Alcohol consumption and its effect on our immune system
By Lili Jurayj • Addiction and Recovery Services Program Coordinator
As we embrace the festive spirit and brace ourselves for the flu season, it’s worth reflecting on the ways our daily choices shape our well-being. Amidst all the holiday preparations, occasional indulgences, and the added responsibilities, we may inadvertently neglect a vital aspect—the impact on our immune system. This year, let’s delve into the less-discussed realm of substance use disorder, specifically focusing on alcohol, and unravel its influence on our body’s natural defense mechanisms.
Substance use disorder is a complex condition that affects millions of people worldwide. While it encompasses various substances, alcohol consumption, which is more common during the holidays, is the focus of this article. The holiday season ushers in social drinking, with occasions like the colloquially-coined “Blackout Wednesday” before Thanksgiving and the more traditional New Year’s Eve.
Shockingly, a survey conducted by Gratitude Lodge revealed that 47% of the men surveyed and 40% of the women reported binge drinking to ring in the new year. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more standard drinks in about two hours for men and four or more for women. To put this into perspective, a standard drink is generally considered to be 14 grams of pure alcohol, equivalent to about 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, five ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.
It’s crucial to note that social occasions not only contribute to increased drinking, but the holiday season can also trigger solo drinking as a coping mechanism for emotional stress. It’s important to recognize that excessive or irresponsible alcohol consumption can have profound consequences on our overall health, irrespective of how it is done.
How alcohol affects the immune system
Our immune system is our body’s defense mechanism against infections, including the common cold and flu. It consists of various components, working together to keep us healthy. However, maintaining this delicate balance is essential for a strong immune response.
Alcohol has the potential to disrupt this delicate balance, significantly weakening the immune system and rendering it less effective in combating infections. Regular and heavy drinking can take a toll on the body’s ability to produce immune cells and impair their proper functioning. When we talk about regular and heavy drinking, it’s essential to understand the distinctions, particularly between men and women.
According to health guidelines, moderate drinking for women is generally defined as up to one drink per day, while for men, it’s up to two drinks per day. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is typically characterized as consuming eight or more drinks per week for women and fifteen or more for men. Recognizing these differences is crucial, as exceeding these limits makes us more vulnerable to illnesses, especially during the flu season.
Staying healthy during the holidays
The holiday season often involves social gatherings and festivities where alcohol is a central part. While it’s essential to enjoy these moments, moderation is key. Here are some tips to stay healthy:
- Know your limits: Be aware of your alcohol tolerance and know when to stop. Avoid binge drinking, as it can severely compromise your immune system. Consuming alcohol can disrupt your gut microbiome, which plays an important role in T Cell and B Cell production. These two cells are the main components of our immune system and need a healthy environment to grow (Good RX).
- Plan ahead: Before indulging in festivities, make a plan for a sober ride home. Ensure you’ve eaten a meal before drinking to protect your stomach, and remember to drink water before and during the celebration. These simple steps not only contribute to a more enjoyable experience, but also prioritize your well-being and safety.
- Stay hydrated: Alcohol can dehydrate you, so drink water in between alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated.
- Eat well: A balanced diet can boost your immune system. Enjoy holiday feasts, but don’t forget to incorporate fruits and vegetables.
- Rest and sleep: Getting enough rest is crucial for a strong immune system. Don’t sacrifice sleep for late-night parties. When we get good sleep our bodies create cytokines, which are an integral part of our bodies function to fight off pathogens (UC Health).
- Seek support: If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, seek help.
There are many resources and professionals available to provide support. Reach out to Addiction and Recovery Services at JFCS if you want help finding resources or need someone to talk to:
Lili Jurayj, Addiction and Recovery Services Program Coordinator: Ljurayj@jfcsmpls.org | 952-542-4837
This holiday season, let’s prioritize health and well-being. Substance use disorder, especially alcohol use, can have a significant impact on the immune system, leaving us more susceptible to illnesses like the flu. By making informed choices, practicing moderation, and seeking support when needed, we can ensure that our celebrations are not at the expense of our health.
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