There is no doubt these times we live in are filled with uncertainty and just plain stress. Many people are turning to alcohol to cope with unpleasant feelings like bewilderment, frustration, fear and worry. Being under stay at home orders can be unnerving. That means being pulled away from social connections like co-workers, friends, and in some cases even family. Some cope better than others, but even when one copes well at the start, time in isolation can lead to unpleasant emotions. In these moments taking the edge of with a few drinks may seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, using alcohol can make these situations worse, at times far worse, and in cases of heavy drinking things might become volatile. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to alcohol, stress, and the effects they have on immunity. It is always a good idea to attend to your immune health, but particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on for a few steps you can to improve your chances to remain safe and healthy.
Alcohol Can Significantly Impair Your Immune System
Alcohol and COVID-19
There is no area of the country that hasn’t been affected by COVID-19. Sure, some more than others, but wherever you may live and work, you want to protect yourself so you can stay healthy. For obvious reasons it is best to stay home, but it is easier said than done. After extended periods of time without engaging in social activities, even just the simple act of carrying on a conversation with another individual, home confinement can become depressing. The isolation combined with depressed mood can cause you to want to drink more. If that makes sense to you, rest assured you are not alone.
Consider these statistics. A recent survey found that over 1 in 3 Americans said they’re more likely to drink more in isolation, and market research from Nielsen reported that purchases of alcohol in the United States rose 55% in the week ending as recently as March 21. Keep in mind, March 21 fell in the first week that many areas began to conduct social distancing. But here is the take home message – 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. ARDS is a very ominous condition that many times leads to multi-system organ failure, even death. Alcohol has been shown to damage the immune cells and the fine hairs in the respiratory tract 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 works in complex and through multi-faceted pathways to disrupt the immune system cascade. These disruptions can reduce the body’s ability to defend against infection from multiple areas in the immune system, contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption, and impede recovery from injury to critical tissues in your body. 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 also been shown to impair key immune cells in the pulmonary system and damage cells that line the lungs’ surface, where COVID-19 typically attacks the lung cells.
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. The alcohol-induced lung damage many times goes undetected until there is a second insult, such as a respiratory infection. With multiple deficits, you can see why being an alcohol drinker can lead 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 Serenity Grove
Do you need help with an addiction to alcohol? At Serenity Grove, a licensed and accredited drug and alcoholism treatment center, we believe in our patients’ ability to recover. Our drug and alcohol rehab programs include treatment programs such as medical detoxification and residential treatment as well as outpatient treatment. We provide you with top clinical staff, a serene setting, and the training and experience for treating addiction. Let us guide you through a successful recovery from your or a loved one’s alcohol addiction. Please call Serenity Grove immediately for assistance. Our team is following the CDC protocol for COVID-19 because our clients’ safety is of primary importance.