Does Alcohol Affect Bone Healing?

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Heavy drinking can significantly interfere with bone healing by adversely affecting bone density, bone cell rebuilding, and bone-forming nutrients. Alcohol use does this through various mechanisms, such as impairing hormone regulation and production and vitamin absorption. Therefore, the best way to protect your bones from the effects of drinking is to curb or quit your alcohol use. Some people, however, struggle with abstinence due to having developed alcohol dependence from chronic or excessive alcohol intake. If this relates to you, you are encouraged to address this issue before the situation worsens.

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What Are Bones & How Does Alcohol Affect Them?

Bone is living, connective tissue that develops in the body and makes up the skeleton. It is made mainly of a soft framework of collagen that is strengthened and hardened by calcium. Bone forms and supports the body’s shape and structure and protects major bodily organs, including the brain, heart, and lungs. Bones are hard but not inflexible, allowing for mobility and the body to move in many directions. Bones also store vital minerals and consist of marrow, spongy tissue containing many blood vessels in the bone’s center.

Bone growth is accelerated until young adulthood. But bone loss begins to occur more rapidly than growth as early as age 20. The more bone density a person loses, the more vulnerable they are to sustaining fractures, delays in bone repair, and chronic diseases such as osteoporosis. For this reason, any person diagnosed with or at risk of bone-related illnesses is urged to quit drinking to prevent the bones from sustaining additional harm.

Alcohol Impairs Regulation & Production of Hormones

Hormones are chemical messengers that control and coordinate the functions of organs and tissues. These chemicals work together in a complex system to sustain health and function in the body. When the hormone (endocrine) system is operating correctly, the precise amount of hormone is released at precisely the right time, and bodily tissues respond to these messages appropriately. (1)

However, alcohol misuse interferes with the endocrine system’s operations, possibly leading to significant medical issues and disruptions in bone mass maintenance, growth, and development. In particular, alcohol adversely affects the hormones cortisol, HGH, and testosterone.

Alcohol Increases Cortisol

Heavy drinking can elevate cortisol levels, a stress hormone in the body that adversely impacts bone development by interfering with cells that form bone tissue (osteoblasts). (2) This results in decreased bone density, increased bone deterioration, and a reduced ability for bones to heal.

Alcohol Impairs the Activity of HGH & Testosterone

Human growth hormone (HGH) plays a vital role in developing and repairing muscles, reducing the body’s risk for fractures and enabling a stronger skeletal structure. One of the functions of HGH is to improve bone density, and alcohol can interfere with this process by decreasing the secretion of HGH by up to 70%. (3)

Alcohol can also impair testosterone production in men. (4) One function of testosterone, the male steroid hormone, is to promote bone formation and growth by directly acting on osteoblasts. Chronic alcoholism in men has been linked to decreased testosterone levels, meaning that a lack of these hormones could interfere with bone development.

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Alcohol Use Contributes to Osteoporosis Risk

Research suggests that heavy alcohol use increases the risk of osteoporosis. (5) Excessive drinking affects the body’s balance of calcium, a nutrient essential for healthy bones. Calcium balance can be further disturbed by drinking alcohol, which can interfere with Vitamin D production and hamper calcium absorption.

In a meta-analysis published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers found that alcohol was associated with a higher likelihood of developing osteoporosis. (6) The study reported that, compared to non-drinkers, those who consumed two or more daily drinks had 1.63 times the risk of developing the condition.

Alcohol Contributes to Bone Injuries

Accidental falls and injuries are common among chronic heavy drinkers, as alcohol’s intoxicating effects can dramatically impair balance and motor skills. For example, discoordination can result in falls down stairs, slip and falls, collisions with objects, losing consciousness while standing, etc. These accidents can cause severe fractures, which may take longer to heal due to alcohol’s already compromising effects on bone health, growth, and repair. In particular, chronic heavy alcohol use has been associated with an increased risk of hip and vertebral fractures. (7)

What Is Excessive Drinking?

Although low-moderate alcohol use has the potential to impact one’s health negatively, severe effects (including bone healing) are less likely to occur compared to drinking excessively. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive drinking consists of binge drinking and heavy alcohol use. Binge drinking is defined as consuming at least four alcoholic drinks on one occasion for women and at least five for men. Heavy drinking is defined as consuming eight or more alcoholic drinks for women and 15 or more for men within one week. (8)

Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder

Several signs and symptoms characterize alcohol use disorder. If you recognize these in yourself or a loved one, you may be struggling with an alcohol use disorder and could benefit from professional treatment.

Signs of Alcohol Use Disorder Include: (9)

  • Being unable to control your drinking.
  • Continuing to drink despite incurring adverse consequences of alcohol use.
  • Drinking in inappropriate or risky situations.
  • Drinking first thing in the morning or having a “hair of the dog.”
  • Experiencing memory loss or “blackouts” when drinking.
  • Drinking in isolation and attempting to conceal the extent of your alcohol use.
  • Experiencing significant physical or mental health effects related to alcohol use.
  • Encountering adverse effects in other areas of life, such as financial or legal issues.
  • Having cravings and feeling depressed or irritable when not drinking.
  • Spending significant time and resources on drinking and preparing to drink.

If you are concerned about your bone health and healing capacity, you can reduce your risk of bone loss by abstaining from alcohol. There are no health benefits associated with excessive drinking. Instead, problematic alcohol use leads to a wide range of health conditions and complications. If you cannot control your drinking, consider the possibility that sobriety may be the best approach to achieving maximum health and wellness.

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The most critical step in overcoming alcohol use disorder is admitting you need help by pursuing options for recovery. When you contact Guardian Recovery, you’ll be connected with a skilled Treatment Advisor who can provide you with a free, no-obligation assessment and health insurance benefits check. Our clinical team will then have the information they need to help you determine which treatment options may be appropriate for your unique case.

Breaking free from active addiction can be highly challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. If you or a loved one are ready to begin your new life in recovery, reach out today to learn more about our personalized treatment plans and evidence-based therapies and services.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

(1)https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21201-endocrine-system (2)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2266962/ (3)https://www.csbsju.edu/health-promotion/alcohol-guide/alcohol-and-physical-activity (4)https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-3/190.pdf (5)(7)https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/alcoholism (6)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376871619300584#! (8)https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm# (9)https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/3909-alcoholism

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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