How does alcohol consumption affect the lungs?


In this article, I'll talk about the harmful effect of alcohol on the respiratory system and how it damages the lungs.

Table of contents

Alcohol is a drug that is part of our daily lives, but that does not mean that it is free of risks to our health. It can affect different systems and organs of our body, including the lungs.

Alcohol has been widely used in different cultures over the centuries for different purposes, mostly cultural and religious. For many people, alcohol is part of their daily lives, usually in the form of leisure or as usual, whether it is the beers when leaving work with friends, the drink after dinner, the toast to celebrate or the glass of wine to accompany the meal, these are just a few examples of how alcohol is present in an important way in our daily lives.

However, although its consumption is widely accepted and its presence in social events is common, alcohol is a toxic component that affects behavior, has depressant effects and has the ability to cause dependence.

Alcoholic lung disease
Alcoholic lung disease (Source: Wikipedia)

1. Alcohol, society and legality

These harmful consequences mean that alcohol is classified as a drug, even if it is legal. We can easily get alcohol in any supermarket or bar from the age of eighteen, which is the minimum age in Germany to access the purchase of alcoholic beverages.

In recent years, awareness of alcohol and the health risks it entails, both physical and mental, has increased. This has been thanks, in part, to all the information we have in the age of communications and the visibility of the problems involved in excessive consumption of this poison.

But, also thanks to the reduction of the stigma about the abuse disorder and dependence on this substance, since alcoholism is considered a disease and not the responsibility of the person who suffers from it by more and more people. Currently, we can talk a little more than years ago about this serious problem that can affect ourselves or people close to us.

However, despite these advances in society in general regarding the knowledge of the dangers derived from alcohol, we are not really aware of how alcohol affects our body and what repercussions the consumption of this harmful substance can have on our health.

What's more, there is some contradictory information between what people consider to be responsible consumption, which does not affect our health, and what doctors and specialists say about it. For example, a few years ago the term weekend alcoholic was coined, which are people who do not conceive of going out without getting drunk.

The damage that alcohol can cause does not depend only on the frequency, it also depends on the amount and intensity of alcohol intake (the amount of substance ingested in a period of time), it is what is known as the "consumption pattern".

It has been shown that an intake of the same amount of alcohol in a shorter time is likely to create more problems in the body. If consumption is also converted into a habit, and you can't go out or enjoy without drinking, this becomes a real problem that often goes unnoticed because we associate it with normal behavior.

Beyond the beliefs of society and the general awareness about alcohol, or our way of downplaying certain consumption habits that surround this substance, and the problems that its harmful consumption entails, it is only medicine and science, through studies, that can determine what are the true effects of regular alcohol consumption on our body.

Among the many affected systems, the lungs and their tissues are especially susceptible to different infections and injuries, exposing the damage can be useful to highlight how excessive drinking really affects our health. In this article, I'll talk about the harmful effect of alcohol on the respiratory system and how it damages the lungs.

2. What are the risks of alcohol?

Actually, drinking alcohol regularly or sporadically in large quantities is a public health problem worldwide. Alcoholism is associated with more than 200 diseases and injuries. Around the world, there are 3 million deaths per year that have to do with alcohol consumption.

This figure represents 5.3% of all deaths, and this number is multiplied by four among young people between the ages of 20 and 39.

In addition, people with drinking-related problems suffer significant economic and social losses. They may lose their jobs or distance themselves from their family. The environment of the person, family, friends or co-workers, can also suffer from this disease.

There is a direct relationship between excessive alcohol consumption and different disorders, with alcohol dependence and abuse being a disorder in itself included in the different diagnostic manuals.

The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) collected two different disorders in terms of alcohol consumption, that of abuse and that of alcohol dependence, with specific symptoms and guidelines for each of them.

The alcohol consumption disorder (ACD) described in the DSM-5 integrates the two disorders, alcohol abuse and dependence, and establishes a classification between mild, moderate and severe.

It is difficult to establish the prevalence of this disease, since it is under diagnosed by being masked within a regular consumption. The surveys in this case refer to daily alcohol intake, which in the USA is at 60% of the general adult population.

It has long been known that people can not only develop a mental health problem and dependence on this drug, but they can also suffer serious physical health problems that affect all the systems, organs and tissues of the human body.

The most well-known diseases and conditions commonly attributed to excessive alcohol consumption are liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cardiovascular diseases, dementia and other pathologies of the nervous system.

3. How does alcohol damage your lungs?

Many doctors and specialists focus the attention of alcohol consumption on its effects on the liver, due to the problems of alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis and its serious health consequences.

However, the lungs and respiratory system are also especially susceptible to infections and injuries, as the latest studies show. Alcoholics are at greater risk of developing some respiratory diseases and infections.

Normally, the deterioration of the immune system associated with alcohol consumption disorder is responsible for the risk of suffering these pathologies of the respiratory system. The immune cells that defend us from pneumonia, tuberculosis, RSV infection and ARDS and other lung conditions are mainly neutrophils, lymphocytes and alveolar macrophages, in addition to all the cells responsible for innate immune responses.

Studies are beginning to focus on how alcohol affects the cells of the immune system and how these effects contribute to the pathological processes of diseases of the respiratory system.

One of the ways in which the immune system is altered is due to the change in the respiratory tract that is associated with alcohol consumption, over time, the inhalation process can be modified, and also decrease the production of saliva. Saliva contains an enzyme called lysozyme that fights bacteria, so a decrease in salivation increases the risk of suffering an infection.

The loss of the body's general ability to fight infections increases the risk of bacteria spreading through the respiratory tract. Below, I'm going to detail the most common lung conditions related to alcohol consumption.

3.1 Alcoholic pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs caused by the spread of bacteria or viruses. This respiratory infection is for example the leading cause of death in Spain in recent years.

There are many types of pneumonia, some less dangerous than others, pneumonia is more likely to be serious and even fatal in people who consume alcohol. Alcohol is one of several risk factors for pneumonia, and in particular the most serious way that has the worst health consequences.

There are several mechanisms that explain the increased risk of alcoholic people to suffer from pneumonia and how alcohol affects the pathophysiology of the disease.

Alcohol affects several systems that help us defend ourselves. First, like other toxins, it can affect the normal functioning of immune cells that fight, among others, bacteria that enter the body through the respiratory tract.

In addition, alcohol also affects the body's ability to create mucus, mucus is a substance that allows us to expel pathogens from our body, less production will cause more microorganisms harmful to our health to sneak in.

3.2 Acute lung injury

Recently, it was discovered how regular alcohol consumption can increase the risk of other acute respiratory conditions, apart from pneumonia. In particular, it has been studied how alcohol influences the worsening of acute lung injury that occurs after a serious accident or trauma, and on acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Alcohol, like other toxins, has effects on the formation of free radicals and can exhaust the antioxidants that fight them, including glutathione, which plays an important role in the inflammatory response. Having little glutathione in the body due to the usual consumption of alcohol means that the lungs have fewer resources to fight against invaders, particularly bacteria.

In addition, glutathione is a substance that is mainly generated in the liver, therefore, this organ can also be affected.

3.3 Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) occurs when fluid accumulates in the small elastic air sacs of the lungs, the alveoli. The fluid means that the lungs cannot fill up with enough air, so less oxygen enters the blood, causing a whole series of symptoms in the body.

ARDS can be caused by any aggression to the lung that results in a direct or indirect injury, this can occur, for example, by the inhalation of some chemical, such as an acid.

Alcohol, being a toxic, can also be an external aggressor and capable of causing a serious inflammatory response that causes injuries to the lung and causes the accumulation of fluid, responsible for ARDS.

According to the studies, the risk of respiratory distress syndrome is fourfold in people who consume alcohol regularly. It also affects the mortality rate, which is higher in alcoholics than in the rest of the general population.

❤️ Enjoy this Newsletter?

If you enjoyed this edition, please share the love with your friends and family members. And let them know where they can subscribe [here]

Follow Me on Twitter [@f_djiometio]

Until next edition, take care.

Disclaimer: This article is purely informative, I have no authority to make a diagnosis or recommend treatment. I invite you to visit a psychologist to treat your particular case.