Can You Drink Alcohol if You Have COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – also known as COPD – is a chronic lung disease. When you have COPD, you might have a cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. Smoking is the main cause of COPD.
If you have COPD, managing symptoms and making lifestyle changes can be one of the most important parts of your treatment plan.
Can I drink alcohol if I have COPD?
The short answer is “it depends”.
In general, having a few drinks in moderation is acceptable.
“One or two drinks a day has not been shown to have an impact on COPD,” says Neil Schachter, MD, COPD specialist at Mount Sinai Health System.
But as COPD gets worse, it may be time to rethink your drinking habits. It is important that people with COPD follow a treatment plan. This may include taking medications, getting the flu shot every year, and getting the pneumonia shot regularly, Schachter says. If you smoke, it’s important that you try to break the habit, he says.
But what about drinking alcohol?
“One or two drinks a week can reduce anxiety,” Schachter says.
But if you’re feeling stuffy, have a runny nose, difficulty breathing, or any other sign of an allergic reaction to drinking alcohol, you should stop drinking altogether, he says. These are all signs of alcohol intolerance, which can potentially make your COPD symptoms worse.
Other signs that you might have an alcohol intolerance include:
Is there a link between alcohol consumption and COPD?
The most common cause of COPD is smoking. Therefore, if you are a smoker, doctors recommend that you quit smoking immediately.
But with alcohol, there is no clear answer yet. Doctors say more research is needed.
How alcohol affects your body when you have COPD
However, alcohol affects your body when you have COPD. Drinking alcohol can make you more likely to get a respiratory infection.
“Alcohol increases the risk of respiratory infection by interfering with the mechanisms of respiratory clearance,” Schachter says.
This is because it paralyzes the eyelashes, short fibers that look like eyelashes. These constantly sweep the mucus down your throat, where you swallow it or spit it out, Schachter says.
While it’s generally okay to have a few drinks if you have COPD, there is still the possibility that drinking alcohol can cause your COPD symptoms to flare up. This is because alcohol lowers the levels of glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant in your lungs that helps protect them. The likelihood of you having a flare is worse if you drink and smoke cigarettes.
Drugs for alcohol and COPD
Drinking alcohol can interfere with any medications you may be taking for COPD, such as antibiotics or steroids.
“Alcohol can independently reduce the effectiveness of certain antibiotics and steroids, two key agents for the treatment of COPD,” Schachter explains. “With excessive use, it causes liver damage, which interferes with the metabolism of many drugs detoxified by the liver.”
This can cause unwanted side effects.
Alcohol can increase the effects of anxiety or pain relievers. This could cause your heart rate and breathing to slow down. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your specific COPD medications to make sure that drinking alcohol won’t cause any unwanted interactions or side effects.
Alcohol and drug addiction
If you have COPD and alcohol addiction, getting help is important. Heavy smokers are much more likely to be addicted to alcohol, Schachter says.
“We know that a significant addiction to smoking is associated with addiction to alcohol,” he says. “People addicted to alcohol are several times more likely to smoke than people who do not drink or those who drink moderately.”
Always talk to your doctor if you have any questions about COPD and alcohol. They can give you advice specific to you and your treatment plan and can help you find the best ways for you to control your COPD.
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