Thrive with the Dry July Challenge – Join Now! 🎉🙌
Click Here
A person experiencing stomach ache
Alcohol and Health

Does Alcohol Cause Inflammation?

June 6, 2023
13 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 6, 2023
13 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 6, 2023
13 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 6, 2023
13 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
June 6, 2023
13 min read

Is alcohol an inflammatory chemical? The idea that alcohol causes inflammation might seem counterintuitive. After all, isn't it used as an antiseptic to help kill off disease-causing microorganisms? Well, yes. However, chronic alcohol consumption can irritate our bodies internally, leading to a host of inflammatory issues from gastritis to arthritis to acne.

How exactly does alcohol affect inflammation? And, if alcohol causes inflammation, what can we do about it?

What Is Inflammation?

A person experiencing stomach ache

Inflammation, from a biological perspective, is a good thing. It's our body's way of responding to injury, infection, or irritation. Think about that time you burned your fingers on the stove or sprained your ankle. Though these situations were unpleasant, the redness, swelling, and pain were our bodies’ way of triggering a healing response.

These scenarios highlight acute inflammation. Our body's immune system launches a protective response, sending various chemicals and white blood cells to the affected area.

But, like any good thing, too much of it can tip the balance from helpful to harmful.

When inflammation longers, it can lead to an array of health issues over time. Many of the leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s — are linked to chronic inflammation.

Furthermore, chronic inflammation can cause our bodies to mistakenly attack healthy tissues and cells. This often results in autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis, Crohn’s, and Hashimoto’s.

Countless research has been conducted to better understand the mechanisms behind inflammation. For example, a 2023 study in Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that certain types of gut bacteria influence our bodies’ inflammation levels. Scientists have also found that certain foods — refined sugars, processed meats, and trans fats — can trigger inflammatory responses, while others — fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish — have an anti-inflammatory effect.

How Does Alcohol Cause Inflammation?

In what ways is alcohol inflammatory? Recent studies show that the substance provokes an inflammatory response in various bodily tissues, including the gut and the liver. There are three main ways in which this happens.

Alcohol and Inflammation: The Gut

Trillions of bacteria in our gut assist with digestion, produce essential vitamins, and even support our immune system.

Several recent studies have shown that alcohol consumption significantly alters the gut microbiota, tipping the balance toward inflammation-causing bacteria. This may result in leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which the tight junctions of the intestinal walls become porous. As a result, toxins and bacteria enter our bloodstream, igniting a widespread inflammatory response.

Furthermore, alcohol decreases the production of natural antibiotics within our gut. This disruption can cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria, resulting in a condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This condition comes with a host of unpleasant symptoms such as abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, indigestion, and gas.

Now, how does all this relate to chronic inflammation? Well, when harmful substances slip through a leaky gut into our bloodstream, our immune system does what it does best — it responds to these perceived threats. When our immune system remains activated over time, chronic health issues are highly likely.

Alcohol's impact on inflammation

Alcohol and Inflammation: The Liver

We can’t overlook the role of the liver, which is responsible for removing toxins and metabolizing the alcohol we consume.

Unfortunately, excessive alcohol can cause a type of liver disease called alcoholic hepatitis. This condition is characterized by liver inflammation and cell damage, and over time, it can result in liver failure. The culprit behind alcoholic hepatitis? Chronic inflammation. Research in the Journal of Hepatology in 2022 has shown that heavy drinking can activate certain immune cells in the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring.

Alcohol and Inflammation: Weakened Immunity

Ever wonder why people often get colds or infections after a weekend of indulgence? Alcohol weakens our immune response, increasing our likelihood of getting sick. Findings in Alcohol Research: Current Reviews suggest that alcohol disrupts immune pathways by affecting how our body recognizes pathogens, and impairs our immune cells' ability to destroy these harmful invaders.

Does Wine Cause Inflammation?

But wait, does wine cause inflammation? Many of us have heard about the potential health benefits of red wine. It’s a staple in the Mediterranean diet, widely regarded as one of the healthiest diets in the world. However, many scientists are now urging the public to reconsider alcohol consumption, as even moderate amounts can potentially harm our well-being.

Like other alcoholic beverages, red wine can affect the balance of gut bacteria and potentially lead to the same leaky gut syndrome discussed earlier. Additionally, for those sensitive to histamines (compounds that can trigger allergic reactions), red wine might provoke inflammation and allergic responses, such as headaches and rashes. It’s important to keep these considerations in mind before reaching for that glass of Merlot.

Alcohol and Inflammation: What Can We Do? 

Understanding the complex relationship between alcohol and inflammation enables us to make more informed choices about our health. To avoid the risks of chronic inflammation, we need to take a holistic approach:

  1. Give your liver a break. Incorporate alcohol-free days in your week to give your liver time to recover. You can use the Drink Tracker on our app to choose your alcohol-free days and hold yourself accountable.
  2. Nourish your gut. Incorporate probiotic foods into your diet to maintain a healthy gut microbiota. These can include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, or a probiotic supplement. Also, eat a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods — plenty of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and protein.
  3. Stay active. Regular exercise has powerful inflammation-fighting potential, as it helps us maintain a healthy weight, protects our brain health, and keeps our stress levels in check. Choose forms of movement that you enjoy and aim to get about 30 minutes of exercise per day.
  4. Sleep well. Sleep helps our bodies restore and rejuvenate. Chronic sleep deprivation prevents our immune system from doing its job and can delay healing mechanisms. Shoot for 7 to 8 hours per night and avoid habits that can mess with your sleep, such as caffeine and technology usage too close to bedtime.
  5. Reduce stress. Stress can quickly spiral out of control, but it’s essential that we learn to effectively manage it. Being in a state of chronic stress also activates the immune system, leading to inflammation. Make time for hobbies that you enjoy, reach out to your support network, and make an effort to unplug and be present.

Alcohol and Inflammation: The Takeaways

So does alcohol cause inflammation? And is alcohol inflammatory? The answer is an unequivocal yes — alcohol causes inflammation (or can at least contribute to it), particularly when consumed to excess. As research continues to unfold, we can look forward to more insights and more tools to avoid the downsides of chronic inflammation.

To keep our well-being in check, we can imbibe mindfully and ensure that we’re adhering to healthy sleep, dietary, and exercise habits. We also shouldn’t overlook the importance of stress management.

Before taking that next sip, consider its lasting impacts on your body. Remember that there are countless ways to enjoy life without putting our well-being on the line.

Supercharge Your Well-Being With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

Call to action to download reframe app for ios usersCall to action to download reframe app for android users
Reframe has helped over 2 millions people to build healthier drinking habits globally
Take The Quiz
Our Editorial Standards
At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
Learn more
Updated Regularly
Our articles undergo frequent updates to present the newest scientific research and changes in expert consensus in an easily understandable and implementable manner.
Table of Contents
Call to action for signing up reframe app
Relevant Articles
No items found.
Ready to meet the BEST version of yourself?
Start Your Custom Plan
Call to action to download reframe app for ios usersCall to action to download reframe app for android users
5 Star Reviews
Downloads (as of 2023)
a bottle and a glass
Drinks Eliminated

Scan the QR code to get started!

Reframe supports you in reducing alcohol consumption and enhancing your well-being.

Ready To Meet the Best Version of Yourself?
3,250,000+ Downloads (as of 2023)
31,364 Reviews
500,000,000+ Drinks eliminated
Try Reframe for 7 Days Free! Scan to download the App