Effects of Alcohol Abuse on the Immune System

Effects of Alcohol Abuse on the Immune SystemAlcohol has profound effects on the immune system. The exact relationship between alcohol and the immune system is not fully understood, but a tremendous amount of research is being done that continues to increase our understanding.

For example, a multitude of studies have concluded that moderate alcohol intake, especially of fermented alcoholic beverages like wine and beer as opposed to distilled beverages like whisky, provides a variety of health benefits, including boosting the immune system. However, these same studies and others have shown consistently that excessive alcohol intake has serious, detrimental effects on nearly all bodily functions, including the immune system.

Nutritional Deficiency and Suppression of White Blood Cells

The effects of alcohol on the immune system are fairly complex, but in a nutshell, alcohol abuse impairs the immune system in two ways. First of all, alcohol abuse creates an overall nutritional deficiency in the body, causing poor overall health and depriving the body of nutrients that are essential to fight disease. Secondly, alcohol abuse directly impairs the ability of white blood cells to multiply and also impairs their ability to kill germs.

Alcohol-related immunosuppression is also related to gender differences; women appear to be more sensitive than men to the effects of alcohol on the immune system.

Diseases Related to the Immune System

Physicians as far back in time as Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) of Philadelphia have observed that their patients who were heavy drinkers tended to be more susceptible to infectious diseases, such as pneumonia. A vast array of data collected over the last century seems to confirm what doctors have long suspected: alcohol abuse makes a person more susceptible to disease.

Diseases that have been observed to be more common in alcoholics and heavy drinkers due to alcohol-related suppression of the immune system include the following:

  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis C
  • Septicemia, an infection of the blood
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bacterial peritonitis, an infection of the lining of the abdominal cavity
  • Lung abscess
  • Empyema, an accumulation of pus in the chest
  • Diphtheria
  • Cellulitis, an inflammation of connective tissue
  • Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord

Many researchers also suspect that many alcohol-related organ diseases, such as cirrhosis of the liver, are at least partially attributable to alcohol-induced autoimmunity. Autoimmunity is a condition in which the immune system attacks the tissues in the body. Alcohol-related diseases that have been linked to autoimmunity possibly caused by heavy alcohol consumption include the following:

  • Fatty liver disease
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Kidney disease

Further research is needed to prove conclusively a connection, but there is evidence that alcohol abuse can contribute to autoimmunity.

Treating Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

There is no doubt that alcohol abuse contributes to a wide range of health problems, including some associated with impaired immune system function. There is also no doubt that the only effective remedy is to abstain from abusing alcohol. This is often easier said than done, however, since alcohol is a highly addictive drug. Alcoholics typically need help to quit drinking.

If you need help to quit drinking, don’t wait until alcohol destroys your health. Treatment for alcoholism can help you to avoid the worst consequences of alcohol abuse. Call our toll-free helpline today; counselors are available 24 hours a day to help you find the treatment you need.