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  • Alcohol abuse is linked to a higher risk of various types of lung damage. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), various types of lung infections, and other forms of acute lung injuries are more common in patients with a history of chronic alcohol abuse.

    Lung problems caused by alcohol have sometimes been called “alcoholic lung disease,” but the term has seen less use in recent years in favor of more specific diagnoses.

    Reducing or quitting your drinking habits can help you avoid long-term lung damage. If you feel like you cannot control your drinking habits despite health problems, you may want to look at professional treatment options.

    Effects Of Alcohol On The Lungs

    Alcohol’s effects on the lungs are not fully understood, but recent studies have linked alcohol abuse to a weakened immune system, reduced immune function, and decreased resistance to some infectious diseases.

    Drinking alcohol can suppress your cough and gag reflex, which are both natural ways for your body to keep your throat and lungs clean. 

    Alcohol use is linked to decreased amounts of the antioxidant glutathione, which is important for flushing out toxic chemicals and defending against pathogens.

    Damaged Lung Cells

    Alcohol and its main ingredient ethanol can also affect different types of lung cells. White blood cells in air sacs of the lungs (also known as alveolar macrophages) and alveolar epithelial cells in the air sacs may also be harmed due to alcohol use.

    Types Of Alcohol-Related Lung Problems

    Alcohol can, directly and indirectly, lead to lung problems. Impairment caused by alcohol intoxication can lead to inhaling potentially harmful substances, and the link between alcohol and a weakened immune system is well-known.

    The lung problems linked to alcohol use vary widely.

    Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

    Acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, is a potentially life-threatening pulmonary disease. Chronic alcohol ingestion has been linked to ARDS for many years, and reduced amounts of glutathione in alcoholic patients is one of the most likely reasons why.

    Symptoms of ARDS include:

    • inflammation in the lungs
    • leakage of fluid into air pockets (the alveolar space)
    • hypoxemia (low levels of oxygen in the blood)
    • clotting of blood vessels

    Other risk factors for ARDS include sepsis (body-wide inflammation), pancreatitis, older age, and liver damage. Alcohol is also linked to many of these health problems.

    Pulmonary (Lung) Infections

    With chronic alcohol abuse, the lungs have an increased susceptibility to bacterial infections. Two bacteria that can cause lung infections are streptococcus pneumoniae and klebsiella pneumoniae. These bacteria can cause types of pneumonia.

    Excessive alcohol use is linked to higher incidences of pneumonia that need hospitalization. Most cases of pneumonia do not lead to hospitalization, but the ones that do have a much higher mortality rate. Pneumonia was still a leading cause of death in the U.S. as of 2019.

    Alcohol can also increase your chances of getting tuberculosis, a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection.

    Lowering Your Risk Of Alcohol-Related Lung Problems

    Cutting back on your alcohol intake is an effective way to avoid alcohol-related lung problems. Alcohol cannot affect your body negatively if you do not drink it.

    If you are unable to cut back on your heavy drinking habits, you may have an alcohol use disorder (AUD). One possible sign of AUD is experiencing constant health problems due to alcohol abuse, but still not being able to quit.

    Getting treatment for AUD can help you avoid lung damage, hospitalization, time spent in an intensive care unit, and other serious problems. To find the best treatment available for you or your loved ones, talk to your healthcare provider or 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 - Alcohol's Effects on Lung Health and Immunity
    Alcohol Research and Health - Alcoholic Lung Disease
    International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health - Alcohol Consumption and Development of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: A Population-Based Study
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcoholic Lung Disease

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on August 13, 2021
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