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  • The effects of Alcohol can impact every part of the body including the lungs. However, how alcohol affects the lungs is still being understood. 

    Alcoholic lung disease isn’t currently an accepted diagnosis because the connection between heavy alcohol consumption and lung issues hasn’t been studied as much as alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis.

    That being said, the effects of alcohol on the lungs can be just as serious. A few of the diseases that fall under the alcoholic lung disease umbrella include alcoholic pneumonia, acute lung injury, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). 

    Causes Of Alcoholic Lung Disease

    The most common cause of alcohol-related lung damage is heavy drinking for a significant period of time. Excessive drinking alters the airways by getting in the way of the inhalation process, decreasing saliva production, and putting you at higher risk of bacteria in the mouth.

    An increase in bacteria in the mouth can lead to an infection in the lungs and, in turn, lung disease. Excessive drinking can also decrease the body’s ability to fight off infection, weaken the immune system, and lead to a buildup of bacteria that spreads to the trachea and lungs.

    All these issues can increase the risk of alcoholic pneumonia and ARDS.

    Side Effects Of Alcoholic Lung Disease

    Alcoholic pneumonia, ARDS, and any lung injury due to excessive alcohol use come with similar side effects, but ARDS is the most serious and can be life-threatening. 

    Some of the side effects or symptoms of all these disorders include:

    • excessive coughing
    • fever or chills
    • fatigue
    • chest pain
    • shortness of breath
    • sweating
    • excessive amounts of mucus/phlegm
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • fast breathing
    • fast heart rate
    • crackling sound in lungs
    • low blood pressure

    Risk Factors For Alcoholic Lung Disease

    Alcoholic lung disease can happen to anyone of any age. Even young adults who are drinking large amounts of alcohol can develop these disorders. It doesn’t discriminate but there are a few risk factors for the disease you should look out for, including:

    • history of alcohol abuse
    • past issues with lungs or breathing disorders
    • family history of alcohol use disorder

    Alcoholic Lung Disease Treatment

    Alcohol-related lung issues, unfortunately, don’t have a quick fix. While there are treatment plans, the most effective way to prevent any further damage to the lungs is to stop drinking alcohol. 

    Alcohol Addiction Treatment

    To prevent further damage to your lungs, quitting alcohol is vital. If you’re a heavy drinker and have an alcohol addiction, inpatient treatment and short-term medical detox may be recommended. 

    Medical detox programs offer the supervision of medical professionals to ensure you withdraw from alcohol as safely as possible. 

    When the alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur, staff can give you medication to help ease them. During this process, they are also likely to give you something for your lungs as well.

    After detox, you’ll likely start therapy, learn coping skills to get through cravings, and participate in support groups.

    Breathing Support

    For those with the more serious acute respiratory distress syndrome, rehab isn’t enough. You may need to go through oxygen therapy and receive breathing support. This treatment raises oxygen levels in the blood by shooting oxygen through tubes placed in the nose or windpipe.

    Your doctor may suggest you get a breathing support machine. These machines include devices like bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) or continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).


    Medication can also help relieve some of the symptoms of alcoholic lung disease or prevent any complications. Some of the medications your healthcare provider may prescribe include:

    • antibiotics
    • muscle relaxants
    • pain medicines
    • sedatives

    While over-the-counter cough medicine or cough syrup could help with the coughing, because many have alcohol in them, they’re not recommended for those with alcohol use disorder.

    If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use or related health problems, please contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Alcohol Research and Health - Alcoholic Lung Disease
    American Journal of Physiology - The alcoholic lung: epidemiology, pathophysiology, and potential therapies
    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome
    PubMed - Alcoholic lung disease
    StatPearls - Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on July 4, 2022
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