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How Does Alcohol Affect Muscles

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Alcohol misuse can take a toll on many aspects of a person’s health and wellness. Among the many possible consequences of alcohol misuse are problems with muscle development and recovery. If you suspect you need professional treatment to quit drinking to address these issues, our experienced treatment team can help.

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At Guardian Recovery, our comprehensive programs are designed to treat and support individuals in all phases of active addiction and recovery, including those exhibiting features of dry drunk syndrome.

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How Alcohol Affects Muscle Development & Recovery

It’s a common misconception that the health effects associated with heavy alcohol use will be obvious to the drinker and others around them. Instead, because alcohol use disorders encompass many different drinking patterns and levels of intensity, the health profile of alcoholics also varies significantly. Moreover, even people who eat well, exercise, and maintain an otherwise healthy lifestyle can encounter unwanted effects of alcohol misuse—even though they don’t appear to be at “rock bottom.”

Muscle-related symptoms you may experience after drinking include pain, cramps, weakness, and impaired recovery. Alcohol interferes with muscle development and healing regardless of how fit you are or the quality of your diet. The primary reason for this is that alcohol impedes myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS), a process used by the body to repair muscle protein. (1)

Alcohol & the Immune System

A robust immune system leads to muscle development, improved physical performance, and weight loss. However, drinking alcohol produces bodily inflammation and stomach irritation and places extra stress on the immune system. (4)

The body will eventually attempt to protect itself against chronic alcohol use, which is considered a toxin. As a result, the immune system will target alcohol and its byproducts instead of focusing on muscle recovery and healing other injuries.

Alcohol & Calcium Absorption

Alcohol misuse interrupts calcium flow in muscle cells. (5) Calcium is a mineral that helps with muscle contraction, and therefore drinking may lessen physical strength by interfering with how calcium works in muscle cells.

Alcohol & Creatine Kinase

Creatine kinase (CK) is an enzyme inside muscle cells that assists them in making energy to function. (6) When these cells are injured, they release CK in response. So, if you take a blood test that reveals high CK levels, you might have sustained muscle damage.

Alcohol & Muscle Cramps

One of the liver’s primary jobs is to eliminate harmful substances, and it treats alcohol as if it’s toxic. Therefore, it will be a priority to purge alcohol from the blood. This means that other substances the liver works to clear, such as lactic acid, may take longer to leave the body due to the alcohol’s presence. Lactic acid is a substance created by the body in reaction to injury that can cause pain and cramps. Because drinking can cause it to remain longer than usual, discomfort may also persist. (7)

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Alcohol & Physical Fitness

Alcohol use can also adversely impact physical fitness and activity, and some of these effects can interfere with muscle health. This is true of the following interactions: (INDI)

Alcohol & Sleep Quality

Quality sleep is essential to muscle recovery, physical performance, and overall health. The effects alcohol has on sleep cycles, including REM sleep, contribute to hormone imbalances. REM is the stage of deep sleep when most muscle repair occurs. (9) Alcohol can cause sleep disturbances and insomnia, resulting in increased appetite and weight gain. 

Alcohol & Dehydration

Alcohol causes the body to excrete more urine, which can ultimately result in significant dehydration. (10) Because exercise can also dehydrate, the combination may dramatically reduce performance and cause symptoms such as dry mouth, increased heart date, and dizziness. Dehydration causes the body to experience low energy levels and an overall reduction in athletic performance.

Alcohol & Performance Ability

As noted, when the body breaks down alcohol, the liver focuses on removing the toxic threat. As such, it cannot produce the sugar needed to create energy. (11) Low blood sugar levels can result in a decrease in the physical intensity the body can achieve.

Alcohol & Weight Gain

Depending on the form, alcohol is usually high in calories. Some drinks are also high in sugar. Consuming excessive calories and sugars from alcoholic beverages can cause weight gain and impede athletic performance.

Furthermore, heavy alcohol use hinders metabolism. (12) This means the body’s ability to reduce body fat is delayed. Weight gain and alcohol misuse can both lead to elevated heart rates, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular conditions.

Alcohol & the Central Nervous System

Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that reduces excitability and cerebral activity, and impairs a wide array of physical and mental abilities. Copious research has shown alcohol causes impaired balance, reaction time, vision, memory, recognition, and fine motor skill precision. (13) All of these effects can significantly reduce physical performance when a person is intoxicated.

Alcohol Use Disorder & Overall Health

The effects of excessive drinking go far beyond those described above. Regular binge drinking and heavy drinking can adversely affect every bodily organ and system and lead to heart disease, liver damage, pancreatitis, and many forms of cancer.

Binge drinking means consuming four or more alcoholic beverages on one occasion (about two hours) for women and five or more for men. Heavy drinking is considered 7 or more alcoholic beverages per week for women and 14 or more for men. (14)

Chronic drinking can quickly lead to dependence, which can be challenging to overcome without treatment. This condition results in withdrawal symptoms upon cessation, ranging from mild to severe. Those who quit abruptly or “cold turkey” will also experience cravings for alcohol. When combined with the unpleasant effects of withdrawal, relapse is likely without medical intervention.

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Recovering From Alcohol Use Disorder & Promoting Muscle Health

The most effective way to promote muscle development, reduce breakdown, and improve overall health is to stop drinking. If you’ve already attempted to quit and struggled to stay sober, you may have an alcohol use disorder. You may also be chemically dependent and benefit from medical detox, comprehensive treatment, and the development of an aftercare plan that includes a health and wellness regimen.

Contact Guardian Recovery today to learn more about our integrated recovery programs and various levels of care. You can speak to an experienced Treatment Advisor who will explain our straightforward admission process and provide you with a free, no-obligation health benefits check. If you are ready to begin your recovery journey, we can help you put addiction behind you and reclaim the healthy life you deserve.

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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)(2)(3)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3922864/

(4)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/

(5)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513686/

(6)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257708/

(7)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2564331/

(8)https://www.indi.ie/fact-sheets/fact-sheets-on-sports-nutrition/518-the-truth-about-alcohol-and-exercise.html

(9) https://thesleepshopinc.com/alcohol-and-sleep/

(10)https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/effects-on-the-body/why-does-alcohol-make-you-pee-more

(11)https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/alcohol-diabetes

(12)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4338356/#CR25

(13)https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa25.htm

(14)https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

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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:

Cayla Clark

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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