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Alcohol and Health

How Does Alcohol Impact Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms?

October 27, 2023
10 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.
October 27, 2023
10 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.
October 27, 2023
10 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.
October 27, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 27, 2023
10 min read

In a perfect world, your immune system would be your own personal superhero, protecting your body from harmful invaders like viruses and bacteria. But with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), things go off track: the immune system gets a little confused, starts seeing your body's own tissues as the bad guys, and begins to attack them. 

Adding to the complexity, some studies suggest that alcohol might have a relationship with RA. But how, exactly? Let's break it down!

Rheumatoid Arthritis Basics

First, let’s get a bit more acquainted with rheumatoid arthritis. RA is more than just occasional joint pain. It's a chronic inflammatory disorder that doesn’t only affect our joints — it can also damage other systems in the body. 

RA doesn't discriminate: it can affect anyone, at any age. However, it often starts in middle age, and women are more likely to get it than men. A combination of genes and environmental factors (like smoking) might tip the scales toward developing RA.

Symptoms of RA can vary widely, but here are some of the most common:

  • Pain and swelling. Our joints usually experience both of these, and they’re often symmetrical — if one hand, elbow, or toe hurts, the other one does too.
  • Stiffness. This is reported to be especially noticeable in the morning or after a period of inactivity.
  • Fatigue. A general feeling of being worn out and tired often comes with the RA territory.
  • Joint deformity. If left untreated, RA can cause joints to shift out of place.

The tricky thing about RA is that it can come and go. We might have periods when we feel fine, followed by “flares” when symptoms worsen. It's like a roller coaster of discomfort, making it hard to pin down clear patterns. As a result, RA can easily throw off our daily routines: simple tasks might become challenging and our work and hobbies can be hard to keep up with.

The Immune System’s Identity Crisis

The underlying mechanism of RA involves a mistaken attack on the synovium, the thin membrane that lines our joints. This attack causes inflammation, which leads to the symptoms we've discussed. It's like a friendly fire incident in a warzone where the soldiers (immune cells) mistakenly attack their own side (the joints).

RA's elusive nature means that diagnosing it can be a challenge. Doctors often use a combination of physical examinations, blood tests, and imaging like X-rays to get to the bottom of it. Treatment typically involves medications to reduce inflammation and slow the disease's progress. 

The Science Behind Alcohol and Arthritis

While it's easy to enjoy a celebratory clink of glasses, it's essential to understand what alcohol can mean for someone with RA.

  • Inflammation overload. Does alcohol cause inflammation? Yes, alcohol is inflammatory, which means that alcohol can trigger inflammation in the body, which is bad news for RA sufferers who already have an overactive immune system.
  • Medication mishaps. Alcohol doesn’t play nice with many RA medications. Some drugs can become less effective when combined with alcohol, while other medications, when combined with alcohol, can cause adverse reactions.
  • Liver stress. Both RA medications and alcohol are processed by the liver. Overloading this vital organ can lead to complications down the line.
  • Weighty matters. Alcohol is calorie-dense, and extra weight can put added stress on already painful joints.

No Single Solution

In the world of science, results are not alway clear or conclusive. For those diagnosed with RA, the interaction can be complex and individualized. Research is ongoing, and there's no one-size-fits-all answer. 

Diagram about alcohol’s  impact on rheumatoid arthritis

Let's Get Practical!

If you're looking to quit or cut back on alcohol due to RA, here's a list of steps that can help:

  • Understand your body. Keep a detailed diary of your drinking habits and RA symptoms, observing how they relate. This self-exploration turns you into your own health detective, allowing you to spot trends and triggers. Not only does it promote awareness, but it also creates a valuable reference for healthcare discussions.
  • Explore non-alcoholic delights. Dive into the world of non-alcoholic beverages by trying out fun and flavorful mocktail recipes. Does beer cause inflammation? Yes, so try a non-alcoholic alternative! This way you can turn the process of reducing alcohol into a creative culinary adventure, transforming your kitchen into a mocktail bar. It's a tasty and engaging way to enjoy social gatherings booze-free!
  • Set clear boundaries. Decide on your limits and make them known to friends and family to gain support.
  • Embrace movement. Physical activity can be beneficial for RA, so why not explore some new exercises or activities? Whether it's dancing, walking, yoga, or swimming, finding joy in movement can enhance overall well-being. Work with a physical therapist or trainer knowledgeable about RA to create a routine that's both fun and safe for your joints.
  • Join support groups or clubs. Engage with others on a similar journey by joining support groups, clubs, or online communities focused on healthy living. Doing this builds a sense of camaraderie and provides encouragement from those who truly understand your path. Plus, it's a fantastic way to make new friends and share unique insights.
  • Consult professionals if needed. Seek help from a professional if cutting back on alcohol becomes a significant challenge.
  • Create a digital support system. Enlist a friend or family member as a virtual health buddy, regularly checking in through calls, texts, or video chats. This can keep you accountable and adds a personal touch to your journey. It's like having a cheerleader in your pocket, ready to celebrate victories and offer encouragement.
  • Incorporate mindful moments into your day. Introducing mindfulness or meditation into your daily routine can help manage stress — a common factor that might exacerbate RA symptoms. Mindfulness calms the mind and the body and fosters a sense of peace and control. Whether you choose guided meditation apps or simple breathing exercises, these practices can become valuable tools in your RA management toolkit.
  • Channel feelings through art or writing. Encourage self-expression by channeling feelings about RA and your relationship with alcohol into art, writing, or any creative outlet that resonates with you. This step transforms your experiences into something tangible and often beautiful, allowing you to process emotions in a positive and constructive way. It's therapeutic — and you might even reveal hidden artistic talents!

Summing Up

Remember, living with RA doesn't mean you have to forego all the fun. With knowledge, understanding, and a proactive approach, you can enjoy laughter, competition, and good company in ways that are right for you. 

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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!

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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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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.
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