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Alcohol and Health

Alcoholism's Impact: Understanding Anemia and Alcohol Intake

December 29, 2023
14 min read
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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.
December 29, 2023
14 min read
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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.
December 29, 2023
14 min read
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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.
December 29, 2023
14 min read
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Reframe Content Team
December 29, 2023
14 min read

If you have been feeling unusually tired and short of breath lately, you might attribute these symptoms to work stress and simply brush it off. However, these could be signs of deeper health issues that could be related to your alcohol intake.

The ability of the body to absorb and utilize minerals like iron can be a delicate process, and excessive consumption of alcohol can interfere with this balance. Even if drinking alcohol in moderation might not look like it’s affecting your body, heavy drinking could lead to iron deficiency. Let’s talk about anemia and alcohol intake, and how it might affect each of us.

Does Alcohol Cause Anemia?

Anemia happens when your do not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry sufficient oxygen to your body, resulting in fatigue and weakness. Alcohol plays a role in anemia both in direct and indirect ways. Let’s talk about how alcohol can cause anemia and whether an anemic person can drink alcohol.

Direct Impact on Iron Absorption and Utilization

Drinking too much alcohol can affect the way your body processes iron. This could happen in two main ways: alcohol leads to bleeding and loss of iron by irritating your stomach and intestines. Or, second, alcohol hinders iron absorption; when the body absorbs less iron, it cannot produce enough hemoglobin, eventually leading to iron deficiency anemia.

However, in some cases, alcohol abuse can also lead to iron overload because the body loses its ability to regulate iron absorption effectively. Like anything in excess, iron overload could become toxic and lead to liver damage.

Indirect Effects Through Liver and Bone Marrow Damage

Chronic alcohol consumption could lead to several liver diseases like cirrhosis, or liver scarring. When the liver gets damaged due to heavy drinking, it will try to heal itself; however, the healing process is not perfect, and instead of healthy liver tissue, scar tissue forms, which does not work like normal liver tissue.

Alcohol could also indirectly lead to anemia by affecting your liver and bone marrow. As we know, healthy bone marrow releases blood cells into our bloodstream. Without it, our bodies would lack white blood cells to fight infections, red blood cells to carry oxygen, and platelets to control bleeding.

What Happens If I Drink Alcohol When I Have Anemia?

When we have anemia, our body is already susceptible to other forms of illnesses and infections. Because of this, drinking alcohol could exacerbate our body’s struggle when making healthy red blood cells. Anemia and alcohol dependence could turn into a vicious cycle, especially when people relapse into heavy drinking as a coping mechanism for anemia.

1. Fatigue

If we’re already feeling tired from anemia, alcohol consumption might make we feel even more drained because alcohol slows down our body and makes us feel more exhausted.

2. Nutritional Deficiencies

Drinking alcohol often occurs within the context of social gatherings where eating healthy isn’t as common (e.g., birthday parties, holidays, etc.). Having anemia means prioritizing foods rich in iron, along with certain vitamins to make more red blood cells. However, alcohol can get in the way of this, which makes it harder for our body to recover from anemia.

2. Clotting Issues

There is also a higher risk of bruising and bleeding because alcohol affects how our blood clots. Since a decreased red blood cell count is linked to lower platelet count, drinking alcohol can further affect the blood clotting process. Some of these conditions may include ischemic stroke, heart attack, kidney problems, and kidney failure.

Challenges of Alcohol Withdrawal in Anemic Individuals

As we start to prioritize your health, we might find that alcohol withdrawal for folks with anemia could be extra tough, because quitting alcohol puts additional stress on your body.

  • When we quit drinking, our heart rate and blood pressure potentially go up. This is more difficult for someone those of us with anemia because our blood isn’t carrying as much oxygen as it should, causing the heart to work overtime.
  • Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as shaking, anxiety, or insomnia can feel even worse when you also have anemia. If you’re already feeling exhausted from anemia, withdrawal could make you feel more drained and shaky. 
  • Quitting alcohol is also an enormous mental and emotional challenge. Some people drink alcohol to relieve stress or anxiety, and this can cause a lasting imbalance in brain chemistry and function. When they stop drinking, this can contribute to increased risks of developing disorders like depression and anxiety.

Managing Anemia and Alcohol Use

It is especially important to pay attention to our health when dealing with issues like the effects of alcohol or problems like anemia. That is why we need real, doable steps to get our health back on track. From changing up what you eat to tweaking your daily routine, each step is a practical way to help you feel better.

  1. Get regular check-ups. It's smart to keep an eye on your health, especially if you drink alcohol or are worried about anemia. Yearly blood tests help track your iron and red blood cell levels, which give you an opportunity to catch any problems early and get ahead of them.

  2. Be mindful about drinking. If you drink, just keep it in check. Know the limits (like one drink daily for women, two for men) and stick to them. Watch out for warning signs, like needing a drink to unwind or often waking up with a hangover. Anemia and alcohol intolerance can coexist as well, so if your symptoms are particularly bad, that might be the culprit. 
  3. Eat well. Your diet is key. Eat iron-rich foods like leafy greens, beans, and meats. Add vitamin C with fruits like oranges to help your body use the iron. If you're unsure what to eat, a nutritionist can help make a plan that fits you.

    Drinks high in iron for anemia include apple and beetroot juice, bone broth, smoothies with leafy greens (such as spinach or kale), and hot chocolate (with natural cocoa powder). You might see the blood-hued glass of red wine and wonder, “Does red wine have iron?” The answer is no, and the harms of alcohol outweigh the benefits.
  4. Educate yourself. Understand what anemia and alcohol dependence look like. Learn the symptoms and signs, so you know when something's off. You can find lots of info online or chat with a doctor.
  5. Always ask for help when needed. If you are struggling with drinking too much or think you might have anemia, don't hesitate to get professional help. Doctors, therapists, and specialists are there to support and guide you.
  6. Find support. Talking with others who get what you're going through can be a big help. Join a support group, either in your community or online. It's comforting to share stories and tips with people who understand.
  7. Make healthy choices. Exercise is great for your overall health. You don't need to go all out; walking or swimming can do wonders. Also, try to keep stress in check with simple things like yoga, meditation, or just deep breathing.

Your Health, Your Priority

Everyone’s journey to good health differs, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

We know changing habits can be hard, and it takes real effort and sometimes a bit of a push to get going. But it will be all worth it. When you take charge of your health, you also take charge of your life. 

If you want to cut back on your alcohol consumption and need help with alcoholism and anemia, but don’t know where to start, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and develop healthier lifestyle habits. 

Summary FAQs

1. How does alcohol cause anemia?

Alcohol can lead to anemia by interfering with your body's iron absorption and utilization. Excessive drinking can cause stomach and intestinal irritation, leading to iron loss, and can disrupt the normal absorption of iron, resulting in iron deficiency anemia.

2. Can alcohol cause anemia? What are the signs of alcohol-induced anemia to watch out for?

Key signs of alcohol-induced anemia include unusual tiredness, shortness of breath, and weakness. These symptoms might be easily mistaken for stress but could indicate a deeper issue related to your alcohol intake and iron levels.

3. How does alcohol-related liver damage contribute to anemia?

Chronic alcohol consumption can cause liver diseases like cirrhosis, where scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue. The damaged liver struggles to produce proteins vital for blood health, leading to anemia.

4. What are the risks of drinking alcohol when I have anemia?

Drinking alcohol when you have anemia can worsen your condition. Alcohol further strains your body's ability to produce healthy red blood cells, leading to increased fatigue and a slower recovery from anemia.

5. How does alcohol withdrawal affect individuals with anemia?

Quitting alcohol can be particularly challenging for someone with anemia. The increased heart rate and blood pressure during withdrawal put extra strain on the heart, especially since anemic blood carries less oxygen. Additionally, common withdrawal symptoms like shaking and fatigue are more intense when combined with anemia, and stopping alcohol can also exacerbate mental and emotional challenges, increasing the risk of depression and anxiety.

6. What are the key steps to take for better health, especially when dealing with alcohol or anemia?

Regular health check-ups, particularly yearly blood tests, are crucial for monitoring iron and red blood cell levels, helping to identify any issues early. Additionally, being mindful of alcohol consumption, understanding your limits, and seeking professional help if needed are important steps in managing your health effectively.

7. How can diet and lifestyle changes help improve my health?

Incorporating a balanced diet rich in iron and vitamin C is essential, and consulting a nutritionist can help tailor a diet plan to your specific needs. Engaging in moderate exercise, practicing stress-reduction techniques like yoga or meditation, and joining support groups for shared experiences and advice also enhance your overall well-being.

Transform Your Relationship With Alcohol — Download 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.

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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! 

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