Alcohol and COPD

Research Regarding Alcohol and COPD is Inconclusive

Many COPD patients have asked the question, “Can I drink alcohol if I have COPD?” Some research has been done on the subject, but it has been difficult to come to a solid conclusion as to whether or not alcohol is harmful for a person suffering from COPD. “This is a new area of interest, but so far the studies we have aren’t consistent,” says Bohdan Pichurko, MD, a pulmonary specialist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Lung function has been measured in people with COPD who binge drink (defined as drinking six or more drinks at one time), however, in most cases that person has smoked cigarettes while drinking, and of course smoking makes a person’s COPD symptoms worse. This makes it difficult to understand the effects of alcohol by itself. According to an article in About Health, chronic drinking alone does not result in lung damage, rather, drinking coupled with oxidative stress causes damage to a person’s lungs. Oxidative stress occurs when a person is exposed to cigarette smoke, air pollution or dangerous chemicals. Drinking alcohol reduces your lungs’ capacity to handle these airway irritants, which is what makes drinking and smoking together so dangerous.

While we don’t have solid evidence as to whether or not a person should drink alcohol if they have COPD, here are a few things to consider.

A Few Points to Consider:

Wine: Studies have shown that wine consumption, in moderation, can actually improve lung function in people without COPD. In an article published by Everyday Health, Brian W. Carlin, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Drexel University School of Medicine in Philadelphia and immediate past chairman of the COPD Alliance stated, “Those who drank a moderate amount of wine had higher lung volumes and had a lower risk of airway obstruction.” A study found that those who drank 1-2 drinks a night were 25% less likely to be hospitalized than those who didn’t.

Smoking: Anyone with COPD should not smoke. If drinking causes you to smoke, then you should quit both habits until you’re able to drink without smoking. Having trouble quitting? Check out our tips on how to quit smoking.

Medications: In a blog post by the Lung Institute, Does Alcohol Worsen COPD?, we mention that alcohol can interfere with some medications that are used to treat COPD, such as steroids and antibiotics. It is important to read the warning labels on any medication that you might be taking so you’re aware if you cannot drink alcohol while taking the medication.

Glutathione: Drinking alcohol greatly reduces the amount of the antioxidant glutathione in a person’s lungs, leaving them more susceptible to lung disease. According to an article by Emory University, the less glutathione a person has in their lungs, the more difficult it is for the body to transfer oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream. This puts a person at risk for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a disease that can result in death. In the article, David Guidot, director of the Emory Alcohol and Lung Biology Center at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC), notes that more alcoholics actually die from lung damage over liver damage.

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