. Those who have any of the known risk factors for COVID-19, like heart disease or diabetes, should drink even less.

Heavy drinking and chronic alcohol use can significantly impact the immune system and decrease immune function. Alcohol weakens the body’s immune system in several different ways—even when the person doesn’t meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. These guidelines define moderate drinking as no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men. Evidence suggests does alcohol weaken your immune system that excessive use of alcohol destroys important components of the immune system that prevent you from getting sick. When you drink alcohol, the body prioritizes breaking it down over several other normal functions. Because alcohol cannot be stored the same way as macronutrients like carbohydrates, it must be sent directly to the liver, where it is metabolized immediately.

How long does drinking alcohol weaken the immune system?

Due to the higher amounts of alcohol involved in binge drinking, a long night out can lead to a substantially suppressed immune system for the next 24 hours.


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