The stress and uncertainty of these challenging times have caused many people to turn to alcohol more frequently, in an effort to cope with their feelings of isolation and anxiety. When you are under an order to stay at home, you’ve been told to work from home, and you are not able to go out to visit friends and family, it can be quite distressing. However, alcohol use can make the situation much worse, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to understand how alcohol weakens your immune system, so you can take steps to remain safe and healthy.
Alcohol and COVID-19
One survey found that over 1 in 3 Americans said they’re more likely to drink more in isolation, and market research from Nielsen found that sales of alcohol in the US rose 55% in the week ending March 21, the first week that many began social distancing. However, the increased use of alcohol can also increase your vulnerability to the virus.
Dr. E. Jennifer Edelman, a Yale Medicine addiction medicine specialist, says that “Alcohol has diverse adverse effects throughout the body, including on all cells of the immune system, that lead to increased risk of serious infections.” Dr. Edelman adds that “With COVID-19, alcohol is likely to interfere with an individual’s ability to clear SARS-CoV-2 and cause people to suffer worse outcomes, including ARDS, which commonly results in death.”
ARDS is acute respiratory distress syndrome, which occurs when fluid builds up in the tiny, elastic air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs. Alcohol has been shown to damage the immune cells and these fine hairs that clear pathogens out of your airway.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that “alcohol has effects, both short-term and long-term, on almost every single organ of your body.” The experts at WHO emphasize that there is no safe limit to alcohol consumption, stating that “alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases.” The WHO also explains that heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of ARDS, one of the more severe complications of COVID-19, stating that “its consumption is likely to increase the health risks if a person becomes infected with the virus.”
Impaired Immune Cells
A report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) provides a summary of the evidence about how alcohol weakens your immune system. Alcohol disrupts immune pathways in complex ways. These disruptions can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection, contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption, and impede recovery from tissue injury. In addition, alcohol’s combined effects on your immunity significantly weaken your defenses, predisposing you to a wide range of health problems, including infections and systemic inflammation.
Other studies have shown that alcohol typically first affects your body’s gastrointestinal system, which then alters the function of healthy gut microbes linked to immunity. Alcohol has been shown to impair key immune cells in the lungs and damage cells that line the lungs’ surface, where COVID-19 typically attacks.
Increased Susceptibility to Pneumonia
The NCBI also found that alcohol consumption has been linked to pneumonia, pulmonary diseases such as tuberculosis and respiratory syncytial virus, as well as ARDS and COVID-19. Often, the alcohol-provoked lung damage goes undetected until a second insult, such as a respiratory infection, leads to more severe lung diseases than those seen in nondrinkers.
Pneumonia is a serious complication of the coronavirus and can also result from the flu or even the common cold. Understanding how alcohol weakens your immune system can protect you from further infections and complications such as pneumonia.
Get Help at Hope by the Sea
Do you need help with an addiction to alcohol? At Hope by the Sea, a drug and alcoholism treatment center, we believe in our patients’ ability to succeed. Our drug and alcohol rehab programs include treatment programs such as detoxification and residential treatment as well as outpatient treatment and long-term care. We provide you with the top clinical staff, a serene setting, and over fifteen years of experience treating addiction to guide you through a successful recovery from your alcohol addiction. Please contact Hope By The Sea immediately for assistance. Our team is following every CDC protocol for COVID-19 because our clients’ safety is of the utmost importance.