Heavy alcohol consumption can negatively affect COPD by worsening lung function, causing allergic reactions and creating difficulty breathing during sleep.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may wonder if you can have alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can negatively affect people with COPD.

People who have COPD would benefit from speaking with a medical professional about their alcohol consumption to ensure they are not jeopardizing their health. Alcohol treatment may be necessary for people who drink heavily and are unable to stop on their own.

Effects of Drinking Alcohol With COPD

Alcohol affects every function and system of the body, regardless of whether a person has COPD. However, alcohol use (especially drinking in excess) can exacerbate COPD symptoms and can affect:

  • Lung health
  • Sleep quality
  • Allergic reactions

People with COPD may be able to safely consume small quantities of alcohol. Some research shows that people who drink alcohol in moderation are less likely to develop COPD or COPD symptoms than people who do not drink alcohol.

While small quantities of alcohol may be safe, heavy drinking can make COPD symptoms worse. One study found that among COPD patients who were discharged from the hospital, those who struggled with alcoholism were more likely to require readmission to the hospital within 30 days. Alcohol abuse could exacerbate COPD symptoms to the point that hospitalization is necessary.

How Alcohol Abuse Affects Lung Health in COPD

Drinking high quantities of alcohol can harm healthy lung functioning and thereby worsen COPD. Over time, drinking too much alcohol can weaken the lungs’ ability to clear themselves of mucus. This issue can lead to breathing problems and symptom exacerbation in people with COPD.

Alcohol’s Effect on Sleep in COPD

Beyond worsening lung functioning, alcohol can create breathing problems during sleep in people with COPD. Research shows that heavy drinking can elevate the risk of sleep apnea by 25%. Alcohol-induced breathing problems during sleep can be especially dangerous for individuals with COPD, who normally have lower oxygen levels than most people.

Allergic Reactions to Alcohol in COPD

Some people with COPD may demonstrate allergic and allergic-like reactions following alcohol consumption. Allergic reactions to alcohol for people who have COPD may involve:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Increased breathing difficulties
  • Itching
  • Flushing of the skin

The research shows that these reactions are more common among women and people with COPD. While any alcohol can cause these symptoms to occur, wine specifically appears to be a common cause of allergic reactions.

Wine sensitivity can occur among people with COPD due to the histamine and sulfites in wine. In addition to causing respiratory difficulties, wine can produce allergic reactions and uncomfortable symptoms, like skin itching or flushing. By creating an allergic reaction, wine and other alcoholic beverages can exacerbate the breathing difficulties and discomfort that occur with COPD.

Alcohol can negatively affect COPD and even increase the risk of death among individuals with this condition. Moderate to high levels of alcohol consumption are associated with a 25% increased risk of death from COPD.

Alcohol and COPD can be a dangerous combination. One study found that having COPD increases the risk of dying in the hospital among those dependent upon alcohol. It is possible that alcohol-related complications can be fatal for some people with COPD.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Alcohol Abuse and COPD

Abusing alcohol can create symptoms of allergic reactions, worsen lung functioning, and lead to sleep-disordered breathing, all of which can compromise the health of someone with COPD. Despite these consequences, some people may develop an addiction to alcohol and be unable to give up drinking on their own.

If you or a loved one struggle with co-occurring alcohol abuse and COPD, treatment of the alcohol use disorder is necessary to improve health and prevent complications. Treatment may involve medical care, individual and group therapy, medication (if necessary) or a combination of these modalities.

The Recovery Village has services available to treat alcoholism, with locations across the country. Reach out to an admissions representative today to begin your journey toward recovery.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.