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  • Some people have misconceptions about how alcohol affects COVID-19. Others don’t realize there’s any connection between alcohol abuse and the new coronavirus. 

    Here’s what you need to know about alcohol and COVID-19.

    Drinking Alcohol Doesn’t Protect You From COVID-19

    Alcohol cleaning products and hand sanitizers are effective at killing the COVID-19 virus on surfaces and skin. But it doesn’t work the same way inside your body. Drinking alcohol doesn’t prevent you from becoming infected, nor does it kill the virus if it’s already in your system.

    In August 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning that hand sanitizer shouldn’t be ingested. 

    Effective hand sanitizers contain at least 60 percent alcohol, and drinking them can cause alcohol poisoning. Many hand sanitizers made during the COVID-19 pandemic also contain methanol, a toxic substance that can kill you if you drink it.

    Other types of alcohol—wine, beer, and liquor—are no better at preventing or treating COVID-19. Alcohol use and abuse can lead to many health issues that raise the risk of complications with the new coronavirus.

    Alcohol Weakens Your Immune System

    Studies show that alcohol weakens your immune system. In the period of recovery after drinking, your body is focused on ridding itself of toxins and is more vulnerable to illness.

    Heavy drinking increases the chance that you’ll get pneumonia, cancer, and other diseases. If you get sick, you’re likely to heal more slowly.

    Alcohol addiction makes many people less concerned about their health as they focus on drinking to get through the day. They may neglect proper nutrition and hygiene, which can weaken the immune system as well. 

    Though research continues on who is most vulnerable to COVID-19, a strong immune system is a good defense against any type of illness.

    Alcohol Increases Your Risk Of COVID-19 Complications

    Prolonged alcohol abuse can damage the liver, heart, and most other organs in the body. Liver damage and heart disease are two risk factors for serious complications with COVID-19.

    One of the worst complications from the new coronavirus is acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This is a severe form of pneumonia in which the lungs fill with fluid and are unable to work on their own. 

    People with ARDS may need a ventilator to help them breathe, and this condition can be fatal. Heavy drinking makes ARDS even worse.

    Drinking Alcohol Makes It Hard To Social Distance

    When most people drink, they become more social and less careful. After a few drinks, you probably won’t care about maintaining six feet between you and the person next to you. You can’t wear a mask while you’re drinking, either, so the virus can easily spread through the air.

    Bars, nightclubs, and other places that people gather to drink alcohol are often crowded. It isn’t just yourself you have to worry about; the intoxicated people around you may also break social distancing rules, putting you at risk.

    Alcohol Can Raise Your Stress Levels

    Alcohol enhances brain chemicals that produce a calming sensation, so a lot of people drink to relieve stress, like the anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    But if you drink regularly, your brain adjusts to the presence of alcohol and isn’t as effective at maintaining a relaxed state on its own. 

    This can cause you more stress, which may lead you to drink more alcohol. You could develop an alcohol use disorder on top of weakening your immune system and raising your stress levels. Not a good plan for staying healthy.

    COVID-19 Isolation Can Increase Alcohol Abuse

    Shutdowns and social restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis have led some people to isolate themselves from others. Isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental issues. 

    Poor mental health is a key trigger for substance abuse and addiction. If someone already abuses alcohol, social isolation is likely to make the problem worse. If they don’t drink much, boredom or loneliness may drive them to alcohol for comfort.

    Social interaction is good for mental health. There are ways to stay connected during the pandemic, even if you don’t meet others in person. Connecting with others can help you avoid using alcohol to cope.

    Working from home because of COVID-19 can also make you vulnerable to increased alcohol abuse. Having alcohol around the house and no one to hold you accountable, it’s easy to start drinking during the workday. 

    On the other hand, spending more time at home gives you a chance to avoid situations where drinking is encouraged. If peer pressure and social discomfort lead you to drink more, now is a good time to cut back.

    Alcohol Addiction Treatment Is Still Available

    If you’re unable to reduce your drinking or stop on your own, alcohol addiction treatment is still available during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most alcohol rehab centers across the country have remained open, taking special precautions to ensure your health and safety during recovery.

    Addiction is a serious mental disease that can destroy your life. Don’t be afraid to seek treatment because of COVID-19; the consequences of addiction could be deadly.

    To learn about individualized care for alcohol addiction at Ark Behavioral Health, connect with one of our treatment specialists today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Johns Hopkins Medicine - What Coronavirus Does to the Lungs
    National Center for Biotechnology Information - Alcohol and the Immune System
    World Health Organization - Alcohol and COVID-19: what you need to know

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on July 22, 2022
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