Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) is a lung disease caused by long-term lung damage, usually due to smoking. Although smoking has been identified as the primary culprit for causing COPD and triggering COPD exacerbations or “flare-ups”, what effect would the use of another drug have on COPD, say, for example alcohol?
When alcohol is administered to a person without COPD, it nevertheless produces alarming side effects. The acute effects of ingesting small doses of ethyl alcohol are: euphoria, mild stimulation, relaxation and lowered inhibitions. Whereas, the acute effects of consuming large quantities of the substance lead to drowsiness, slurred speech, nausea, emotional volatility, loss of coordination, visual distortions, impaired memory, sexual dysfunction, and loss of consciousness. The effects of long-term abuse and overuse of alcohol are even more distressing and include high blood pressure, stroke, cirrhosis, nerve damage, and ulcers among others.
Long term alcohol abuse is a health risk for anyone; however, alcohol and COPD research has yielded some rather conflicting results.
In people without COPD, moderate wine intake is associated with overall better lung functionality. Also, heavy alcohol consumption is not linked to increased risk of a COPD flare-up, when it is independent of smoking. Although, chronic long-term alcohol consumption combined with oxidative stress (such as, tobacco smoke, air pollution, dangerous chemicals and other airway irritants) does not lead to acute lung injury and aggravation of COPD symptoms. While, abstaining from alcohol improves the diffusing capacity of the lungs, it does not improve airway obstruction in COPD.
Unfortunately, it does get worse from here; alcohol abuse causes a grave deficiency of glutathione (an antioxidant) in the lungs which makes your more susceptible for serious lung diseases not to mention aggravating any existing COPD symptoms. Chronic alcohol consumption is also associated with a higher risk of decreased total lung capacity, residual volume, forced vital capacity, and the diffusing capacity of the lungs, which poses a definitive health risk for COPD sufferers. This risk is only augmented when considering the fact that long-term overuse of alcohol weakens mucus-clearing ability and decreases mortality in COPD. It is also important to remember that alcohol may interfere with several COPD medications such as, glucocorticoids and antibiotics. Alcohol can also potentiate the effects of anxiety and pain medication which could slow down your breathing rate to such an extent as to be fatal.
The decision to drink alcohol is a personal one which should not be undertaken lightly, as with all other aspects of your lifestyle which relate to COPD. The most reasonable approach to drinking alcohol, if you have COPD is to consult your doctor for specific guidelines. A qualified physician will be able to assess your medical history in combination with your current health to provide you with the best advice on how much alcohol you can consume without it endangering your health or well-being. By being well-informed and maintaining healthy communication with your doctor, COPD doesn’t have to prevent you from living the life you want to lead –with or without alcohol.