Even low to moderate amounts of alcohol may cause problems for a person with joint pain. People who use alcohol, especially chronic, heavy drinkers, may experience their symptoms more heavily.
For a person with an existing alcohol use disorder, such as someone who struggles with alcoholism, alcohol addiction treatment can give them an excellent chance to overcome harmful patterns of drinking that are damaging their health. These positive steps may help a person gain sobriety and reduce alcohol-related joint pain.
Can Alcohol Use Cause Joint Pain?
The ways that alcohol use can cause joint pain can be complex and be dependent on a variety of factors, such a person’s health and the presence of any medical conditions. In many cases, a component or chemical in the alcohol can trigger a reaction in a person that causes pain. It can also weaken a person’s health and make it harder for them to take care of themselves or manage their medical condition.
Alcohol Use Can Aggravate A Preexisting Condition Or Disease That Causes Joint Pain
A variety of illnesses and diseases can cause joint pain that ranges from mild to severe. This pain may be accompanied by inflammation, swelling and tenderness. With certain illnesses and diseases, alcohol use may cause a person’s condition to become more severe.
Joint pain caused by the following conditions may be exacerbated by alcohol use:
- celiac disease
- musculoskeletal conditions
- non-celiac gluten sensitivity
- osteoarthritis (OA)
- other types of arthritis
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Individuals with these conditions may want to consider speaking to their doctor prior to consuming alcohol, this could be especially true if they take any pain relievers or other medications to manage their symptoms.
Alcohol Use Can Weaken The Immune System
Alcohol can impair the immune system. This can make it more difficult for the body to heal itself.
For a person with a condition that causes joint pain, this could make it harder for the body to combat the conditions that trigger pain. For acute injuries, such as sprains or falls, that cause joint pain, this could potentially slow down the healing process, causing the pain to last longer.
Alcohol Use Can Make It More Difficult For A Person To Take Care Of Themselves
Alcohol use can also lead a person to ignore important aspects of self-care, such as a healthy diet, proper hydration, sleep, and medication management.
Eating poorly, becoming dehydrated, not getting enough sleep or skipping meds could potentially cause a person’s condition to be exacerbated and the pain to become more pronounced. Specifically, these things affect joint health in the following ways:
- Staying hydrated: Good hydration is essential to keep the joints lubricated. It also helps to fight inflammation.
- Eating poorly: While drinking, many people are more prone to eat junk food, or food full of refined carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fats. It’s believed these substances can increase inflammation. On the other hand, a balanced diet that contains fruits and vegetables and omega-3 rich foods like certain fish could promote better joint health.
- Medication mismanagement: By skipping a dose or more of their medication, a person’s pain could increase. Alcohol’s effects could cause a person to forget a dose. Some people purposely skip their medication so that they can drink and avoid the unpleasant side effects of the drugs interacting.
- Sleep: Sleep is vital to a person’s well-being. Without good sleep, a person’s immune system can drop. Further, during stage three of the sleep cycle (the restorative stage of sleep) the body repairs itself, mending damage to muscles and other tissue.
How Alcohol Use Affects Disease-Related Joint Pain
A number of diseases that cause frequent or chronic joint pain may be made worse by alcohol:
Alcohol Use And Autoimmune Diseases
Symptoms of certain autoimmune diseases that cause joint pain, such as celiac disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, could potentially be aggravated by alcohol.
Grain-based alcohols, such as those that are made with wheat, barley, and rye, may cause flare-ups of joint pain in people with these diseases. Beer, vodka and certain types of whiskey frequently contain these grains.
Alcohol Use And Fibromyalgia
Though research has found that low to moderate amounts of alcohol use may ease pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia, an excess could alcohol reverses any benefit. For individuals with an existing alcohol use disorder, the risks of drinking any amount of alcohol could outweigh any benefits it offers.
Alcohol Use And Osteoarthritis
Alcohol use may increase the risk of a person developing certain types of osteoarthritis, a condition also referred to as a degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis. One study found that people who consumed beer had a higher risk of knee or hip osteoarthritis.
Alcohol Use And Gout
Research shows that alcohol can not only trigger gout but cause a higher risk of recurrent gout attacks. This holds true with wine, beer, and liquor.
Gout is more common in men. One study found that men who drank just moderate amounts of alcohol (in the study this was two or fewer drinks per day) had a 41 percent increased risk of recurrent gout attacks. Certain types of alcohol, such as many beers, contain high amounts of purines, a compound that breaks down to uric acid. Uric acid crystals in and around a joint are what causes gout.
Bone Tissue Death And Alcohol Use
Excessive, daily alcohol use, over the course of several years, is a risk factor for avascular necrosis or osteonecrosis, or death of the bone tissue.
This condition occurs when a lack of blood supply causes the bone tissue to die off. This can lead to minuscule cracks, and may even cause the bone to collapse. The foot, hand, hip, knee, and shoulder can be afflicted by this painful condition.
Does Alcohol Reduce Inflammation Or Pain?
Some research suggests that moderate alcohol use may reduce certain biomarkers of inflammation and prevent the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. However, individuals with existing RA may find that the cons of drinking alcohol outweigh the pros. Another study found that low to moderate alcohol consumption may reduce fibromyalgia symptoms.
Drinking alcohol to achieve these effects could be an unwise decision on many levels. In some people, it may lead to alcohol use or addiction.
Using alcohol to reduce symptoms or the risk of a disease could be replaced by other, better lifestyle choices. Further, people who have previously struggled with alcohol use or who are addicted to alcohol could see already dangerous patterns of use accelerated by drinking in this way.
The Danger Of Self-Medicating Joint Pain With Alcohol
Pain, whether it be infrequent or chronic, can be debilitating and reduce a person’s quality of life. It may also negatively impact their ability to work, go to school, enjoy relationships or take part in meaningful activities. On top of this, depression and anxiety are each linked to pain, both as a symptom and in certain cases, as a cause.
To combat these struggles, a person may turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication. But as the joint pain and the strife it causes continues, a person may begin drinking more heavily or frequently. This can give momentum to alcohol use, to the point that addiction develops or becomes more severe.
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Side Effects, Risks And Dangers Of Mixing Alcohol With Medications
Mixing alcohol with medications, especially certain pain meds, can be a risky combination. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can interact with alcohol in a harmful way. Additionally, certain drugs are less effective when combined with alcohol.
The Risk Of Mixing Over-The-Counter Medications With Alcohol
Many people mistakenly think that because a medication is sold over the counter that it carries no risk or that it’s safe to mix with alcohol. But the truth is, even over-the-counter drugs can be dangerous when mixed with alcohol.
Some of the most common over-the-counter medications used to treat pain can stress vital organs and cause serious complications when taken with alcohol.
The following non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may increase the risk of ulcers and stomach or GI bleeding:
- aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin, Excedrin)
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- naproxen (Aleve)
Acetaminophen (Tylenol), another popular over-the-counter pain reliever, can increase the risk of liver problems.
The Danger Of Combining Prescription Medications With Alcohol
Various prescription medications used to treat joint pain or other symptoms of diseases that cause joint pain may interact with alcohol, including opioid painkillers:
Non-Opioid Prescription Medications That May Be Harmful When Used With Alcohol
Used with alcohol, certain prescription medications can increase the risk of GI bleeding, such as:
- celecoxib (Celebrex)
When taken with alcohol, the following prescription medications could cause liver damage or raise the risk of irreversible cirrhosis (liver scarring and failure):
- methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall)
- mycophenolate (CellCept, Myfortic)
- leflunomide (Arava)
Opioid Medications That Are Dangerous When Used With Alcohol
Mixing opioid painkillers and alcohol can cause central nervous system depression. More specifically it can cause respiratory depression, a potentially fatal condition that causes difficult and slowed breathing.
The following opioids may be prescribed to manage pain caused by osteoarthritis:
- codeine (Tylenol 1, 2, 3 or 4)
- hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- oxycodone (Percocet, Percodan)
Opioids can cause dependence if misused or used for long periods of time. Because of this, many doctors may prefer to try different alternatives for pain management.
Treating Alcohol-Related Joint Pain And Alcohol Use
The treatment for alcohol-induced joint pain will vary per person and per medical condition. It will also be dependent on the particulars of their alcohol use disorder. Before selecting a treatment center, it’s important to find out if they’re equipped to handle a certain medical problem during the course of treatment.
Medical treatments that seek to reduce and manage pain should be delivered. If a person has developed an addiction to an opioid painkiller, appropriate treatment for this addiction should also be integrated into treatment. Non-addictive medications may be used as needed. Some rehab programs offer holistic therapies that treat both pain and substance use disorders, including massage and acupuncture.
The exact length and form of treatment is different person to person. Struggling with chronic pain and addiction can deeply change a person’s life and cause negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. To counter this, and to build more positive mindsets, intensive therapies may be used.
Inpatient drug rehab centers can help a person to regain a more healthful life. These residential programs also teaching sober living skills that can help a person better manage their pain and recovery journey.
Reach out to Vertava Health for more info on joint pain, other health problems caused by alcohol use and treatment options.