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Alcohol and Health

Can Alcohol Cause Anemia? Is it Reversible?

Published:
March 7, 2024
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20 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.
March 7, 2024
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20 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.
March 7, 2024
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20 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.
March 7, 2024
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20 min read
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Reframe Content Team
March 7, 2024
·
20 min read

You’ve been drinking pretty heavily for years and, thankfully, haven’t experienced any major health issues. But lately, you’ve started to notice some changes. You’re always exhausted no matter how much you sleep; you feel like you can barely climb the stairs without getting out of breath, and your skin has become unusually pale. What’s going on? 

In this post, we’ll explore what anemia is, whether alcohol causes it, and how this condition can be reversed. We’ll also offer some tips for how to treat anemia and boost your well-being. Let’s get started! 

What Is Anemia?

Before we explore whether alcohol causes anemia, it’s helpful to know exactly what anemia is. Simply put, anemia is a medical condition characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells. Why are red blood cells important? Well, they’re responsible for providing oxygen throughout our body. So, if we don’t have enough of them, our body doesn’t get enough oxygen, which means it doesn’t function as well as it could.

We can learn if we have anemia through a blood test, which will reveal our hemoglobin levels. Red blood cells carry hemoglobin, which is an iron-rich protein that attaches to oxygen in our lungs and carries it through our bloodstream. We have anemia if our blood test shows a hemoglobin value of less than 13.5 g/dl in a man or less than 12.0 g/dl in a woman.

Anemia affects nearly 2 billion people — one-fourth of the world’s population — according to a new study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). This condition usually affects women who are menstruating or pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions. Interestingly, if you have kidney disease, cancer, liver disease, thyroid disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, you’re at greater risk for anemia. 

Some of the most common symptoms of anemia include weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, fatigue, headache, fast or irregular heartbeat, pale or yellow skin, and chest pain. However, many people don’t realize they have anemia until they complete a blood test. 

Can Alcohol Cause Anemia? 

Now that we have a better understanding of what anemia is, we can turn to the next question: can alcohol cause anemia? The general consensus among researchers is that heavy alcohol consumption can cause anemia indirectly. In other words, alcohol doesn’t directly cause anemia, but it can contribute to its development through various effects on the body.

For instance, alcohol can cause nutrient deficiencies, which lead to anemia. More specifically, alcohol can cause a deficiency in iron and B vitamins, particularly folate, which are vital for the healthy production and function of red blood cells. 

For instance, the most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Iron is a vital component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Alcohol can disrupt the absorption of iron in our digestive system, leading to reduced iron levels in your body. As a result, your body may struggle to produce enough hemoglobin-rich red blood cells.

Furthermore, heavy alcohol consumption can also affect the bone marrow, where red blood cells are produced. As a result, fewer blood cells are created, which can lead to the development of anemia. 

It’s also worth noting that excessive alcohol consumption can damage our liver, leading to liver disease and cirrhosis. This, in turn, can cause internal bleeding and anemia. 

The bottom line? While moderate alcohol consumption, such as an occasional glass of wine or a beer, likely won’t be harmful, regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol puts us at risk for nutrient deficiencies that lead to anemia.

Types of Anemia Caused by Alcohol Misuse

Now that we have a better understanding of how alcohol can contribute to anemia, let’s look at the specific types of alcohol-related anemia.

  • Iron-deficiency anemia. This is the most common type of anemia. High alcohol consumption can lead to an iron deficiency, which leads to the low hemoglobin levels associated with anemia. 
  • Macrocytic anemia. This type of anemia is characterized by abnormally large red blood cells that end up getting destroyed more quickly than regular cells. Heavy drinkers often have a folate deficiency, which is one of the most common precursors to the development of this condition. 
  • Aplastic anemia. This type of anemia occurs when our bone marrow doesn’t make enough red and white blood cells and platelets. Severe alcohol misuse can lead to the suppression of red blood cell production in the bone marrow, leading to this condition. 
  • Megaloblastic anemia. This type of anemia is where the red blood cells are larger than normal and don’t function well. Heavy drinking can cause a deficiency in vitamin B12 and folate, which can lead to the development of this condition.
  • Hemolytic anemia. This occurs when red blood cells are destroyed more quickly than normal in the bloodstream. Heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol can cause the formation of abnormal red blood cells, which get destroyed more easily. 

Regardless of the type, symptoms of alcohol-related anemia tend to be similar. Common symptoms include headache, cold hands and feet, lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, weakness, chest pain, and inability to focus. If we notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical assistance. 

Can Alcohol-Induced Anemia Be Reversed?

The good news is that anemia caused by alcohol misuse is reversible — but only when we stop drinking. In fact, depending on how long we’ve been drinking, alcohol-induced anemia can resolve itself within several weeks once we quit drinking. 

That’s because our body starts to replenish important nutrients and minerals for red blood cell production, such as iron, folate, and other B vitamins that we lost when we were consuming alcohol. Similarly, when we stop drinking, our bone marrow can resume its normal function of producing red blood cells. 

Depending on our situation, a healthcare provider may also recommend folic acid, vitamin B-complex, or other supplements to help increase red blood cell production and functioning. They may also encourage us to eat a healthy diet full of foods rich in iron and vitamins, such as leafy greens and lean meats. 

Keep in mind that we can protect ourselves from macrocytic anemia and alcohol-induced anemia by limiting our consumption of alcohol or quitting drinking entirely. 

How Does Alcohol Affect Anemia?

So, what if we already have anemia: can we drink alcohol? While a drink here and there likely isn’t harmful, heavy drinking could make your condition worse.

As we’ve learned, consuming large amounts of alcohol can suppress blood cell production and lead to structural abnormalities of red blood cells, preventing their full maturation. Since anemic individuals already have a low red blood cell count, adding alcohol into the mix may lead to an even greater deficiency.

It’s also worth noting that alcohol can lead to symptoms associated with anemia, such as irregular heart beat, fatigue, and dizziness. Plus, heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol can have detrimental long-term effects on the body, which can complicate preexisting conditions. 

For all these reasons and more, experts recommend avoiding alcohol if you already have anemia. 

Tips for Treating Anemia

Tips for Treating Anemia

Now that we have a better understanding of the relationship between alcohol and anemia, let’s look at what we can do to treat this condition. Here are six tips: 

  • Limit alcohol intake. Chronic, heavy consumption of alcohol can worsen anemia. Limiting or eliminating our alcohol intake is one of the best things we can do, not just for our condition but for our overall health and well-being. Keep in mind that alcohol does a number on our physical and mental health, even without anemia.

  • Consume iron-rich foods. Proper nutrition is important for managing anemia as it can help boost red blood cell production. Focus on foods that are rich in iron, such as fish, red meat, spinach, sweet potatoes, legumes, quinoa, and broccoli. Leafy greens in general are good sources of iron and folic acid.

  • Consume foods with vitamin C. Vitamin C helps our body absorb iron, so try making it a point to consume foods that contain high doses of vitamin C, such as oranges, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, kiwi, and other citrus fruits (grapefruit, lemon, and lime). We can also get vitamin C from drinking a glass of orange juice or putting some lemon or lime in your water.

  • Avoid drinking caffeine with meals. Caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea make it harder to absorb iron, so try to avoid drinking them while eating iron-rich foods. While it’s okay to drink them on their own, combining them with these foods can block iron absorption, which is counterproductive!

  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can worsen any condition we have, including anemia, so be sure you’re consuming enough water. Experts recommend drinking at least six 8-ounce glasses of water a day, more if we’re physically active. Water helps blood volume and circulation. If we’re feeling weak or dizzy, try drinking a glass of water with lemon or lime.

  • Practice relaxation techniques. A common symptom of anemia is a fast heartbeat and shortness of breath. We can help ourselves manage these symptoms by practicing stress reduction or relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or deep breathing. Box breathing in particular is a simple and easy technique we can practice anywhere. All we have to do is breathe in through our nose while counting to four, hold our breath for four seconds, exhale through our mouth for four seconds, and hold for four seconds again. Repeat for five minutes.


These are common tips for managing anemia, but it’s important to always consult a healthcare provider for treatment and ongoing care.

The Bottom Line

Anemia is the most common of blood disorders and is characterized by a deficiency in red blood cells, which our body must have to get the oxygen it needs to function. Chronic alcohol misuse can increase our risk of anemia by interfering with the nutrients our body needs to produce red blood cells, particularly iron, B vitamins and folate. However, alcohol-induced anemia can be reversed by stopping drinking. If we already have anemia, it’s important to limit our consumption of alcohol, as regular drinking can make our condition worse.

If you want to cut back on drinking but don’t know where or how to start, consider trying Reframe. We’re a science-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

You’ve been drinking pretty heavily for years and, thankfully, haven’t experienced any major health issues. But lately, you’ve started to notice some changes. You’re always exhausted no matter how much you sleep; you feel like you can barely climb the stairs without getting out of breath, and your skin has become unusually pale. What’s going on? 

In this post, we’ll explore what anemia is, whether alcohol causes it, and how this condition can be reversed. We’ll also offer some tips for how to treat anemia and boost your well-being. Let’s get started! 

What Is Anemia?

Before we explore whether alcohol causes anemia, it’s helpful to know exactly what anemia is. Simply put, anemia is a medical condition characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells. Why are red blood cells important? Well, they’re responsible for providing oxygen throughout our body. So, if we don’t have enough of them, our body doesn’t get enough oxygen, which means it doesn’t function as well as it could.

We can learn if we have anemia through a blood test, which will reveal our hemoglobin levels. Red blood cells carry hemoglobin, which is an iron-rich protein that attaches to oxygen in our lungs and carries it through our bloodstream. We have anemia if our blood test shows a hemoglobin value of less than 13.5 g/dl in a man or less than 12.0 g/dl in a woman.

Anemia affects nearly 2 billion people — one-fourth of the world’s population — according to a new study conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). This condition usually affects women who are menstruating or pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions. Interestingly, if you have kidney disease, cancer, liver disease, thyroid disease, or rheumatoid arthritis, you’re at greater risk for anemia. 

Some of the most common symptoms of anemia include weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, fatigue, headache, fast or irregular heartbeat, pale or yellow skin, and chest pain. However, many people don’t realize they have anemia until they complete a blood test. 

Can Alcohol Cause Anemia? 

Now that we have a better understanding of what anemia is, we can turn to the next question: can alcohol cause anemia? The general consensus among researchers is that heavy alcohol consumption can cause anemia indirectly. In other words, alcohol doesn’t directly cause anemia, but it can contribute to its development through various effects on the body.

For instance, alcohol can cause nutrient deficiencies, which lead to anemia. More specifically, alcohol can cause a deficiency in iron and B vitamins, particularly folate, which are vital for the healthy production and function of red blood cells. 

For instance, the most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Iron is a vital component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Alcohol can disrupt the absorption of iron in our digestive system, leading to reduced iron levels in your body. As a result, your body may struggle to produce enough hemoglobin-rich red blood cells.

Furthermore, heavy alcohol consumption can also affect the bone marrow, where red blood cells are produced. As a result, fewer blood cells are created, which can lead to the development of anemia. 

It’s also worth noting that excessive alcohol consumption can damage our liver, leading to liver disease and cirrhosis. This, in turn, can cause internal bleeding and anemia. 

The bottom line? While moderate alcohol consumption, such as an occasional glass of wine or a beer, likely won’t be harmful, regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol puts us at risk for nutrient deficiencies that lead to anemia.

Types of Anemia Caused by Alcohol Misuse

Now that we have a better understanding of how alcohol can contribute to anemia, let’s look at the specific types of alcohol-related anemia.

  • Iron-deficiency anemia. This is the most common type of anemia. High alcohol consumption can lead to an iron deficiency, which leads to the low hemoglobin levels associated with anemia. 
  • Macrocytic anemia. This type of anemia is characterized by abnormally large red blood cells that end up getting destroyed more quickly than regular cells. Heavy drinkers often have a folate deficiency, which is one of the most common precursors to the development of this condition. 
  • Aplastic anemia. This type of anemia occurs when our bone marrow doesn’t make enough red and white blood cells and platelets. Severe alcohol misuse can lead to the suppression of red blood cell production in the bone marrow, leading to this condition. 
  • Megaloblastic anemia. This type of anemia is where the red blood cells are larger than normal and don’t function well. Heavy drinking can cause a deficiency in vitamin B12 and folate, which can lead to the development of this condition.
  • Hemolytic anemia. This occurs when red blood cells are destroyed more quickly than normal in the bloodstream. Heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol can cause the formation of abnormal red blood cells, which get destroyed more easily. 

Regardless of the type, symptoms of alcohol-related anemia tend to be similar. Common symptoms include headache, cold hands and feet, lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, weakness, chest pain, and inability to focus. If we notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical assistance. 

Can Alcohol-Induced Anemia Be Reversed?

The good news is that anemia caused by alcohol misuse is reversible — but only when we stop drinking. In fact, depending on how long we’ve been drinking, alcohol-induced anemia can resolve itself within several weeks once we quit drinking. 

That’s because our body starts to replenish important nutrients and minerals for red blood cell production, such as iron, folate, and other B vitamins that we lost when we were consuming alcohol. Similarly, when we stop drinking, our bone marrow can resume its normal function of producing red blood cells. 

Depending on our situation, a healthcare provider may also recommend folic acid, vitamin B-complex, or other supplements to help increase red blood cell production and functioning. They may also encourage us to eat a healthy diet full of foods rich in iron and vitamins, such as leafy greens and lean meats. 

Keep in mind that we can protect ourselves from macrocytic anemia and alcohol-induced anemia by limiting our consumption of alcohol or quitting drinking entirely. 

How Does Alcohol Affect Anemia?

So, what if we already have anemia: can we drink alcohol? While a drink here and there likely isn’t harmful, heavy drinking could make your condition worse.

As we’ve learned, consuming large amounts of alcohol can suppress blood cell production and lead to structural abnormalities of red blood cells, preventing their full maturation. Since anemic individuals already have a low red blood cell count, adding alcohol into the mix may lead to an even greater deficiency.

It’s also worth noting that alcohol can lead to symptoms associated with anemia, such as irregular heart beat, fatigue, and dizziness. Plus, heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol can have detrimental long-term effects on the body, which can complicate preexisting conditions. 

For all these reasons and more, experts recommend avoiding alcohol if you already have anemia. 

Tips for Treating Anemia

Tips for Treating Anemia

Now that we have a better understanding of the relationship between alcohol and anemia, let’s look at what we can do to treat this condition. Here are six tips: 

  • Limit alcohol intake. Chronic, heavy consumption of alcohol can worsen anemia. Limiting or eliminating our alcohol intake is one of the best things we can do, not just for our condition but for our overall health and well-being. Keep in mind that alcohol does a number on our physical and mental health, even without anemia.

  • Consume iron-rich foods. Proper nutrition is important for managing anemia as it can help boost red blood cell production. Focus on foods that are rich in iron, such as fish, red meat, spinach, sweet potatoes, legumes, quinoa, and broccoli. Leafy greens in general are good sources of iron and folic acid.

  • Consume foods with vitamin C. Vitamin C helps our body absorb iron, so try making it a point to consume foods that contain high doses of vitamin C, such as oranges, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, kiwi, and other citrus fruits (grapefruit, lemon, and lime). We can also get vitamin C from drinking a glass of orange juice or putting some lemon or lime in your water.

  • Avoid drinking caffeine with meals. Caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea make it harder to absorb iron, so try to avoid drinking them while eating iron-rich foods. While it’s okay to drink them on their own, combining them with these foods can block iron absorption, which is counterproductive!

  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can worsen any condition we have, including anemia, so be sure you’re consuming enough water. Experts recommend drinking at least six 8-ounce glasses of water a day, more if we’re physically active. Water helps blood volume and circulation. If we’re feeling weak or dizzy, try drinking a glass of water with lemon or lime.

  • Practice relaxation techniques. A common symptom of anemia is a fast heartbeat and shortness of breath. We can help ourselves manage these symptoms by practicing stress reduction or relaxation techniques, such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or deep breathing. Box breathing in particular is a simple and easy technique we can practice anywhere. All we have to do is breathe in through our nose while counting to four, hold our breath for four seconds, exhale through our mouth for four seconds, and hold for four seconds again. Repeat for five minutes.


These are common tips for managing anemia, but it’s important to always consult a healthcare provider for treatment and ongoing care.

The Bottom Line

Anemia is the most common of blood disorders and is characterized by a deficiency in red blood cells, which our body must have to get the oxygen it needs to function. Chronic alcohol misuse can increase our risk of anemia by interfering with the nutrients our body needs to produce red blood cells, particularly iron, B vitamins and folate. However, alcohol-induced anemia can be reversed by stopping drinking. If we already have anemia, it’s important to limit our consumption of alcohol, as regular drinking can make our condition worse.

If you want to cut back on drinking but don’t know where or how to start, consider trying Reframe. We’re a science-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Summary FAQs

1. What is anemia?


Anemia is a medical condition characterized by a red blood cell deficiency. These cells are responsible for transporting oxygen from your lungs to various parts of your body, ensuring that your tissues and organs receive the oxygen they need to function optimally.


2. What are the symptoms of anemia?


Common symptoms of anemia include fatigue (even after a good night's sleep), muscle weakness, paleness of the skin due to reduced oxygen-rich blood near the surface, and shortness of breath, especially during physical activities.

3. Can alcohol cause anemia?


Alcohol's role in causing anemia depends on the amount consumed. Moderate alcohol intake, such as an occasional glass of wine or beer, is generally not associated with causing anemia. However, excessive and chronic alcohol consumption can contribute to the development of alcohol-induced anemia.

4. How does alcohol cause anemia? 


Alcohol can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients like iron and vitamins necessary for red blood cell production. This interference can lead to a deficiency of these vital nutrients and hinder the production of healthy red blood cells.

5. Can alcohol-Induced anemia be reversed?


Yes, in many cases, anemia caused by excessive alcohol consumption is reversible. By reducing or eliminating alcohol intake, the body has the opportunity to recover and rebuild. Proper nutrition, hydration, and adherence to medical guidance can aid in this recovery.


6. What are some tips for treating anemia?


One of the best things to do to treat anemia is to stop drinking alcohol. Beyond that, it’s important to consume iron-rich foods, drink or eat foods with vitamin C, avoid drinking caffeine with meals, stay hydrated, and practice relaxation techniques for managing symptoms. 

Cut Back on Drinking 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! 

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