Alcohol and The Immune System: What You Need To Know

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway

Many people have heard that alcohol abuse can damage your liver, brain, stomach, and heart, but what about your immune system?  According to an article in the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (2015), “Clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related health effects such as susceptibility to pneumonia. In recent decades, this association has expanded to a greater likelihood of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), sepsis, alcoholic liver disease (ALD), and certain cancers.”  So how exactly does alcohol affect our immune system? 

Alcohol and Our Immune System

In the simplest of terms, alcohol disrupts immune pathways and important cells in the immune system, and these disruptions can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection. In addition, suppressing these cells causes your immune system to become less efficient at identifying and destroying invading pathogens.  

For example, one of the many critical immune cells, called B cells, are white blood cells that secrete cytokines that attack bacteria. Cytokines act as “alert systems” that send out chemical messages about the threat of infection to the rest of our body. When this response works correctly, these cytokines alert the immune system to intruders causing the activation of white blood cells to surround, attack and destroy the harmful bacteria. Excessive alcohol intake has been shown to disrupt the production of cytokines and impair this action causing our bodies to become more susceptible to infection and diseases like pneumonia. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Because of alcohol’s effects on the immune system, people who drink to excess are at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases, may have more complications after surgery, and often take longer to recover from illness, compared with those who drink at lower levels. Disruptions in immune system function also contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption.” 

Alcohol Addiction and Treatment

The good news, many of the above health issues can be reduced or reversed by ceasing to drink alcohol. If you or someone you know is showing signs of alcohol addiction, the best way to help is professional treatment. Take the first step toward a new, healthy, fulfilling lifestyle in sobriety and get help today. Although there is no cure for addiction, treatment is available and there is hope in recovery- contact us today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.