The Link Between Alcohol and COPD

Find out if you can drink alcohol when you have lung disease

Two glasses of white wine
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The link between alcohol and lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is fairly complicated. Chronic alcohol exposure can be harmful to your lungs, and there are no known benefits of drinking alcohol if you have COPD.

Alcohol does not independently cause lung disease, however—it worsens lung disease and compounds the respiratory damage done by toxins (such as cigarette smoke).

Overall, lung disease is not the most common health complication of alcohol consumption. But, alcohol—even in moderate amounts—can impair your breathing abilities, especially if you have lung disease.

The Effects of Alcohol on Lung Function

Several pulmonary conditions are associated with alcohol use. For example, chronic alcohol consumption is associated with an increased incidence of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS ) and increases susceptibility to COPD-related mortality.

There is an association between heavy alcohol use and altered measures of pulmonary function. These effects can be temporary or long-lasting, and there is no way to know when your breathing issues will become irreversible.

You may have the following deficits if you chronically consume heavy amounts of alcohol:

Abstaining from alcohol may improve the diffusing capacity of your lungs.

How Alcohol Affects Lung Function

There are a number of ways that alcohol can interfere with your respiratory function, and these effects compound the damage that occurs in many chronic lung diseases.

Alcohol often induces inflammation—a process that is helpful when you have an infection and harmful when you don't. And, with its disruptive effect on inflammation, chronic alcohol use impairs your immune system, making you more susceptible to all types of infections, including lung infections.

Heavy drinking causes a deficiency of antioxidants like glutathione. A lack of antioxidants increases susceptibility to oxidative damage. This type of damage can predispose you to serious lung diseases if you are exposed to tobacco smoke, air pollution, dangerous chemicals, or other airway irritants.

Heavy alcohol abuse can also impair your mucus-clearing ability by harming the hairlike cilia in your lungs that help clear mucus and infectious organisms. Mucus build-up worsens the diffusing capacity of your lungs.

Alcohol has an even stronger effect on heart disease than it does on lung disease. Heart disease impairs breathing and can compound the respiratory problems of lung diseases like COPD.

Alcohol-Related Medication Interactions

Alcohol interferes with the action of a number of medications. This can have a major impact on your pulmonary function, especially if you already have a lung condition like COPD.

The effect of some medications can be altered due to interactions with alcohol. For example, drinking alcohol will increase the intoxicating effects of anxiety and pain medications, which may dramatically slow down your breathing to the point of being life-threatening.

Certain medications may be less effective due to interactions with alcohol. Glucocorticoids are often used for managing chronic lung conditions, while antibiotics are used to treat bacterial lung infections. You may not experience the therapeutic effects of these medications when you drink alcohol within a few days of your medication dose.

Liver disease, a common consequence of chronic alcohol use, impairs the liver's ability to detoxify medications. You may experience harmful effects of medications that are normally used to treat lung disease if you develop alcohol-induced liver disease.

A Word From Verywell

Interestingly, moderate alcohol use can reduce harmful inflammation and may be associated with healthy lung function. Heavy alcohol use, on the other hand, affects the body differently.

If you have COPD or another chronic lung disease and enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages, you should discuss your options with your doctor. The amount you can safely drink depends on many factors—the severity of your lung disease, which medications you take, what other illnesses you have, and whether you smoke.

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