Many people like to have a drink now and then. Alcohol is consumed for a variety of reasons. Some reasons include relieving stress or anxiety, socializing, or drinking it with a meal. Even though occasional alcohol may not cause long-term issues, excessive alcohol drinking may have a negative effect on your immune system.
After long periods of excessive alcohol drinking, you may notice you catch colds more frequently. Alcohol can weaken your immunity to viruses and bacteria. Evidence has shown an association between excessive alcohol consumption and some diseases. Also a higher incidence of slower and less complete recovery from infection and physical trauma, including poor wound healing. Before we get to the effects of alcohol and the immune system let’s discuss what exactly is the immune system and its function.
What is the Immune System?
The immune system is very important for our survival. Without the immune system, our body would be unable to fight off bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other germs. The immune system is made up of many cells and organs. There are two subsystems within the immune system, known as the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system.
These two subsystems are closely linked together and work together whenever a germ triggers an immune response. The innate immune system is our first line of defense against invading pathogens, any organism that can cause diseases. The innate immune response acts very quickly to invading pathogens and responds the same to all germs. The main job of the innate immune system is to fight harmful substances and germs that enter the body, for instance through the skin or digestive system.
The adaptive immune system is more specific than the innate immune system. It makes antibodies and uses them to specifically fight certain germs that the body has previously come into contact with. This is also known as an “acquired” (learned) or specific immune response. Because the adaptive immune system is constantly learning and adapting, the body can also fight bacteria or viruses that change over time.
Excessive alcohol use destroys important components that make up both the innate and adaptive immune system to fight off pathogens. When you drink alcohol, the body focuses on breaking down the alcohol over its other normal functions. Alcohol is sent directly to the liver because it can not be stored the same as carbohydrates. In the liver, it is metabolized immediately, and as a result, your body may neglect its immune response in favor of breaking down a large amount of alcohol.
What are the Effects of Alcohol on the Immune System?
As stated before, drinking too much alcohol can suppress your immune system. By suppressing your immune system your body can take longer to recognize and respond to an infection. This can make the symptoms caused by the infection last longer and become worse than they would if alcohol was not compromising the immune response.
There are many ways that alcohol can weaken the immune system. One way is it can damage the cells lining your airway. This damage can make you more susceptible to respiratory infections.
How Alcohol Affects White Blood Cells
Another way alcohol weakens the immune system is its effect on white blood cells. Drinking too much alcohol can damage your bone marrow. The bone marrow is where white blood cells are produced. Damaging the bone marrow leads to a low white blood cell count making your body more difficult to fight off pathogens. You can be more susceptible to bacterial infections such as a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Alcohol can also kill the healthy bacteria in your gut. Alcohol’s first point of contact as it is passing through the body is usually through the gastrointestinal (GI) system. It is also where alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream.
The gut microbiome is a collection of “good bacteria” that live in your intestines. It is there to keep inflammation within normal limits and helps in normal gut function. Excessive alcohol drinking disrupts the gut microbiome. It can also destroy healthy bacteria, promoting widespread inflammation throughout the body.
What are Short-Term Effects of Alcohol and the Immune System?
Despite the damage alcohol can have on the immune system, some of its effects can last for a short period of time. The severity that alcohol can have on your body in the short term depends on how much you drink, what you drank, hydration, and also how much food was consumed during that time. An example of some short-term effects that alcohol can have on the immune system is alcohol poisoning or a hangover.
There is no way to predict how much you may be able to drink and avoid a hangover. Everybodys metabolizes alcohol differently. Some reactions to a hangover include an inflammatory response from your immune system and irritation of the stomach lining. These can cause diarrhea, nausea, headaches, and muscle aches.
Alcohol poisoning symptoms include confusion, vomiting, seizures, difficulty remaining conscious, passing out, or low body temperatures. Alcohol dependence is a life-threatening emergency. You should seek medical attention immediately if you notice these signs in someone who has been drinking.
What are Long-Term Effects of Alcohol and the Immune System?
As we may know by now alcohol can affect your body in many ways. Other than short-term effects, some effects accumulate over time and may significantly affect your quality of life. Alcohol and immune system interaction may affect the development and progression of certain cancers. Some cancers include oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colorectal, and female breast.
Again, alcohol is metabolized in the liver. As a result of this, you can experience liver diseases due to excessive alcohol consumption. Some liver diseases include hepatitis B and C. Hepatitis B and C viruses are responsible for most cases of chronic hepatitis, or liver inflammation. This can lead to scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis. Excessive alcohol drinking can also weaken your body’s response to certain antiviral drugs used to treat hepatitis B and C.
Alcohol can impair your decision-making and makes you at risk to engage in risky sexual behavior or drug use. This could spread HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). HIV significantly weakens your immune system. Continued alcohol abuse can affect an individual’s prognosis of the disease. This can lead to complications, such as cirrhosis.
What are Immune System-related Health Conditions or Complications that can Develop as a Result of Alcohol Use?
Alcohol and the immune system can cause certain health conditions or complications. How much you drink, your pattern of alcohol use and the quality of the alcohol you drink can cause harm to your body differently. Other factors include your body size and composition, age, metabolism, and nutritional status.
As stated previously alcohol can weaken your immune system, which means you can get sick frequently. It can also increase your risk of serious infections. Other health conditions or complications caused by excessive alcohol use are:
- Certain cancers such as cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum
- Liver disease
Treatment Options Available at Coastal Detox
If you or a family member is dealing with alcohol abuse and are ready to take the next step towards recovery, Coastal Detox is here to help. To begin recovery, the first step is detoxification, to rid your body of any drugs and alcohol. It is never a good idea to go through detox alone. Withdrawal from alcohol can be very dangerous and painful, and in some cases fatal. Completing a medically supervised detoxification protocol within a licensed detox facility is the safest and most effective way.
Located in the city of Stuart on Florida’s treasure coast, Coastal Detox is a licensed and accredited medical detoxification facility. At Coastal Detox, our mission is to help each client experience detox from alcohol and drugs with ease. We provide safe, highly effective medically supervised detox for all substances of abuse. We also incorporate a wide variety of soothing, holistic treatment therapies.
Holistic Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Holistic treatment at Coastal Detox takes a person as a whole rather than just treating the physical aspect of their health like traditional treatment options. Some holistic treatment options at Coastal Detox include acupuncture, aromatherapy, holistic massage, and manual lymphatic drainage. Some benefits of holistic therapies and treatment are the quick relief of pain, assistance with a well-balanced lifestyle, and the application of natural methods of treatment including nutrition, exercise, and non-invasive treatments.
If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, and you have been putting off getting help because you fear withdrawal symptoms or because you don’t know what to expect, please contact Coastal Detox today. We are here to help you sail through detox and look forward to a brighter future free from drug and alcohol addiction.