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Alcohol and Health

Should I Drink Alcohol While Taking Humira?

Published:
October 17, 2023
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18 min read
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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 17, 2023
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18 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 17, 2023
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18 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 17, 2023
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18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
October 17, 2023
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18 min read

It’s Friday evening, and you're getting ready for a small get-together with friends. The table is stacked with snacks, the music is playing, and you’re debating what drink to enjoy for the evening. But what if you're on Humira? Is mixing alcohol with this medication wise? Let's take a closer look.

Friendly Fire

If you or someone you know are taking Humira — also known as adalimumab — chances are, it’s for an autoimmune condition. Our sophisticated defense mechanism, the immune system, protects us from harmful intruders such as viruses and bacteria. However, in autoimmune conditions, there’s a glitch: the immune system confuses its own cells for foreign invaders and goes into attack mode. 

One primary response to this misguided attack is inflammation. Normally, inflammation is the body's way of signaling there’s a problem — an alarm that signals a need for intervention to oust an invading pathogen. It jumpstarts the process of healing wounds and fighting off infections. 

However, in autoimmune diseases, the process goes haywire: instead of being a reaction to a genuine problem, inflammation becomes chronic, leading to various symptoms and potential damage.

What sparks this mix-up? The exact causes of autoimmune diseases remain a subject of ongoing research. Genetics, environmental factors, infections, and even some medications might play a role. 

Autoimmune Diseases: The Main Players

Unwarranted inflammation can impact various parts of the body. Depending on the location, different symptoms and conditions can arise, creating a vast spectrum of autoimmune conditions. However, they all boil down to the immune system getting its wire crossed in different ways. Here are the most common types:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). When joints become the battleground for inflammation, we're talking about RA — an autoimmune condition that develops when the body mistakenly targets the linings of joints, causing swelling, pain, and potential damage over time.
  • Psoriasis. Psoriasis accelerates skin cell growth, leading to red, scaly patches on the skin that can be both itchy and painful — another unintended detour for the body’s defense system.
  • Plaque psoriasis. A subset of psoriasis, this one is the most common type. It leads to thick, red skin with silvery scales. 
  • Crohn's disease. The digestive tract gets caught in an inflammatory storm, which causes symptoms ranging from abdominal pain to severe diarrhea and malnutrition.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis (AS). When the spine bears the brunt of inflammation, AS is the result. It can cause chronic spine pain and stiffness, but can also affect other joints.
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Kids aren't spared from the grip of autoimmune issues. JIA is like RA but targets youngsters under the age of 16, causing joint pain and inflammation.
  • Ulcerative colitis (UC). Another condition affecting the digestive tract, UC zeroes in on the colon, causing persistent inflammation and leading to symptoms like bloody stools and abdominal cramps.

The Basics of Biologics

Where does Humira come in? The story begins in the late 20th century, with the discovery of biologics. The medical community had long recognized the need for targeted treatments for inflammatory autoimmune conditions, and voila! In the 1990s, researchers found a unique solution.

Biologics are a group of medicines derived from living organisms, which sets them apart from traditional drugs that are typically synthesized from chemical compounds. Instead of being made from a mix of chemicals in a lab, biologics are produced using cutting-edge biotechnological methods, often involving genetically modified cells. The sources can be anything from humans, animals, or microorganisms.

Unlike conventional drugs that work more like sledgehammers, attacking a condition whole-hog, biologics are more like a scalpel — they are precise, designed to target the specific molecules in our body (usually proteins) that play a role in disease processes. By singling out these molecules, biologics can block or modify their action, treating the condition at its source. When it comes to autoimmune conditions, biologics help by either suppressing or enhancing specific parts of the immune response.

Biologics come in various forms, each with its own mechanism of action:

  • Monoclonal antibodies. These lab-made molecules can mimic our immune system's ability to fight off harmful pathogens; they’re specifically designed to target a single region of a protein.
  • Vaccines. While we often think of vaccines for preventing infectious diseases, some vaccines fall under the biologics umbrella, especially those used in cancer treatments.
  • Blood components. Factor VIII, used in hemophilia treatment, is a biologic derived from blood.
  • Gene therapies. These introduce or alter genetic material within a person's cells to treat or prevent disease.

Humira History

By the early 2000s, the scientists at Abbott Laboratories (now AbbVie) had a eureka! moment. They successfully developed adalimumab — the active substance in Humira. A milestone in the field, Humira became the world’s first fully human monoclonal antibody drug, targeting specific proteins in the immune system to reduce inflammation in the body. 

Humira belongs to a group of biologics called TNF inhibitors, which target the TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor) protein that our body produces as part of its inflammatory response. In some autoimmune conditions, the body produces too much TNF, causing inflammation and damage. Humira blocks the action of TNF.

In December 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Humira for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Since then, the approval list has grown, and doctors currently prescribe Humira for conditions like Crohn's disease, psoriasis, and many others.

Potential Side Effects

Today, Humira has built up an impressive track record, helping countless people manage their conditions and improving their quality of life. 

That said, like any other medication, Humira comes with a set of warnings. Here are the possible side effects of the drug:

  • Injection site reactions. This might include redness, itching, swelling, or pain where the injection was given. It's the body's immediate reaction to a foreign substance.
  • Upper respiratory infections. Humira can affect the immune system, potentially making patients more susceptible to infections such as the common cold.
  • Headaches. A common side effect with many medications, headaches can be the result of changes in the body's inflammatory response.
  • Rashes. The skin can sometimes react to Humira, resulting in various types of rashes.
  • Nausea. Some patients might feel an upset stomach or the urge to vomit after taking the medication.
  • Back pain. While it's not entirely clear why, some Humira users report experiencing back pain.

Serious side effects are rare, but they have been observed on occasion:

  • Infections. Since Humira affects the immune system, it can lower the body's ability to fight infections including tuberculosis (TB), bacterial sepsis, and fungal infections.
  • Heart problems. There have been reports of developing or worsening heart failure in some patients taking Humira.
  • Liver problems. The liver, which processes the medication, can be affected. Symptoms might include jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), dark brown urine, right-sided abdominal pain, fever, or severe fatigue. 
  • Blood disorders. Some people experience a decrease in blood cells, which can make them more susceptible to infections or cause them to bruise or bleed more easily.
  • Nervous system problems. Symptoms like tingling, numbness, or vision problems can arise, indicating potential issues with the nervous system.
  • New or worsening psoriasis. Ironically, some patients might experience new or worsening psoriasis (even though Humira can sometimes be used to treat it).
  • Lupus-like syndrome. Some patients develop symptoms similar to lupus, which include chest discomfort, joint pain, or a rash on cheeks or arms.
  • Cancers. There's an increased risk of certain types of cancers in patients taking Humira, including lymphoma.
Dangers of mixing alcohol and Humira medication

The Alcohol Angle

If you've ever skimmed through the pages of Humira's prescribing information, you know it doesn't specifically caution against alcohol. But this isn't a green flag to chug down your favorite drink. Medical professionals advise moderation and recommend discussing individual consumption levels with your healthcare provider.

While moderate alcohol consumption has not been shown to reduce the effectiveness of Humira directly, the real concern is how alcohol can amplify the medication’s potential side effects. This comes as no surprise: combining Humira with booze means blending two powerful ingredients. On their own, they each have distinct profiles; together, the blend might stir up unwanted reactions. Let's dive into which side effects of Humira might interact negatively with alcohol.

1. Liver Function

Both alcohol and Humira can strain the liver. Combining the two might escalate this risk, making it important to monitor liver function tests while on the medication.

  • Humira's impact. Humira can cause liver problems, resulting in symptoms like yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice), dark brown urine, or severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Alcohol’s role. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver. Excessive alcohol consumption is well-known to contribute to liver issues, resulting in fatty liver disease or even cirrhosis. Drinking alcohol while on Humira may amplify the risk of liver damage, especially if taken in large amounts or over a prolonged period.
2. Immune System Suppression
  • Humira's impact. As an immunosuppressant, Humira reduces the activity of the immune system to help manage autoimmune conditions. However, the body can become more susceptible to infections as a result.
  • Alcohol’s role. Chronic alcohol use can weaken the immune system, making it harder for the body to fend off viruses and bacteria. The combination of Humira and alcohol might further compromise the immune system, potentially increasing the risk of infections.
3. Blood Disorders
  • Humira's impact. In rare instances, Humira might affect the blood's ability to clot, leading to conditions like anemia or thrombocytopenia.
  • Alcohol’s role. Chronic alcohol use can interfere with the production and function of red and white blood cells and platelets. Combining alcohol with Humira might heighten the risk of blood-related complications.
4. Gastrointestinal Concerns
  • Humira's impact. Some patients on Humira experience gastrointestinal problems, including nausea or stomach pain.
  • Alcohol’s role. Alcohol can irritate the stomach lining, leading to gastritis, acid reflux, or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Consuming alcohol while on Humira could amplify gastrointestinal discomfort and other related symptoms.

Making the Call

The consequences of mixing alcohol and Humira aren’t universal. Your overall health, liver function, other medications you're on, and even your genetic makeup can all influence how your body reacts.

At the end of the day, the decision to drink while taking Humira should be a personal one, made in collaboration with your healthcare provider. After all, they understand your specific situation and can offer guidance tailored to you.

7 Safety Steps 

  • Educate yourself. Learn about the intricacies of your medication, its side effects, and potential interactions.
  • Open dialogue. Don’t hesitate to discuss your alcohol consumption habits with your doctor. They're there to help!
  • Monitor liver function. Given that both Humira and alcohol can affect the liver, consider scheduling regular liver function tests to ensure everything is in tip-top shape.
  • Limit quantity. If you do decide to drink, keep it moderate. Overindulgence could amplify potential risks.
  • Note your body’s reaction. Everyone's different! If you notice any unusual symptoms after combining Humira and alcohol, share with your healthcare provider.
  • Stay hydrated. Alcohol can be dehydrating. Make sure to balance your intake with ample water to keep dehydration at bay.
  • Avoid binge drinking. This is crucial! Binge drinking can be harmful on its own, and when combined with medications, the risks can be significantly heightened.

There's no universal verdict on the Humira-alcohol combo, but knowledge, caution, and attention to medical advice can go a long way. It’s all about making informed decisions and keeping your well-being at the center!

Summary FAQs

1. What conditions is Humira typically prescribed for?

Humira is used to treat autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and plaque psoriasis.

2. What are biologics, and how does Humira fit into this category?

Biologics are drugs derived from living cells, offering a precise approach to treat autoimmune conditions. Humira, as a TNF inhibitor, is a type of biologic targeting the TNF protein in our body.

3. How does Humira function in the body?

Humira works by blocking the action of the TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factor) protein. Excess TNF can cause inflammation and damage in autoimmune conditions, so Humira helps prevent that.

4. Are there any common side effects of Humira I should be aware of?

Yes, some common side effects include injection site reactions, upper respiratory infections, headaches, rashes, nausea, and back pain.

5. Can I drink alcohol while taking Humira?

There isn't a direct warning against alcohol, but both Humira and alcohol are processed by the liver. If you choose to drink, moderation is essential, and always consult with your healthcare provider first.

6. Are there serious side effects I should be vigilant about?

Yes, some serious side effects include severe infections, heart problems, liver issues, blood disorders, nervous system problems, new or worsening psoriasis, lupus-like symptoms, and an increased risk of certain cancers.

7. What precautions should I take if I'm considering alcohol with Humira?

Consult your healthcare provider, limit alcohol intake, stay hydrated, monitor for any side effects or changes in your body, avoid binge drinking, keep updated on guidelines regarding Humira and alcohol, and always trust your instincts.

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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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