Can the Use of Alcohol Affect the Immune System
Alcohol consumption can deteriorate your overall health, damaging immune cells and impairing their ability to protect you from disease

Alcohol consumption can deteriorate your overall health, damaging immune cells and impairing their ability to protect you from disease.

While many drink alcohol as a form of recreation, it’s important to remember that alcohol dependence and abuse can cause serious health problems.

How does alcohol consumption affect the immune system?

Your immune system has two broad types of defense: innate (first-line) and acquired (adaptive) immunity. 

Chronic drinkers are predisposed to a wide range of health problems, including infections and systemic inflammation, due to alcohol's combined impact on both innate and adaptive immunity.

Research has found that alcohol interferes with immunological pathways. These abnormalities can hinder the body's ability to naturally defend against infection, along with organ damage impaired tissue healing.

Your gastrointestinal system or gut is immediately affected by alcohol consumption. Your gut houses good bacteria required for the immune system to function properly. However, excessive alcohol consumption can cause the gut to lose these microbes, thereby compromising or suppressing the immune system.

According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, even a day of drinking or a single drink can suppress the immune system for the next 24 hours. 

Short-term and long-term effects of alcohol consumption

Short-term effects

Long-term effects

  • Emotional disturbances and mood swings
  • Excessive anxiety, worry, and irritability
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems (which can also lead to a weakened immune system)
  • Libido and sexual function changes
  • Problems with memory, concentration, focus
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Increased risk of liver disorders, kidney disorders, diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal problems, acid reflux, chronic diarrhea, and other digestive issues
  • Increased risk of heart disease and lung infection
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Decreased bone and muscle health
  • Decreased skin health
  • Increased risk of mental health disorders, such as severe depression (including suicidal tendencies)

What are the dangers of long-term alcohol consumption?

Long-term alcohol consumption greatly raises the chance of infection, even causing diseases that a healthy person would not typically be susceptible to. Chronic drinker are at greater risk of:

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Medically Reviewed on 1/14/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

NIAAA: Understanding the impact of alcohol on human health and well-being. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov

Mosel S. The Effects of Alcohol on Your Body: Side Effects, Dangers & Health Risks. American Addiction Centers. https//americanaddictioncenters.org/alcoholism-treatment/body-effects

Ni Direct. What happens when you drink alcohol. https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/what-happens-when-you-drink-alcohol

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol Use and Your Health. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

Sarkar D, Jung MK, Wang HJ. Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):153-155. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/

World Health Organization. Alcohol does not protect against COVID-19; access should be restricted during lockdown. https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/alcohol-use/news/news/2020/04/alcohol-does-not-protect-against-covid-19-access-should-be-restricted-during-lockdown