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Effects of Alcohol on the Immune System

The Effects of Alcohol on the Immune System

For centuries, alcohol has been a popular aspect of social gatherings, religious rituals, and has even been used as medication.

From nights out with friends to holiday celebrations with family, the consumption of alcoholic drinks like beer, wine, and liquors is a common past time. Even so, despite the enjoyment some may feel from drinking alcohol, the effects of alcohol on the immune system are severe and can lead to health issues. Amongst young adults especially, drinking to the point of losing consciousness is common when partying or at other social gatherings. Individuals who develop a tolerance for alcohol risk suffering from alcoholism in the future. Alcoholics may have to receive an alcohol detox treatment to begin their recovery.

What is Alcohol?

Alcohol is actually a chemical called ethanol. To make alcohol, grains and fruits or vegetables are combined in a process called fermentation, which is when yeast reacts with the sugars. Wine is made by fermenting fruit, while beer is made from fermented cereals. The alcohol content in these drinks depends on how long they were fermented.1

Alcohol produces a calming effect on the brain and body. It almost depresses the brain, relaxes each of its functions. Judgement, inhibitions, and concentration are all impaired when alcohol is consumed. This might initially produce feelings of excitement, making the individual want to drink more.1 Eventually, as the person drinks more alcohol, they become less alert. The drinker’s body eventually shuts down, causing them to fall asleep or blackout.

Individuals who suffer from alcoholism risk their health and overall well-being. To avoid these problems, alcoholics should get help in our alcoholism addiction treatment.

What Does the Immune System Do?

The immune system helps the body fight off bacteria, viruses, parasites, substances, and cells that can cause disease. It plays a big role in helping the body feel energized and healthy. The immune system is made up of several organs, such as the tonsils, thymus, bowel, bone marrow, skin, lymph nodes, and spleen.2 The effects of alcohol on the immune system leave the body more vulnerable to contracting other illnesses and diseases.

The Negative Effects of Alcohol on the Immune System

Regardless of the alcohol content of a drink, it can still cause damage to the immune system. However, alcohol produces both short term and long term effects on the immune system that may sometimes lead to permanent health defects.

The short-term effects of alcohol on the immune system include:3

  • Damaged immune cells in the lungs
  • Inflamed gut
  • Damaged microorganisms in the gut
  • Disrupts gut barrier (allowing bacteria to pass through the blood)
  • Damaged epithelial cells in the intestines (making it difficult to absorb nutrients)

People usually drink alcohol because it works as a sedative that relaxes the mind and body. More often, the less alcohol content a drink has, the more of it a person will drink. Usually, consuming more than one alcohol drink within an hour can cause intoxication. This repeated action can cause long term problems in the future. 

Some of the long-term effects of alcohol on the immune system may include:4

  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis B
  • Pneumonia
  • Septicemia 
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Lung abscess
  • Empyema (accumulation of pus in the chest)
  • Meningitis 
  • Cellulitis 
  • Liver disease 
  • Liver failure
  • Adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)

At Banyan Treatment Centers, we know how difficult overcoming addiction can be, but we’re here to help. In programs like our residential treatment program, individuals addicted to alcohol can get the help they need to live a sober life.

If you or a loved one suffers from drug or alcohol addiction, don’t wait. Call us now 888-280-4763.


  1. Britannica- Alcoholic beverage
  2. NCBI- What are the organs of the immune system?
  3. NCBI- Alcohol and the immune system
  4. NIH- Alcohol and the Immune System
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Effects of Alcohol on the Immune System
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