Alcohol & COVID-19

Excessive drinking damages our bodies, brains, families and communities. “COVID-19, which has spread so rapidly, highlights the need to stop alcohol abuse,” says  Paul Flynn CEOof Addcounsel, the London based private rehab and mental health service.

In this article, Addcounsel addiction treatment centre looks in detail at alcohol’s harmful effects  AS well as the Psychological effects of the pandemic and why Alcohol sales have increased by over 20% in the U.K  The reality is one should seriously be considering reducing your alcohol intake in the time of COVID-19.

Alcohol abuse weakens your immune system, impairs your judgement and increases your chances of becoming ill and infecting others

Various studies over the years have confirmed the harmful effects of excessive alcohol. While alcohol in moderation may not do too much damage, drinking in excess does.

Excessive alcohol use weakens your immune system

Alcohol consumption can suppress the immune system, says the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2018 report on alcohol and health.

We fight off viruses and bacteria everyday, largely thanks to our always on, always working immune system.

“If you drink every day, or almost every day, you might notice that you catch colds, flu or other illnesses more frequently than other people who don’t drink. This is because alcohol can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infections,” says a Cleveland Clinic article.

If you’re over 65 you need to pay particular attention to your immune system


Immune system maturation


Our bodies break down alcohol, getting rid of the toxins as quickly as possible. This process slows down as we age, which gives alcohol more time to cause more damage. Older people also tend to have less muscle and more fat, so in addition to the strain alcohol places, higher body fat percentages can place additional strain on the body.

In another article on Clevelandclinic,org, Clinical Immunologist Leonard Calabrese says “inflammation and infections play the biggest role in weakening your aging immune system.” One of his top five ways to strengthen the immune system? Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.

“Not only does drinking too much limit immunity-boosting nutrients in your body, but it also lowers your white blood cell’s ability to kill germs. If you’re a heavy drinker, you’re twice as likely to die from pneumonia as those who don’t drink as much. Heavy drinkers also make up more than one-third of those with tuberculosis.”


Alcohol lowers white blood cells


Bottom line: alcohol abuse makes your immune system frail.  

Excessive alcohol use makes you more susceptible to respiratory illnesses and influenza

Alcohol makes you more susceptible to respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, according to a study on alcohol and the immune system.

The study points out that alcohol disrupts normal functioning in the upper and lower airways, which is critical in fighting respiratory illnesses.

COVID-19 affects your respiratory system, so you may be at increased risk of contracting it if you are a heavy drinker.


COVID-19 affects your respiratory system


In addition, people who drink excessively are more susceptible to infectious diseases such as influenza. And because alcohol impairs the immune system, the illness is likely to be more severe, as found in a study that looked at how alcohol impacts those with influenza.

“Alcoholic patients have greatly increased risks of infection with extracellular bacteria, intracellular bacteria, and viruses,” says study corresponding author Kevin L. Legge, associate professor of pathology at the University of Iowa.

Bottom line: drink too much and you’re likely to get more colds, flu and respiratory illnesses

Too much alcohol is bad for your heart

According to a Cleveland Clinic article, drinking too much can cause the heart to become weak (cardiomyopathy) and have an irregular beat pattern (arrythmias). “It also puts people at higher risk for developing high blood pressure.”


Alcohol is bad for your heart


That’s already bad news for the heart. Add in the weight gain associated with high alcohol consumption and the heart is put under more strain.

“Alcohol is an energy dense food,” says Dr Muhamad Usman, MD, on Which means you get lots of calories with very little nutritional value. “1 gram of alcohol has around twice as many calories as a gram of carbohydrate or protein,” according to Dr Usman.

Dr Usman points out that an average wine drinker in the UK gets 2,000 additional calories from alcohol every month. “This adds up to 44,200 additional calories per year, which is equivalent to eating 221 doughnuts.”

1 litre of soda can have 420 calories, with over 100g of sugar.

Actual nutritional value? A lot of sugar but not much else.

And to be clear – all alcoholic beverages contain calories. A study published in Obesity that looked at the association between weight gain and alcohol over four years found there was no substantial difference between beverages when it comes to weight gain.


Calories gained from Alcohol

In addition to alcohol causing weight gain by giving you surplus calories, it promotes appetite, and increases impulsive eating and snacking.

Weight gain can lead to obesity, a growing health concern. Too much weight puts strain on every system in your body, including your heart. Ultimately, obesity can lead to heart disease.

None of this is healthy, and when it comes to COVID-19 it’s a real concern.

COVID-19 is more dangerous for those with underlying chronic conditions because the body is already in a weakened state and under strain. If COVID-19 is contracted fighting it off may just prove too difficult.

And what about the story that a little alcohol is good for you?

“No research has proved a cause-and-effect link between drinking alcohol and better heart health,” says the American Heart Foundation.

The bottom line: avoid excessive alcohol use to protect your heart and maintain a healthy weight.

Binge drinking lowers your body’s defences while drinking and immediately after

It’s not only long-term excessive drinking that causes serious health problems. Even one bout of drinking can cause damage. Dr Farrukh Alam – Consultant Psychiatrist and Addictions Specialist points out that alcohol has several detrimental health effects and is a definite no if you are already ill. Here’s why.

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means you can dehydrate very quickly, and place further strain on the immune system which needs adequate fluids to function optimally.

Dehydration can lead to headaches and fatigue, symptoms many have with COVID-19. Using alcohol when you are ill effectively doubles and worsens your symptoms, which medication may not be able to relieve.

Alcohol can interfere with the medications and in some cases lessens the good effects and causes serious complications.

Alcohol is processed by the liver, so are many medications such as paracetamol, which has been recommended to treat some COVID-19 symptoms. When your liver is busy processing alcohol, it won’t process the paracetamol, which means it will be less effective, and could even cause liver damage.


Alcohol effects on the liver

The bottom line: avoid any alcoholic beverage when you’re sick

Excessive alcohol use impairs our ability to act rationally and responsibly

Alcohol affects the neural pathways in your brain that control how you react and behave. It’s not a change for the better. The harmful effects of drinking and driving are well known – you cannot control your vehicle well when you have been drinking alcohol. That’s because alcohol impairs your judgement and increases your reaction time. It also negatively affects your vision, motor skills – walking and coordination. Net result: you make bad choices that can harm yourself and others when you drink too much.

Harmful in case of COVID-19? Without question. Here’s a few reasons why.

Personal Hygiene

Heavy drinkers can often ignore personal hygiene, putting themselves and others at risk.

“Many people who are abusing Alcohol will go for days without washing or changing clothes, so frequent handwashing just won’t be a part of their lives,” says Michael Ishmail – Clinical Director of Addcounsel


Alcohol and its impact on the stay at home order

Drinking more whilst in Isolation will have implications for the whole family. “Addicts often hide their alcohol abuse from their family. But they need alcohol and will find a way to get it.”

In a recent article The Times noted that, “Britons have turned to binge-buying booze, with the rise in sales of alcohol outpacing those of groceries over the past month. Alcohol sales jumped by 22 per cent in March as people built up stockpiles in preparation for being stuck at home.”


Alcohol spend during COVID-19


It’s clear that this additional drinking may lead to an unsafe environment for them and the broader family and anyone they interact with. If an addict is in quarantine they will risk going out to get alcohol, putting their loved ones and others in danger.

Within a home setting things can be contained, but in their determination to access alcohol and the potential implications of impaired decision making – they may take any amount of risks.

Binge drinking may cause you to be hospitalized for another reason

Since excessive drinking leads you to make poor choices your chances of needing to be hospitalized may go up whether it’s from overdosing on alcohol or something else. You may drive and cause an accident. If you and other parties require hospitalisation – immune systems will be weakened and you put yourself and anyone else who is injured at risk on the front line of the disease. Not to mention using medical care and facilities that could be used for seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

“Alcohol misuse changes the focus of a person from living a balanced, healthy, social life, to one where the only thing that matters is alcohol. COVID-19 doesn’t seem real to these addicts, and they may ignore the advice to prevent it,” says Dr Alam.

The bottom line: drinking too much, even in one session, leads to bad, often irreversible decisions.

There is only one conclusion. Too much alcohol is bad. It’s bad for your immune system, your heart and your waistline. And it’s bad for your friends, loved ones and the strangers you put in harm’s way when you drink too much.

So we can strengthen our fight against the COVID-19. Attempts to limit drinking through accessing addiction treatment are the best course of action in this current situation.