Alcohol can affect your health in many different ways. Most people are aware that excessive drinking can damage your liver and cardiovascular system. It can also damage your digestive system, leading to malnutrition and even increasing your risk of cancer. Many people see these conditions as problems for the distant future. You may be less aware that alcohol also damages your immune system, increasing your risk of potentially fatal illnesses such as pneumonia. There are a number of ways alcohol impairs your immune system, making you more likely to get sick. First, it’s important to know that the microbes living in your intestines, your gut’s microbiome, plays an important role in fighting diseases. This happens in many ways that we’re just beginning to understand. When you drink a lot of alcohol, it has many negative effects on your digestive system. It damages the epithelial cells in your intestines, making it harder to absorb many nutrients. It also severely disturbs your gut’s microbiome, significantly altering the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. Alcohol affects the way health gut microbes interact with the immune system. Alcohol also disrupts the gut barrier, allowing more bacteria to pass into the blood. These rogue bacteria can cause inflammation in the liver and may lead to liver damage. Alcohol doesn’t just affect the function of the digestive tract. It also affects the respiratory system. Excessive drinking may impair the function of immune cells in the lungs and upper respiratory system, leading to increased risk for pneumonia, tuberculosis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. Because the immunity of the mucus is impaired in both the lungs and digestive tract, any disease can become more severe. Studies have even found that heavy drinking increases your risk of contracting HIV. Excessive drinking reduces the number and function of three important kinds of cells in your immune system–macrophages, T and C cells. Macrophages are the first line of defense against disease. They eat anything that’s not supposed to be there, including cancerous cells, and they sound the alarm if pathogens are present. T cells are antibodies to specific pathogens. They are the reason vaccines work and why you can’t get chicken pox twice. Your T cells already know how to kill those specific kinds of viruses. B cells are white blood cells that secrete cytokines that attack bacteria. When B and T cells are suppressed, your immune system is less efficient at identifying and destroying invading pathogens. Although regular heavy drinking is clearly the worst for your immune system, binge drinking can also knock out your immune system temporarily. It may not seem like a big deal to have your immune system impaired for only a few hours, but if you happen to be in a crowded place like a bar or party during those hours, or engage in risky sex while drinking, your defenses will be lowered when you are most exposed to bacteria and viruses.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.