How Alcoholism Makes Us More Susceptible to Infections and Illnesses

Alcoholism and the abuse of alcohol can weaken our body’s defence system and increase vulnerability to infections and illnesses. It can hinder the functioning of immune cells, impair antibody production, and disrupt the balance of gut bacteria. These effects can collectively undermine the body’s ability to effectively recognise, combat, and neutralise harmful pathogens, leaving us more prone to infections and susceptible to a range of illnesses.

Let’s look at how binge drinking and chronic alcohol abuse can affect our overall health and wellbeing.

What Is an Infection?

An infection is caused when a foreign organism invades the body and multiplies. These invaders can be anything from bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi. They can cause a range of illnesses from minor colds and flu to more serious health problems like pneumonia or sepsis.

Infections are the reasons behind many well-known conditions such as:Alcohol Worsens Mouth Bacteria

According to a study published in the journal Microbiome on the 23rd of April, 2018, researchers from NYU School of Medicine discovered that participants who consumed one or more alcoholic beverages per day may have disrupted a healthy combination of oral microbes, potentially leading to gum infections, cancer, or cardiovascular disease.

A research study was performed on 1044 individuals from two US national cohorts to investigate the association between alcohol consumption and the oral microbiome. The oral microbiome’s bacterial composition was analysed using 16S rRNA gene sequencing, and comparisons were made between groups based on drinking habits to assess the overall community composition and taxa abundance.

Their experiment has shown that alcohol consumption may result in changes to oral bacteria, which could lead to a decrease in beneficial bacteria and an increase in harmful bacteria. These changes have been linked to illnesses such as periodontitis, head and neck cancer, and digestive tract cancers. However, further studies are required to establish a direct correlation between changes in bacterial composition and disease characteristics.

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How Does Alcohol Affect Our Immune System?

Alcohol has a significant impact on our immune system, compromising its function and effectiveness in several ways.

Chronic alcohol consumption impairs the production and functioning of immune cells, particularly white blood cells which play a crucial role in defending the body against pathogens. Drinking disrupts the production of antibodies, which are essential for identifying and neutralising harmful substances like bacteria and viruses. This disruption weakens the body’s ability to mount an effective immune response against infections.

Alcohol also dysregulates the body’s inflammatory response, leading to excessive and prolonged inflammation that can impair immune function and cause tissue damage. As a result of these effects, those who consume alcohol excessively are more susceptible to infections.

Excessive drinking can also delay the healing process of wounds, cuts and injuries by slowing down cell production and impairing blood vessel formation. It can also disrupt normal tissue repair mechanisms, thereby increasing the risk of infection.

Alcohol and the Innate Immune System

Multiple research studies have shown that alcohol has a dose-dependent impact on the ability of monocytes and macrophages to bind to lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a component of bacterial cell walls. Studies conducted in vivo have demonstrated that binge drinking with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of around 0.4% can decrease the production of interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-10, and IL-12, as well as other inflammatory cytokines.

Monocytes express Toll-like receptor 4, which recognises LPS on Gram-negative bacteria and activates the cells. These cells then mature into macrophages and produce cytokines to initiate an inflammatory response at the infection site.

The activation of nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB) mediates these events, which can be prevented by alcohol consumption and inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.


Mixing Alcohol and Antibiotics

You may have been prescribed antibiotics to improve your immune system and fight or prevent a bacterial infection. However, if you keep on drinking, you will encounter the effects of a new issue: mixing alcohol and antibiotics has specific side effects which can be quite harmful.

During the process of alcohol metabolism, acetaldehyde is produced by the body, which may lead to feelings of nausea. Consuming alcohol while taking antibiotics can exacerbate existing gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, which are commonly experienced by patients. Both alcohol and antibiotics have been found to negatively affect cognitive function, concentration, and coordination, as well as potentially causing gastrointestinal issues. When taking antibiotics, it is important to keep in mind that consuming alcohol can disrupt the body’s necessary functions, such as sleep and hydration, which are crucial for recuperating from a bacterial infection.

Due to these and many more factors, it’s best to stay away from consuming any alcoholic beverages, including lager, ale, cyders and other liquids considered to be low-alcoholic. Staying sober for the duration of your antibiotic treatment will greatly help your treatment.

How to Tackle the Problem?

Tackling the problem of alcoholism and its susceptibility to infections and illnesses starts with understanding the root causes. It’s important to identify any underlying issues that may be fuelling your drinking, such as stress, anxiety or depression, and address them in a healthy way. Speaking to a therapist or counsellor can be an effective way of managing these issues.

The Providence Projects offers comprehensive treatment for alcoholism, provided by a team who understand alcohol-related problems. Alcohol addiction treatment at our rehabilitation centre addresses both the physical and psychological nature of dependence, helping you regain control of your life. If you feel like you are losing control over your drinking, then it is time to talk to us. We can help you decide what is the best route for your current situation.

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