Substance Use

Does Alcohol Cause Inflammation? Prevention & Reversibility

woman with stomach pain alcohol inflammation

Table of Contents

Get Help Now

check insurance
Check your insurance by using our Online Form
call us
Talk to someone now.
Call (855) 430-9439

Alcohol-related inflammation is just one of the conditions that you may develop because of heavy drinking. If you have alcohol-related inflammation, you may also develop further health problems, such as hypertension and liver disease. (1)

Drinking alcohol may only cause short-term effects for people with moderate alcohol intake. However, continued alcohol abuse can put you at increased risk in the long term. 

Alcohol use disorder can lead to the development of long-term health problems. Inflammation can be a warning sign to seek addiction treatment.

Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural and protective response by the body’s immune system to injury, infection, or harmful stimuli. (2) The primary purpose of inflammation is to eliminate the cause of cell injury, clear out damaged cells and tissues, and initiate tissue repair. It is a complex biological process involving various immune cells, signaling molecules, and blood vessels. (3)

There are two main types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is a rapid and immediate response to an injury or infection.

In contrast, chronic inflammation is a prolonged and sustained response that can contribute to various diseases if not properly regulated.

Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation is a rapid and localized response that occurs within minutes to hours after tissue injury or infection. The main signs of acute inflammation include redness, heat, swelling, pain, and loss of function. (4)

These symptoms are part of the body’s attempt to neutralize and eliminate the harmful agent, remove damaged cells, and initiate the repair process.

Acute inflammation involves activating immune cells, such as neutrophils and macrophages, and releasing inflammatory mediators like cytokines and chemokines. Once the threat is neutralized, anti-inflammatory signals help resolve the response, and the affected tissue returns to normal.

Acute inflammation is a protective mechanism crucial for maintaining tissue homeostasis and preventing the spread of infection or further damage.

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a sustained and prolonged inflammatory response that can persist for weeks, months, or even years.

Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation does not resolve easily and can contribute to the development of various diseases, including:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Certain cancers (5)

Chronic inflammation often involves a complex interplay between immune cells, tissue cells, and inflammatory mediators. Persistent infections, prolonged irritant exposure, or an overactive immune system can contribute to chronic inflammation.

Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to tissue damage, scarring, and loss of normal tissue function.

Managing chronic inflammation is important for preventing the progression of associated diseases and promoting overall health. Lifestyle modifications, dietary changes, and targeted medical interventions are often employed to address chronic inflammation and its underlying causes.

How Does Alcohol Cause Inflammation?

Your alcohol intake can play a large part in the health conditions you develop. Heavy drinking can cause inflammation in many areas of the body. This is because of the effects of alcohol on the immune system and enzymes in the gut. (6)

Excessive alcohol consumption upsets the natural balance of enzymes in the gut and affects the liver’s ability to detoxify harmful bacteria correctly. This can cause alcohol-related inflammation throughout the entire body, including the brain. (6)

Alcohol stops the body from regulating chronic inflammation, putting you at a greater risk of developing other, more serious health conditions. (5)

Does the Type of Alcohol Matter?

The type of alcohol consumed can influence its effects on inflammation within the body. While the basic chemical structure of ethanol remains consistent across various alcoholic beverages, differences in ingredients, fermentation processes, and additional components may contribute to varying inflammatory responses.

Distilled Spirits, Wine, and Beer: Distilled spirits like vodka, gin, and whiskey typically have a higher alcohol content than wine or beer. Some studies suggest that higher alcohol concentrations may have a more pronounced pro-inflammatory impact on the body. However, it’s essential to consider the overall pattern of consumption and the presence of additional compounds in different types of alcohol. (1) (7)

Polyphenols in Wine: Wine, particularly red wine, contains polyphenols like resveratrol, which may have anti-inflammatory properties. Moderate consumption of red wine has been associated with potential cardiovascular benefits, possibly linked to these polyphenols. (8) However, excessive alcohol intake, even from wine, can negate any potential positive effects and contribute to inflammation.

Effects of Sugar and Mixers: The mixers used with alcoholic beverages can significantly impact their inflammatory potential. Sugary mixers, commonly found in cocktails, can contribute to inflammation and other health issues. (9) High sugar content can increase oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and potential long-term health risks. Choosing mixers with lower sugar content or simpler cocktails may mitigate these inflammatory effects.

Individual Variation and Moderation: It’s important to recognize that individuals may respond differently to various types of alcohol based on factors like genetics, overall health, and lifestyle. Additionally, moderation is key.

Consuming alcohol in moderation is generally associated with fewer adverse health effects compared to heavy or binge drinking, which can exacerbate inflammation and contribute to a range of health problems.

Health Impacts of Alcohol-Induced Inflammation

Someone with an alcohol use disorder is more likely to develop chronic inflammation relating to excessive alcohol consumption. This can put you at a greater risk of developing serious health conditions, such as alcoholic liver disease.

Chronic inflammation and systemic inflammation in people with alcohol use disorders can also lead to other medical conditions, including:

Liver Damage

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to liver damage, with conditions such as fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. The liver, a vital organ for detoxification, becomes overwhelmed by the toxic effects of alcohol, causing inflammation, scarring, and impaired function. (10)


Alcohol-induced inflammation can contribute to pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas. Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to pancreatic damage, impairing its ability to produce enzymes for digestion and regulate blood sugar, resulting in severe abdominal pain. (11) (12)

Cardiovascular Issues

Inflammation from alcohol can impact the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of conditions like hypertension and cardiomyopathy. Chronic inflammation may contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, leading to heart attacks and other cardiovascular complications.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Alcohol-induced inflammation can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, leading to conditions such as gastritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The stomach lining may become inflamed, causing pain, nausea, and digestive issues. (13)

Weakened Immune System

Prolonged alcohol abuse weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections. Chronic inflammation interferes with immune responses, increasing the risk of infections and hindering the body’s ability to fight illnesses.

Brain Damage

Alcohol-induced inflammation can negatively impact the brain, contributing to cognitive impairment, memory loss, and neurological disorders. (14) Chronic alcohol abuse may lead to conditions such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and contribute to the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s. 

Increased Cancer Risk

Chronic inflammation from alcohol consumption is associated with an elevated risk of various cancers. Alcohol can contribute to DNA damage, impair the body’s ability to repair cells and promote the overgrowth of cancerous cells, particularly in the liver, esophagus, and breast. (15)

Identifying and Managing Alcohol-Related Inflammation

Alcohol-related inflammation can manifest in various ways, and early identification is crucial for prompt intervention. Recognizing symptoms and implementing effective management strategies are vital components of mitigating the impact of alcohol-induced inflammation.

Symptoms of Alcohol-Related Inflammation:

  1. Digestive Issues: Persistent abdominal pain, bloating, or discomfort, especially after alcohol consumption, can indicate inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Gut health is affected greatly by heavy drinkers. Many experience leaky gut or chronic diseases in the digestive system.
  2. Liver Dysfunction: Risk factors like yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), dark urine, and unexplained fatigue may signify alcohol-induced liver inflammation, ranging from fatty liver disease to more severe conditions like alcoholic hepatitis.
  3. Cardiovascular Symptoms: High blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, or shortness of breath could indicate inflammation affecting the cardiovascular system.
  4. Pancreatic Complications: Persistent abdominal pain, especially in the upper abdomen, coupled with nausea and vomiting, may signal inflammation of the pancreas.
  5. Neurological Issues: Cognitive impairment, memory loss, or difficulties with coordination may suggest alcohol-related inflammation affecting the central nervous system. (14)

How to Reverse Inflammation Caused By Alcohol

Alcohol-related inflammation often responds positively to some medications and lifestyle changes. Below are some of the easiest things you can do.

Abstain from Alcohol

Reversing alcohol-related chronic inflammation may be possible by reducing your alcohol intake. As with most alcohol-related medical conditions, the best way to reverse the damage and alleviate symptoms is to quit drinking alcohol or moderate alcohol consumption.


Proper hydration is an important step in reversing inflammation caused by alcohol. Drinking an adequate amount of water helps flush out toxins, supports organ function, and aids in the recovery of tissues affected by alcohol-induced inflammation. (16)

Staying hydrated is fundamental to overall health and can assist the body in its natural detoxification processes.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Nutrient-rich foods play a vital role in combating inflammation caused by alcohol. A diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals helps repair cellular damage.

Emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins provides essential nutrients that support the body’s recovery process. Avoiding processed foods, excessive sugars, and unhealthy fats is key to promoting anti-inflammatory responses.

Exercise Regularly

Regular physical activity is an effective way to counter alcohol-induced inflammation. Exercise helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces inflammation by promoting circulation and supporting the immune system.

Engaging in aerobic exercises, strength training, or activities like yoga contributes to overall well-being and aids in the body’s recovery.

Manage Stress

Chronic stress can exacerbate inflammation, so effective stress management is essential. Practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness can help reduce stress levels. Adequate sleep is also crucial for the body to recover and regulate inflammatory responses. 

Creating a balanced and stress-free lifestyle positively contributes to the reversal of inflammation caused by alcohol.

Seek Medical Advice

Health professionals may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) for chronic inflammation. Others may consider prescribing this medication too risky because of possible interactions between NSAIDs and ethanol, which can cause internal bleeding. (17) Sometimes, probiotics are also suggested to heal the lining of the stomach.

Treatment and Support for Alcohol Use Disorder

If drinking alcohol is causing you health conditions such as chronic inflammation, then your alcohol intake is likely excessive. Excessive alcohol consumption may be a sign of alcohol use disorder. 

Identifying alcohol use disorder can be easier by being aware of the following signs:

  • Alcohol abuse is becoming part of everyday life
  • Avoiding situations unless drinking alcohol is involved
  • Experiencing health conditions like heart disease or intestinal imbalances from drinking alcohol but continuing to drink
  • A family history of alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, or alcohol use disorder
  • Having to drink more to feel the effects of alcohol
  • Taking risks (such as driving) after drinking alcohol
  • Craving the effects of alcohol
  • Spending a lot of time drinking alcohol, binge drinking, or recovering from the effects of alcohol abuse (18)

These are just some common signs of alcohol use disorder. If you identify with these, you may need to enter treatment.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder can depend on many factors. These can include your alcohol intake and the effects of alcohol on your overall health and life quality. Some people may require specialist treatment alongside alcohol use disorder treatment if they have alcohol-related diseases.

  • Alcohol Abstinence: Although the overall goal of alcohol use disorder treatment is for you to stop alcohol use, this is often just a small part of it. Quitting drinking alcohol can be hugely challenging, but often, the behavioral and mental health effects of alcohol can take longer to recover from.
  • Behavioral Therapies: Chronic alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder can lead to mental health problems that often need to be treated with behavioral therapy. This usually occurs after detoxification from heavy drinking.

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction Today

Getting help for alcohol use disorder can feel intimidating. However, it’s important to remember that our health professionals have helped many people recover from alcohol dependence and decrease the amounts of alcohol they consume.

At our treatment healthcare centers, you’ll always have an experienced team to provide the support and care you need. We’ll work with you to create a treatment plan that works for you. We understand that what’s right for one person may not be suitable for the next.

Our alcohol use disorder treatments focus on tackling both the physical and psychological impact of alcohol dependence. We use medical detoxification, inpatient treatment, and behavioral therapies to tackle addiction at its core.

At Zinnia Health, you’ll have a strong support network throughout your recovery. We know how important it is to have people to rely on when you’re struggling with addiction.

If you’ve decided to enter treatment for alcohol use disorder, you’ve already made progress. Admitting you have an addiction is the first step to recovery. Take the next step and contact Zinnia Health today.


Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us