Does Alcohol Worsen COPD?

As prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) continues to rise, many people have to reevaluate their lifestyle to make modifications.

One of the questions brought up, especially for social settings, is “Does alcohol worsen COPD?”

It has only been within the last several years that this answer has finally started to take shape. One of the biggest problems is that there has not been much research on the effects of alcohol and the lungs.

Also, COPD is mostly caused by smoking, but if someone smokes and drinks, it’s hard to determine whether it’s the smoking or the drinking—or both—making COPD symptoms worse.

Experts agree that more research is needed.

What We Do Know About

A study published in the journal Chest, found that people over a 3-year period who reported binge drinking—six or more drinks on occasion—experienced a worsening of COPD symptoms. When the researchers adjusted for tobacco use, they couldn’t find an increase in COPD symptoms from drinking alone.

While research on the effects of alcohol and COPD is ongoing, some facts are available on the effects of the combination of the two.

Here are some of the known effects of alcohol consumption with COPD:

  • Glutathione deficiency: Glutathione is an antioxidant found in the lungs. Drinking alcohol lowers glutathione levels, and can aggravate COPD symptoms, possibly causing flare-ups.
  • Decreased lung function: Alcohol consumption is associated with decreasing lung function in patients with lung disease. Alcohol can also decrease the ability to clear mucus from the airways, which in turn could pose a serious health risk for COPD sufferers.
  • Medications: Alcohol interferes with several different COPD medications, including steroids and antibiotics. It can also increase anxiety and alter the effects of pain medications to the point that the heart rate and breathing slow to dangerous, possibly fatal levels.

Hopefully, with more research, the effects of alcohol on COPD will be better understood. If you suffer from COPD, please consult your doctor before choosing to drink alcohol, and if you do so choose, please drink responsibly.