What Happens When You Drink Alcohol with COPD?

Posted by Eden Coleman on Feb 8, 2017 12:59:56 PM

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So you want to take the edge off of your daily management of COPD with your favorite alcoholic beverage? But are unsure if it will affect your symptoms of COPD? Or even if it's safe to drink alcohol with COPD?

Here’s the deal:

We’ve personally received quite a bit of requests and have also seen many of you on online COPD support forms ask “is it safe to consume alcohol when diagnosed with COPD?”

And today we are going to provide you with the necessary education on the matter, so you can be prepared to talk to your doctor about drinking with COPD. We cannot stress enough how important it is that you first consult with your doctor to see if moderate consumption of your favorite adult beverage is safe.

Just like smoking is damaging to your COPD, consumption of alcohol can also be damaging to your respiratory disease as well.

However, more research is needed to determine if worsening symptoms are attributed to smoking or drinking.

It is even more difficult for researchers to asses the direct cause of worsening symptoms if you smoke and drink.

As of right now they are unable to determine whether it’s solely due to one or the other according to a study in the journal Chest.

The Effects of Alcohol in Small Quantities:

Whether you are diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or not, here are the effects of alcohol when consumed in small quantities:

  • Mild Stimulation
  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Lowered Inhibitions

Effects of Alcohol in Excessive Quantities:

Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol is extremely dangerous, but you may also experience some or all of the following effects regardless if you have COPD or not: 

  • Slurred Speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Emotional Distress
  • Vision Distortion
  • Weakened Memory
  • Coordination Problems
  • Loss of Consciousness 

Continued Alcohol Abuse Can Lead to:

  • High Blood Pressure
  • Stroke
  • Cirrhosis (Scarring of the Liver)
  • Ulcers
  • Nerve Damage

The Dangers of Alcohol Consumption with COPD

Glutathione Deficiency

This is an antioxidant that is found within the lungs. And unfortunately when you consume alcohol it will lower your glutathione levels, which can lead to exasperated COPD symptoms (flare-ups).

This occurrence is worsened if you drink and are also a cigarette smoker. As glutathione helps to protect your lungs from tobacco smoke. 

Decreased Lung Function

When diagnosed with a chronic respiratory disease such as COPD, a chronic drinking habit is known to be associated with declining lung function due to its damaging affects to the surface of your lungs.lungs_and_human_body_311974.jpg

The surface of your lungs that is damaged by alcohol, known as the mucociliary transport system, is responsible for attracting mucus like a magnet to eradicate it from your lungs. 

Due to the damage alcohol consumption imposes on the surface of your lungs, it makes it increasingly difficult for you to expel thick and sticky mucus from your lungs. Which can worsen your levels of shortness of breath. 

But that’s not all…

Acting as a respiratory depressant, alcohol may help relieve feelings of breathlessness for a short period of time, but it can be dangerous.

Being diagnosed with COPD, respiratory depression can result in an excess buildup of carbon dioxide in your lungs.

And since your lungs are damaged by COPD, your body cannot respond properly to this buildup of carbon dioxide by increasing your breathing rate to expel the excess carbon dioxide. This will sedate you far greater than a non-COPD patient who consumed the same amount of alcohol.

Medication Interference

Depending on the types of medications you are currently prescribed, alcohol may interfere with their intended benefits.

Remember_Medications.jpgSpecifically, alcohol is known to interfere with many COPD medications such as glucocorticoids and antibiotics. As even small amounts of alcohol can reduce or increase the effectiveness of your COPD medications.

Anxiety and pain medications can also be affected by consuming alcohol.

The effects of these medications can be increased, causing your heart and breathing levels to slow to dangerous, possibly even fatal levels. 

It’s important for you to follow the strict lifestyle and treatment guidelines provided by your doctor if you would like to enjoy the symptom reliefs that are intended with the use of your COPD medications. And this may include abstaining from alcohol.

Sleeping Problems

You may find that drinking is helpful to fall asleep, but as the night goes on you will wake up frequently throughout the night. With a respiratory disease such as COPD, getting an adequate amount of sleep each night is vital. 

That’s not all…Sleep_Problems_with_COPD.jpg

Alcohol is also considered a diuretic, this simply means that it absorbs water from the cells within your body.

As a result, you tend to frequently urinate and wake up extremely dehydrated and with a dry mouth, throat, and headache. 

Hopefully you recognize the pattern drinking has on your ability to sleep.

If you are constantly waking up or have to frequently go to the restroom, it’s nearly impossible for your body to go through an entire sleep cycle. Causing you to wake up feeling fatigued and lack energy before the day has even begun.

Poor Nutrition 

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Alcohol is nothing but empty calories, and if you are a moderate to heavy drinker you may be substituting food with the empty calories of alcohol. When poor nutrition is combined with the effects of COPD, your symptoms and overall quality of life will suffer.

Additionally, as a COPD patient you are told to consume 5-6 smaller portioned meals as opposed to a standard 3 meals a day to combat breathing problems after eating.  

When you consume alcohol, you are more likely to consume a larger intake of food in one sitting or you may eat faster than normal. This can lead to unwanted and worsening levels of breathlessness (shortness of breath).

If you experience a heightened appetite while drinking, it may be best to avoid picking up that alcoholic beverage in exchange for better breathing and nutrition.

Reactive Depression

As we discuss below, it’s common for physicians to approve consuming a glass of wine per day. But when you consume more than that you can begin experiencing lifestyle reducing problems like reactive depression.

But there’s a catch..

Alcohol is commonly used to help ease the feelings of depression in small dosages. It’s also known that continued consumption of alcohol on a regular basis can actually worsen your depression, putting you in an endless cycle of ups and downs.

Avoiding alcohol is highly recommended if you currently suffer from depression, whether that be a side effect of your COPD or another cause.

Increases Risk of Respiratory Infections

According to a study done by ATSJournals, an additional adverse health effect associated with alcohol consumption is an increased risk of respiratory infections. This may be due to the negative effect of alcohol on your immune system.

A Glass of Wine May Provide Health Benefits

There are numerous studies showing that drinking a glass of wine per day is heart healthy. Due to the alcohol and certain substances in red wine, known as antioxidants, which may help prevent coronary artery disease.

glass-of-wine-health-benefits.jpgSome additional benefits include lowered blood pressure, block the negative effects of free radicals, protect blood vessels, help prevent blood clots, and may also improve lung function.

It’s important for you to understand that studies in regard to the health benefits of alcohol have not been done specifically for COPD.

If you do decide to drink, you should consume in moderation, as in no more than 2 drinks per day for men and no more than 1 per day for women.

Don’t make this decision alone, there are numerous health related considerations you need to keep in mind before deciding to drink or not.

Which is why you need to work closely with your doctor, so they can decide whether or not alcohol is safe for your health, and if so, to determine an acceptable amount to consume.

Until more studies have been conducted on the effects of alcohol on COPD management, drinking in moderation is the best advice doctors can give to COPD patients that decide to drink.

Improve Your COPD By Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse

If you are diagnosed with COPD but struggle with alcoholism, all hope is not lost there are methods to help you curb your urge to drink. If you are a heavy drinker, which is when you consume 8 or more drinks per week for women, or 15+ drinks per week for men.

Even if you only drink on Saturdays, but end up drinking an 8 pack, you are not considered a moderate drinker by any standards. In fact, that's considered binge drinking, and this is the worst form of drinking.

It is considered binge drinking if you consume more than 4+ drinks for women, or 5+ drinks for men on a single occasion. 

Does this sound like a regular day in your life? Is this affecting your COPD?

Don't go about this alone, you should be open and honest with your doctor about your regular drinking habits. This will help them better understand so they can provide proper treatment options to help you quit drinking or minimize your consumption.  

Alcohol-Free Techniques to Mange COPD Related Stress & Depression

It’s understandable as to why you would turn to an alcoholic beverage to help ease the pain, stress, and even depression that can be associated with a COPD diagnosis.

But if you have made the personal decision to cut out alcohol completely or your doctor has told you to avoid it due to your COPD. Try one of these stress and depression management techniques:

  • Exercise
  • Eat a Healthy Diet
  • Set Goals for Yourself
  • Try Something New
  • Support Groups (Such as in Pulmonary Rehab)
  • Meditation
  • Yoga (Exercise & Meditation in One)
  • Laugh

For additional techniques, check out these 17 COPD Stress Management Techniques!

Conclusion

As more research is conducted doctors will gain improved insight into the exact effects of alcohol on COPD. But until then, the decision to drink or not is purely up to you and your doctor. And this is a decision that should not be taken lightly, you need to first consider the negative implications of drinking and if they outweigh the few benefits.

Further more, if you are still currently smoking following your COPD diagnosis you NEED to quit! This is especially true if you decide to drink and it ends up making you crave a cigarette more. As we mentioned above, the combination of alcohol and cigarettes provide nothing but turmoil for your COPD and overall health.

Alcohol with COPD is certainly not forbidden, it's all about consuming in moderation. Meaning no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 drinks per day for men.

Are you struggling to combat the worsening effects of shortness of breath due to excess mucus production? Does consumption of alcohol worsen the severity of mucus production? Download Your FREE 9 Mucus Clearing Techniques Checklist by clicking the image below!

 Download Your Mucus Clearing Techniques Checklist

Topics: COPD, Alcohol and COPD