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Alcohol and Your Immune System: How Getting Sober Can Boost Your Health

alcohol and your immune system


Is it just us, or is it the time of year when you or someone you know is sick?

Being an adult while unwell is challenging enough. Getting sick, however, has its share of dangers for individuals in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. You may have already guessed it: alcohol is present in many cold and flu treatments. Nyquil, we’re talking about you!

For instance, some medications make you feel sleepy like downers, while others make you feel alert, which are known as uppers.

Experiencing all of these emotions can be particularly triggering, especially for people who are in recovery.

At Legends Recovery Center of Ohio, our rehab facilities provide treatment programs, addiction therapy, and other treatment resources to help people struggling with the diseases of alcoholism and mental illness.

Here’s our guide to alcohol and your immune system, and how getting sober can boost your overall health.

What is the Immune System and How Does it Work?

Our body’s immune system is made up of white blood cells, tissues, and organs that are intended to fight off infections, diseases, and toxins. It aids in maintaining our overall health and well-being. However, when a person’s immune system is compromised, for instance, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, it makes the body more susceptible to illness and infection.

The immune system consists of two main components:

  • The innate immune system: This response to pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and other microbes, along with providing overall immunity.
  • Your immune memory: This is taken care of by your adaptive immune system. It includes things like recalling the symptoms of an earlier infection, such as chickenpox, and preventing a recurrence by taking the right precautionary measures.

Drinking negatively affects both immune system components. There is no “safe” amount to consume. Every organ in the body is affected both immediately and over time.

The Impact of Alcohol on the Immune System

Your body treats alcohol as a toxin, thus it needs to be flushed out. Every time you drink, your immune system has to work harder to defend your organs from tissue damage. Increased vulnerability to other ailments is the result.

Research from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) shows that heavy drinking can cause a 3-7 times greater susceptibility to the development of serious illnesses like pneumonia from simple respiratory tract infections.

One may observe they tend to get sick more frequently than they did before the shift in alcohol use as drinking becomes more frequent or excessive. The sickness symptoms are worse than what a person could experience when they are just hungover.

Short-term effects of alcohol on the immune system

Alcohol can have an impact on the immune system even if you are not a heavy drinker regularly. A single session of 5–6 drinks can depress the immune system for up to 24 hours.

Long-term effects of alcohol on the immune system

Since the immune system takes longer to detect and respond to illnesses, drinking over time can result in longer-lasting issues. The following are some long-term effects:

  • More severe diseases
  • Longer-lasting symptoms
  • More Infection forces the immune system to work harder.

Drinking alcohol regularly over time harms the body, its systems, and every organ. Binge drinking also impairs your immune system’s ability to fight off diseases like liver disease, some malignancies, and viruses. Other side effects that taking drugs and drinking alcohol has on the immune system include:

Chronic Inflammation

According to research, regular drinking can lead to intestinal inflammation that harms the remainder of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract in addition to your liver. An immune system reaction called inflammation serves as a barrier between the body and potential harm. It can, however, have a negative effect and result in long-term health issues if it is extended.

Unwanted antigens stay in your body instead of your body purging bacteria or toxins from its system and returning to a healthy baseline. As a result, inflammation levels are high and the immune system is kept constantly on high alert. The result can cause a wide range of health issues, such as arthritis, asthma, heart disease, Crohn’s disease, insomnia, and different types of cancer.

Greater Risk of Infection

You are more prone to experience recurrent infections or potentially serious problems since chronic inflammation reduces your body’s capacity to fight against various diseases. When alcohol is absorbed into the body, a person’s red blood cells can become enlarged, and also interfere with the growth and operation of white blood cells.

This makes the body work even harder to defend and protect itself from being vulnerable to the invasion of infection and bacteria. Even respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and even COVID-19 are more likely to be contracted by someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Poor Sleep

Your body and mind are meant to rest and repair when you sleep. Alcohol severely impairs this crucial process. Any time you drink alcohol, even just one beer or glass of wine, your body changes its concentration right away. It puts removing alcohol from your system before caring for your general health. This implies that other crucial processes, like sleep, suffer.

Tiredness is simply one of the side effects you could experience from drinking since it makes it harder to fall asleep, and sleep affects how well your immune system can defend itself. Additionally, you are more prone to get sick more frequently and with severe symptoms.

An inability to get enough rest and re-energize your body can exacerbate the symptoms of poor mental health, especially for individuals with insomnia, depression, anxiety, frequent mood swings, and chronic stress.

How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect the Immune System?

effects of alcohol to your immune system

Bacteria can more easily enter the bloodstream when the immune system of the body weakens. In other words, due to inadequate protection and removal of toxins by the lungs, our immune system becomes compromised due to exposure to viruses. It is already inconvenient to get colds frequently. However, the risk of developing major respiratory and other chronic illnesses due to heavy drinking is considerably more worrisome.

Is it the Flu Or Withdrawal Symptoms?

This time of the year sickness is rampant. Cold chills, high fevers, and a dry cough might give off the unsettling impression that something is attacking your immune system. In the end, viruses are what cause both the flu and COVID-19.

Although seasonal influenza (flu) viruses are detected all year round in the United States, the “flu season” is when these viruses most frequently spread.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the actual start and end dates of flu seasons might vary, although October is often when activity spikes. Flu activity often reaches its peak between December and February, though it can persist into May. The timing and duration of flu activity have become less predictable since the COVID pandemic began.

Therefore, especially around this time of year, most people mistakenly believe that their symptoms of runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and upset stomach are caused by the “common cold” or “flu,” but in reality, they are typically caused by withdrawal symptoms. It’s quite simple to confuse the two.

That’s why it’s important to protect yourself as much as possible to avoid putting yourself at risk. But, sometimes it’s inevitable, especially for those with addiction and mental health issues.

Take into account the following suggestions to help you determine if the symptoms you are displaying are genuinely those of a disease or a side effect related to alcohol withdrawal:

  • First, consider how long you have been drinking and how much.
  • If you recently (within the past 12-48 hours) quit drinking alcohol after prolonged use (5 days or more) then chances are you are withdrawing.
  • Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually only last about 24-48 hours (1-2 days). Symptoms that persist depending on the situation can indicate the flu or something more severe.
  • Flu-like symptoms that go away when drinking is most definitely withdrawal.
  • If symptoms don’t become worse, are not accompanied by a cough or headache, and are not reduced with over-the-counter medications, they are most likely withdrawal.

So, is a sickness really what’s occurring? Or is there a symbiotic relationship between alcohol and your immune system?

It’s Okay to Ask for Help

According to research conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, over 20 million people in the United States have at least one substance use disorder (SUD). But, perhaps it will surprise you to learn that out of all those Americans who struggle, don’t receive the treatment they need.

Asking for assistance when we need it can be the hardest thing to do. However, it’s crucial to request and accept any assistance that friends, family, sponsors, or other members of the recovery community may be able to provide when you’re unwell.

The most crucial thing to keep in mind is that you are not alone in your battle against drug and alcohol abuse, and you are also not alone when trying to recuperate during the worst of the flu season.

No matter how long you have battled drug or alcohol addiction, please keep in mind that it is never too late to ask for assistance. There are options available if you are having trouble quitting and navigating these unprecedented times when you’re unsure of how to proceed.

Can Rehab Help Getting Sober?

rehab for alcohol addiction

Even if you have been drinking heavily for a long time, you can start working toward sobriety and repairing the harm that drinking has done to your immune system. The first step to a new life and a healthy body is medical detox.

You must wait for all of the alcohol to leave your system before continuing. Detoxification at a rehab facility can provide a safe and professional environment to ease withdrawal. It is highly discouraged to self-detox at home, as it can be painful and dangerous when done alone without supervision by a licensed medical specialist.

Your immune system will require time to recover following a thorough detox. You may aid it by gaining knowledge about diet, getting active, and taking care of any underlying issues with your physical and mental health.

Total well-being for the body and mind is addressed at Legends Recovery Center in Ohio. You’ll learn to live a full life as a result and strengthen your immune system free from addictive substances.

Getting Sober Starts With You

It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of an alcohol use disorder. If you or someone you care about is abusing alcohol, and needs help, consult with your doctor about undergoing medical detox and treatment.

Alcohol and your immune system will no longer be a threat to living the life one deserves! Contact our admissions team today to learn more about the addiction treatment services we offer, and to get started on your road to recovery.

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