Does Alcohol Affect COPD?

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung disease characterized by airflow blockages and breathing issues. It is a major cause of disability and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, affecting approximately 15 million Americans. (1) For individuals who have COPD, alcohol can increase the likelihood of lung problems, sleep disturbances, and allergies. If you have COPD and cannot control your drinking, you might benefit from professional help for alcoholism.

Guardian Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people with co-occurring disorders, such as alcohol use disorder and COPD. We understand how substance misuse may adversely interact with medical conditions. As a result, we design our programs to address all aspects of a person’s health and wellness. Contact us today to learn more about how we help individuals overcome alcoholism through our holistic approach to health and wellness.

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What Is COPD?

COPD is a long-term, progressive illness that worsens a person’s ability to breathe over time and is hallmarked by two primary conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD and related conditions are most often, but not always, caused by smoking, the leading cause of this disease.

Emphysema develops due to damage to the walls of air sacs (alveoli) and lung tissue. (2) This reduces the lung’s surface area and the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream. Damaged alveoli cannot work correctly upon exhalation, and old air is trapped. As a result, new, fresh, oxygen-rich air doesn’t have enough room to enter. As a result, the lungs gradually overfill, and breathing becomes increasingly difficult.

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term, more serious version of acute bronchitis. (3) It is associated with constant inflammation or irritation of the bronchial tube lining that carries air to and from the lungs. People with bronchitis cough up thickened, frequently discolored mucus.

Effects of Alcohol Use With COPD

Although relatively small amounts of alcohol are believed to be safe, excessive drinking can worsen COPD symptoms. One study found that among COPD patients discharged from the hospital, those struggling with alcohol misuse were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days. (4) There are several mechanisms through with alcohol can affect COPD, including the following:

How Alcohol Misuse Affects Lung Health

Excessive alcohol use tends to adversely affect every bodily organ and system, including the pulmonary system, which depends on proper lung function. COPD interferes with a person’s ability to breathe correctly. Drinking alcohol can aggravate these symptoms because it can reduce the lungs’ ability to clear mucus. (5) As a result, compromised breathing and wheezing can develop.

Alcohol use also reduces glutathione, an antioxidant that protects lung tissue. (6) By compromising defenses to infection, alcohol can worsen COPD symptoms. 

Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep

Alcohol is a potent central nervous system (CNS) depressant, reducing activity in the brain and body. Sleep apnea is a risk of heavy drinking, where the upper airway becomes blocked or collapses. (7)

Sleep apnea can present an even more significant problem for people with COPD who are already struggling with breathing-related issues. In fact, individuals who drink excessively are 25% more likely to experience sleep apnea while sleeping. (8)

Despite alcohol’s initial depressant properties, research has well-established that it adversely affects a person’s sleep quality. This can compromise the immune system and increase the likelihood of a COPD flare-up.

Allergic Reactions to Alcohol with COPD

People with COPD often struggle with allergies. Allergic reactions can trigger an episode of COPD, including symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Many people who have allergies or reactions to alcohol are unaware they have this problem. 

When an individual experiences flushing, itchiness, or a stuffy nose after consuming alcohol, this can signify a sensitivity to alcohol. (9) Alcoholic beverages also commonly include gluten, which can trigger an allergic response in some people. This can increase the severity and frequency of COPD flare-ups.

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Alcohol-Related Deaths With COPD

Alcohol use can adversely affect COPD symptoms to the point of being life-threatening. Moderate-high levels of alcohol use have been associated with a 25% higher risk of death due to COPD. (10) Furthermore,l one study found patients with alcohol dependence and COPD were at an increased risk of dying in the hospital. (11) Moreover, alcohol-related complications can be lethal for some individuals affected by COPD.

Can Alcohol Misuse Cause COPD?

Although heavy alcohol use can exacerbate COPD symptoms, it does not directly cause it. Instead, other factors increase a person’s likelihood of developing COPD.

Risk Factors for COPD Include Those Who Are:

  • Current or former smokers.
  • Sixty-five years of age or older.
  • Female.
  • American or Alaskan Native, or of multiracial non-Hispanic descent.
  • Retired or unable to work.
  • Divorced or widowed.
  • Experiencing frequent respiratory infections or asthma attacks.
  • Currently or formerly exposed to air pollutants.
  • Genetically predisposed to COPD. (12)

Those who suffer from COPD are also at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. (13) Many people suffering from mental health issues turn to alcohol or drugs to experience temporary relief from their emotional distress. Many people who self-medicate with alcohol lose control of its use and require professional treatment for their co-occurring medical condition and alcohol dependence.

COPD, Alcohol, & Smoking

For many, smoking tobacco and drinking are closely associated behaviors. Research from 2015 found a link between excessive alcohol use and persistent smoking or failure to quit. (14)

Another study revealed nearly half of subjects aged 40-64 (45%) who smoked reported they also engaged in excessive drinking. (15) Because COPD is most likely to be diagnosed after age 45, (16) alcohol misuse could contribute to the development of COPD among smokers.

How Alcohol Affects Overall Health & COPD

Alcohol has many more adverse effects on the body besides the lungs. Alcohol compromises overall health for most healthy people not living with COPD, including increasing the risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and liver damage. 

For COPD patients, frequent alcohol misuse is another hurdle to living well by increasing their risk for an extensive list of alcohol-related diseases. Alcohol also compromises the immune system, resulting in increased vulnerability of COPD patients to a range of health complications that can add to COPD symptoms and even exacerbate them. (17)

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We Offer Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Alcohol Dependence & COPD

Comprehensive care is available to treat both conditions concurrently if you have COPD and are struggling with alcoholism. Unfortunately, both of these diseases can be severe and life-threatening, but they are also very treatable. At Guardian Recovery, our addiction treatment programs are structured and highly individualized. Every person is thoroughly assessed, and a plan is custom-designed to address their unique needs. For those with COPD, this may include medication administration and clinical supervision.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation assessment and health benefits check. You’ll be connected with a Treatment Advisor who can explain our streamlined admissions process and help determine the level of care most applicable to your circumstances. If you are ready to end your struggle with addiction, improve your health, and reclaim your life, we can help you get started on the journey to recovery one step at a time.

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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.

(NIH1) https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/copd (LUNG2)https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/emphysema (LUNG3)https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/chronic-bronchitis (SCI4)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0012369215000781 (NIH5)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2081157/ (6)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1930162/ (7)(8)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5840512/ (9)https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1355621031000069828 (10)https://journals.lww.com/epidem/Fulltext/2001/03000/Alcohol_Consumption_in_Relation_to_20_Year_COPD.18.aspx (11)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924933815000826 (12)https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/alpha-1-antitrypsin-deficiency/learn-about-alpha-1-antitrypsin-defiency (13)https://err.ersjournals.com/content/errev/23/133/345.full.pdf (14)http://www.tobaccoinduceddiseases.org/High-intensity-binge-drinking-is-associated-with-cigarette-nsmoking-and-e-cigarette,122603,0,2.htm (15)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC377296 (15)https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772963/ (16)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/

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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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