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Why is alcohol so inflammatory?

Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on November 11, 2023

Ever wonder why heavy drinking goes hand-in-hand with so many health issues? Excessive alcohol consumption triggers inflammation that damages tissues, impairs liver function, and even blunts natural anti-inflammatory agents. 

Table of Contents

If alcohol is damaging your health, it’s time to seek help. The decision to end alcohol dependency isn’t an easy one, but it truly is life-changing.

Our rehab center in Provo, Utah welcomes anyone who struggles with addiction.

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What is inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to harmful stimuli—bacteria, viruses, toxins, or injuries—that damage the tissue. Your immune system reacts instantly by releasing inflammatory molecules called cytokines. It may sound counterintuitive, but cytokines react to inflammation by causing more inflammation. 

They also cause your blood vessels to dilate and attract more immune cells to the site of the injury, manifesting as: 

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Heat
  • Pain 

These signs signal the protective immune activity happening below the surface. While acute inflammatory response is temporary (resolved once the harmful stimulus is neutralized), chronic inflammation can lead to serious health issues.

Why is chronic inflammation bad?

Inflammation is supposed to be a temporary defense. When it persists unresolved, it quietly instigates demolition on the cellular level, leading to a wide range of serious medical conditions. Before we explain in detail why chronic inflammation is so bad, let’s take a closer look at how inflammation works:

  • When a splinter pokes your finger, inflammation kicks in to handle the problem.
  • The affected area temporarily swells up (remember how your blood vessels dilate?) so more immune cells can rush in. 
  • But those dilated blood vessels leak fluid in order to contain the infection. 
  • At the same time, white blood cells attack any foreign invaders such as bacteria. White blood cells (or leukocytes) are the immune cells that defend the body against infection and inflammation. 
  • Increased levels of leukocytes aim to destroy any threatening organisms and mend the damaged tissues.

This is a pretty clever system your own body employs to “repair and overcome the damage” (Pahwa, et. al.). But, sometimes, inflammation overstays its welcome, causing ongoing chaos. Long after an injury heals or an infection clears, the immune cells and inflammatory cytokines keep whirring at unhealthy levels. 

…systemic chronic inflammation (SCI) that can, in turn, lead to several diseases that collectively represent the leading causes of disability and mortality worldwide, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders. (Furman, et. al.)

This cellular stress damages your DNA, proteins, and mitochondria—all vital molecular structures that keep your body operating smoothly. Unchecked, chronic inflammation gradually impairs entire organ systems, also leading to accelerated aging and cancer.

Yup, chronic inflammation may lead to mutations in your DNA which can form cancer cells. A 2019 research article suggests that “inflammation has been shown to promote mutagenesis, tissue damage, and ultimately carcinogenesis.” 

Alcohol is a significant cancer risk factor. Its toxic metabolites damage DNA and cause chronic systemic inflammation to spur uncontrolled cell growth and a whole lot of other mayhem. 

Sometimes, this mayhem is visible on your skin. Often, inflammation silently wreaks havoc.

What are the symptoms of alcohol-related inflammation?

Beyond the visible signs, inflammation typically manifests as flu—which often makes it super hard to detect before it causes more serious damage. These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Poor appetite
  • Digestive disturbances (e.g., nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation)
  • Changes in blood properties 

Are you drinking too much? Your body shows physical symptoms of alcohol addiction. Heavy drinking can spur distinct inflammatory signals in your body. 

  • Outwardly, excessive alcohol consumption can cause:
    • Swollen, puffy, or reddened face and eyes
    • Skin flushing and redness
    • Spider veins on the chest, neck, and cheeks
    • Beer belly” (from liver inflammation)
    • Weight gain (from fluid retention)
    • Yellowing skin or eyes (jaundice) 
    • Acne, rosacea, or skin disorders
  • Internally, alcohol-fueled inflammation leads to:
    • Fatigue 
    • Muscle pain
    • Abdominal discomfort
    • Disrupted sleep
    • Mood changes
    • Foggy thinking
    • Seizures, in severe cases

These “invisible” symptoms of booze result from the widespread immune activation and cellular damage it incites. In case you didn’t know, alcohol messes up your immune system big time, and your immune system plays a vital role in fending off chronic inflammation. 

Those happy hour cocktails or a chilled beer after work may seem harmless, but in the long run, alcohol’s bad for your brain, liver, kidneys, heart, skin… The list is endless. Despite the negative health effects, it’s often hard to fight off the desire to have just one more. 

You don’t have to fight alone. The caring and supportive staff at our alcohol addiction treatment center can help you through the recovery stages, from alcohol detox to the sweet freedom from alcohol addiction. 

How does alcohol trigger inflammation in the body?

There’s no doubt that excessive alcohol intake is tied to myriad health issues, everything from heart disease and neurodegeneration to liver disease and cancer. A big part of that is alcohol’s ability to trigger widespread inflammation. 

As it passes through your system, alcohol activates all those specialized immune cells and molecules that launch inflammation. We already know that, if left unchecked, this ultimately causes tissue and cellular damage. 

Imagine your body as a team where different parts—the gut, liver, and brain—work together to keep things balanced and healthy. When alcohol gets involved, it messes up this teamwork. It makes the gut leak toxins into the body, leading to inflammation and harm throughout. 

A 2010 study illustrates this, citing gut microflora-derived lipopolysaccharides (LPS) as a key inducer of alcohol-related inflammation.

In healthy individuals, the adverse effects of LPS are kept in check by the actions and interactions of multiple organs. The liver plays a central role in detoxifying LPS and producing a balanced cytokine milieu. The central nervous system contributes to anti-inflammatory regulation through neuroimmunoendocrine actions. Chronic alcohol use impairs not only gut and liver functions, but also multi-organ interactions, leading to persistent systemic inflammation and ultimately, organ damage.

Alcohol’s inflammatory effects are further compounded by how it is processed in the body. 

How does alcohol metabolism lead to increased inflammation?

Alcohol is metabolized in the liver. The liver already has its hands full detoxifying waste and keeping the body chemically balanced. When you add alcohol metabolism to its list of duties, your liver strains its capacities and impairs many crucial functions such as regulating nutrients and removing toxins. 

On top of that, alcohol metabolism generates harmful byproducts (like acetaldehyde) that trigger widespread inflammation.

While being processed in the liver, booze elevates the levels of chemicals such as interleukin-6 and TNF-alpha. This is why you often feel like you’re battling an infection instead of a post-party hangover. Interleukin-6 and TNF-alpha are inflammatory signaling proteins that fight toxins and tissue damage. The worse your hangover, the more these inflammatory markers are amped up.

At 4 h after alcohol consumption, blood ethanol concentration (but not acetaldehyde) was significantly and positively associated with elevated levels of IL-6, suggesting direct inflammatory effects of ethanol. (Van de Loo, et. al.)

It turns out that harmful free radicals also make your hangovers more excruciating, confirming the notorious link between inflammation and oxidative stress.

In addition, biomarkers of oxidative stress, i.e., malondialdehyde and 8-isoprostrane, were significantly correlated with hangover severity, suggesting that oxidative stress also contributes to the inflammatory response.

Let’s see how booze promotes oxidative stress and inflammation, a dangerous duo that can accelerate aging and disease.

Heavy drinking causes oxidative stress

Oxidative stress refers to an imbalance between free radical production and antioxidant defenses in the body. Free radicals are reactive molecular species that damage proteins, lipids, and DNA. Our cells have built-in defenses that catch and disarm these dangerous free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), but alcohol is an antioxidant assassin. It depletes your antioxidants, letting free radicals run amok in your system.

Research shows that alcohol metabolism dramatically increases oxidative stress throughout the body. 

…many cognition-related dysfunctions following alcohol abuse, cerebral edema, neuronal cell loss, and dysfunction of the blood–brain barrier (BBB) have been demonstrated in the brain of deceased [alcohol use disorder] patients. These physiological abnormalities have further been linked to a higher concentration of CNS ammonia, mitochondrial damage, and oxidative stress caused by increased levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in relevant brain regions.

Over time, the destruction piles up. 

  1. Ethanol breakdown generates acetaldehyde and ROS. 
  2. Organs age prematurely.
  3. Metabolism becomes unpredictable. 
  4. Glutathione synthesis is impaired and antioxidant enzymes are inhibited. These two key protective systems against ROS. This leads to protein misfolding, mitochondrial dysfunction, and DNA mutations.

We told you alcohol wreaks havoc at the cellular level. Read more about the detrimental effects of booze on DNA.

The increased risk for many illnesses can be traced back to this chronic oxidative siege and inflammation incited by booze.

As if boosting the levels of free radicals isn’t enough, excessive drinking also sabotages your body’s natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant defenses.

Alcohol impairs natural inflammation blockers

Your body has natural mechanisms to keep inflammation in check: cytokines, receptors, enzymes, and antioxidants that restrain inflammatory forces. Heavy, chronic drinking impairs these safeguards, allowing alcohol inflammation to surge unchecked. Alcohol throws off the cytokine balance, mutes anti-inflammatory signaling, and depletes antioxidant reserves. 

Here’s how:

  • Alcohol reduces levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-10 that normally restrain inflammatory processes. This skews the cytokine balance in favor of pro-inflammatory signals.
  • Alcohol impairs PPAR-gamma activity, which normally exerts anti-inflammatory effects and improves insulin sensitivity. This contributes to inflammation-driven insulin resistance. According to research, “hepatic PPARγ signaling contributes to alcohol-induced liver injury by promoting hepatic steatosis and inflammation.”
  • Alcohol suppresses anti-inflammatory endocannabinoid system signaling, specifically CB2 receptor activation, which helps resolve inflammatory responses. A 2022 study confirms that “alcohol is also a notable activator of neuroinflammation, which over the course of repeated use may temper the anti-inflammatory responses of exogenous/endogenous cannabinoid signaling.”
  • A 2022 review found that even moderate alcohol consumption may lead to oxidative stress and impair antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase, CAT, and glutathione peroxidases.
  • Purohit, et. al. demonstrate that “alcohol metabolism by Gram-negative bacteria and intestinal epithelial cells can result in the accumulation of acetaldehyde, which in turn can increase intestinal permeability to endotoxin.” Endotoxins are toxic components of the outer membrane of gram-negative bacteria that can stimulate pro-inflammatory cytokine production and fever. Alcohol causes intestinal bacterial overgrowth, allowing endotoxin to enter circulation and trigger inflammatory changes in the liver and other organs. 

Do you see how chronic alcohol consumption ignites fiery inflammation that gradually devastates your entire health? Prevent this alcohol-fueled inflammation and avoid drinking altogether. 

Going through the stages of alcohol recovery can be difficult. That’s why you need the right support system. 

Instead of enduring it alone, take your first steps toward a new life and contact the experts at Ardu Recovery Center. We offer specialized detox and rehab programs to suit whatever your unique needs may be and to make a recovery as comfortable and successful as possible. 

How does alcohol-induced inflammation affect the body?

Booze might be a beloved part of socializing, but let’s be real: excessive amounts of alcohol deal some nasty blows to your health. The inflammatory assault simmers silently for years before it turns into a chronic disease. 

Mukamal suggests that “moderate drinking has been linked to lower levels, and heavier drinking to higher levels, of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation in the body.”

Here are some of the effects of alcohol inflammation:

  1. Inflammation caused by alcohol can induce liver disease.
  2. It increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  3. Alcohol causes inflammation in the brain.
  4. It compromises intestinal barrier integrity.
  5. It suppresses immune function.
  6. Alcohol-induced inflammation leads to accelerated aging.
  7. Alcohol worsens metabolic disorders.

Onset of liver disease

Heavy alcohol consumption batters your liver big time. Alcohol’s toxic byproducts directly harm the liver’s healthy cells, triggering an inflammatory response and often leading to alcoholic liver disease. 

Continue down the path of one too many alcoholic beverages, and you’ll face fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.

The liver sustains the greatest degree of tissue injury by heavy drinking because it is the primary site of ethanol metabolism. Chronic and excessive alcohol consumption produces a wide spectrum of hepatic lesions, the most characteristic of which are steatosis, hepatitis, and fibrosis/cirrhosis. (Osna, et. al.)

The good news is your liver can recover from alcohol’s toxic effects if you give it enough time and stop heavy alcohol consumption. Some alcohol damage is reversible, but make sure you quit drinking while you’re ahead.

Heightened cardiovascular disease risk

Increased inflammation induced by heavy drinking does a number on your cardiovascular health. Alcohol creates a perfect setup for a heightened cardiovascular disease risk. 

We won’t go into details, so here’s what you need to know:

  1. Booze thickens your blood, raising the risk of heart-related issues and increased blood pressure. “Many adverse cardiac intracellular effects found after chronic alcohol consumption can be attributed to oxidative stress… [such as] systolic dysfunction as well as a thickening of the heart muscle that can make ventricles larger, known as cardiac hypertrophy.” (Piano)
  2. It makes your blood cells stickier, damages the blood vessels, and elevates the risk of cardiac events. (That’s a fancy way of saying heart attacks and strokes.)
  3. The inflammatory chemicals triggered by binge drinking destabilize arterial plaques and raise triglycerides and other blood fats. This clogs your arteries, creates clots, and leads to even more cardiac events. 
  4. Alcohol modifies gut flora to impair the metabolism of blood vessel-constricting endotoxins. Research has shown how alcohol “may damage the bacterial flora in the gut as well as the intestinal walls, leading to the release and transfer into the blood of bacterial lipopolysaccharides, which play a key role in alcohol-mediated inflammation.”

So both indirectly through inflammation and directly through vascular effects, alcohol inflames cardiovascular disease risk.

Induced neuroinflammation

Ever wonder why heavy drinkers seem to lose their mental edge? Not only is alcohol neurotoxic but it also sparks a neuroinflammatory firestorm that actually damages brain cells and circuits—paving the way for alcohol-induced brain damage.

Alcohol activates the brain’s immune cells, called microglia, causing them to flood neurons with inflammatory chemicals. Researchers show that “chronic alcohol consumption induced microglia activation and peripheral macrophage infiltration in the CNS, particularly in the hippocampus.” This nonstop alcohol-fueled neural assault impairs mood, memory, and clear thinking. And let’s not forget the oxidative damage that besieges delicate brain tissues.

Left unchecked, chronic neuroinflammation sparked by chronic alcohol abuse eventually leads to neurodegenerative disorders. The overproduction of cytokines and oxidative radicals from sustained microglial activation slowly strangles neurons. Neural connections fray as important tissues like the hippocampus atrophy, eroding memory consolidation. 

But great things happen to your brain when you quit drinking. In the first few weeks, you may experience the dreadful alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It’s your brain’s chemistry trying to adjust to the lack of alcohol. 

Don’t despair. With professional support, commitment, and a little patience, you can push through this temporary discomfort and come out the other side with a healthier, happier brain. Contact Ardu and start your healing today.

Suppressed immune function

Alcohol is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to your body’s immune response. On one hand, it stirs up trouble by causing inflammation, but it also paradoxically puts the brakes on the immune cells that fight off infections, keeping an eye out for sneaky tumors. Long-term drinking messes with your immune cells, making it harder for your body to fight off infections or detect cancer. 

…alcohol inhibits the functions of the cells that ingest and destroy invading microorganisms (i.e., neutrophils, monocytes, and macrophages). Both acute and chronic alcohol exposure also alter the production of signaling molecules that help coordinate the immune response (i.e., cytokines). Finally, alcohol adversely affects the functions of the cells that mediate the immune response against specific microorganisms and long-term immunity (i.e., T cells and B cells). (Szabo)

This immune slowdown due to alcohol effects also causes slower wound healing and blunts the production of important antibodies needed to fight disease.

But once you put the brakes on drinking, your immune system gets a chance to recharge. Ditch the booze and let your body rebuild its defenses. Wouldn’t you rather have a squadron of immune soldiers defending your health instead of alcohol sabotaging it?

Premature aging through oxidative damage

You already know all about the toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism: inflammation-loving free radicals. But did you know that these molecules can speed up aging?

The free radicals and reactive oxygen species in your body harm your cells’ membranes, proteins, and even your DNA, slowly wearing away their strength. This trouble-making process fast-forwards cell aging by shortening telomeres (sort of like the cell’s aging clock), messing up the mitochondria (the cell’s energy houses), and causing other changes that speed up aging. 

One study found that these changes indicate accelerated aging in the DNA due to alcohol-induced oxidative stress, potentially contributing to the liver’s fatty degeneration in heavy drinkers with liver disease.

All this cellular chaos caused by alcohol’s actions makes the body prone to weakness, organ damage, and all kinds of health issues that usually come along with aging. 

Compromised intestinal barrier function

Booze barges through your intestinal border defenses, letting nasty toxins leak into your system. It weakens the tight junctions between intestinal cells that normally contain bacteria safely. Purohit, et. al. again warn that “increased intestinal permeability can lead to increased transfer of endotoxin from the intestine to the liver and general circulation where endotoxin may trigger inflammatory changes in the liver and other organs.” 

Alcohol also decreases the mucus patrol that serves as a protective barrier.

The mucosal damage caused by alcohol might result in an impaired intestinal barrier function, enabling toxins of gut-inhabiting bacteria such as endotoxins to enter the systemic circulation and to contribute to liver injury after alcohol consumption.

Your leaky gut then allows bacteria and antigens to escape into circulation, triggering inflammatory mayhem. A healthy gut is basically the gatekeeper determining what enters your body from the outside world. Alcohol makes it easy for unwelcome invaders to barge right in, run amok, and spark serious inflammatory responses.

Don’t forget that binge drinking can easily take you from buzzed to blacked-out before you know it. When you drink more than your stomach can take, you don’t only harm the intestinal barrier—you are also in serious danger from alcohol poisoning

Our medically supervised detox, as well as holistic detox, can help you to safely eliminate alcohol from the body.

Exacerbated metabolic disorders

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: alcohol leads to obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. This is because it pours inflammatory fires on your metabolic processes, leading to increased insulin resistance, impaired blood sugar regulation, and other more severe problems. 

Here’s a rundown of how alcohol-induced inflammation wrecks your metabolism:

  1. It drives increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-alpha and IL-6) that interfere with insulin signaling. This makes it harder for your cells to take up glucose, setting the stage for insulin resistance and diabetes. Research shows that “individuals with a history of binge drinking have an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.”
  2. It exacerbates adipose tissue inflammation, promoting obesity-associated metabolic dysfunction. Kema, et. al. found that “chronic ethanol consumption reduces adipose tissue mass and causes CYP2E1 mediated oxidative stress and inflammation of adipose tissue.” 
  3. It disrupts lipid synthesis and fat metabolism, leading to fatty liver disease. The oxidative stress it causes gradually damages hepatocytes, allowing fat to accumulate. 
  4. It alters gut microbiota populations that impair the normal metabolism of endotoxins. 

Alcohol really shakes things up in your body. These were only a few examples of how detrimental chronic inflammation caused by alcohol is. Make the necessary lifestyle changes today and quit alcohol to stop fueling inflammation and diseases. We understand that it may not be as easy as it sounds, especially if you’re battling addiction. But with the right help, you can regain that control and make healthy choices. 

Your recovery at Ardu begins with alcohol detox, where we safely and comfortably help you rid your body of alcohol toxins. Our medical professionals at our detox center closely monitor your progress to ensure a smooth and safe detox experience

How to get rid of inflammation from alcohol?

We know booze is an expert at sparking inflammation by mucking up your gut health, overworking your liver, and causing oxidative stress. The good news is you can counteract these deleterious effects and reduce alcohol-related inflammation. 

Here are some things you can do to chill those alcohol-induced fiery internal responses.

  1. Start with repairing your gut health. Prebiotic fiber and probiotic supplements help you restore that microbiome balance alcohol unravels.
  2. Stick to an anti-inflammatory diet full of fresh produce, fish, and spices such as ginger and turmeric. They’re packed with powerful antioxidants, your body’s number one inflammation fighters.
  3. Go easy on your liver and avoid acetaminophen and fatty foods.
  4. Manage stress. Chronic stress may add oil to your already fired-up system. 
  5. Exercise regularly to get those feel-good endorphins pumping. Working up a sweat beats inflammation.
  6. Anti-inflammatory supplements such as green tea, curcumin, omega-3s, and activated charcoal may help, as they can counteract some alcohol effects.
  7. Cut way back on alcohol. Better yet, cut it out entirely. If you’re struggling with quitting alcohol, seek professional help. 

Do you need help quitting alcohol?

Ardu Recovery Center provides personalized support and evidence-based treatment to help you overcome alcohol dependence. Our compassionate team can guide you towards sobriety one day at a time, reducing alcohol’s damaging effects, and empowering you to heal. 

Ourn a comprehensive approach to recovery addresses not only the physical aspects of addiction but also the psychological and emotional aspects. Through evidence-based group therapy and individual therapy, as well as holistic treatment methods we delve into the underlying factors contributing to your alcohol addiction. That’s a step in the right direction in developing effective coping mechanisms.

To enroll in an Ardu alcohol rehab program, contact Ardu Recovery Center online or via phone (801-810-1234). We will work with you to find a recovery path that works for you during the detox process and beyond. 

Read our admissions process page for additional information.

I loved every moment I spent at Ardu. I really got the therapy and support I have been needing so badly over the years. They are so kind and loving that I came back to work and I love it even more as an employee. The environment is so peaceful. It’s a beautiful place for healing. 

Chandler Lindley


Alcohol FAQ

How does alcohol affect joint inflammation?

Alcohol increases inflammatory mediators that can worsen joint inflammation and erosion in conditions like arthritis. Researchers have shown that “alcohol use can increase uric acid levels and thus increase the risk of inflammatory joint conditions such as gout.” 

Acute alcohol intoxication also enhances the activation of neutrophils that release degradative proteins, potentially worsening joint damage. Alcohol may also blunt the distinct anti-inflammatory response in joints. 

Read more about the connection between heavy drinking and gout.

What alcohol does not cause inflammation?

While excessive alcohol is strongly linked to inflammation, moderate intake may not cause significant inflammation in some people. Healthcare providers often consider one to two drinks per day as a low risk for inflammation. 

However, this greatly depends on how susceptible you are to the substances in alcohol. If you are sensitive or suffer from a pre-existing condition, any type of alcohol may initiate inflammatory cascades. 

How do you get rid of alcohol gastritis?

Alcohol gastritis, or stomach inflammation, usually improves by abstaining from alcohol to allow healing. Avoid additional stomach irritants, manage stress, adhere to a bland diet, and take stomach mucosa supplements to help resolve alcohol-related gastritis inflammation. Talk to a healthcare provider if severe symptoms like bleeding occur.

Does alcohol cause inflammation in muscles?

Studies show both acute and chronic alcohol exposure can prompt inflammatory responses in muscle tissues. 

Chronic heavy alcohol consumption leads to skeletal-muscle inflammation, which favors expression of profibrotic factors such as transforming growth factor β(TGF-β), stimulating an increase in the expression and activation (phosphorylation) of transcription factors such as Smad (P-Smad).

This alcohol-induced inflammation may contribute to muscle wasting, weakness, and slowed muscle repair seen in some heavy drinkers. 

Does alcohol cause arthritis?

While alcohol does not directly cause arthritis, it can worsen inflammation and joint damage in existing arthritis. This is due to both alcohol’s deleterious effects on joint tissues, and its broader impact of increasing systemic inflammatory mediators. 

If you suffer from arthritis or other autoimmune disorders, avoid alcohol altogether. You can manage arthritis with anti-inflammatory medications, diet, and exercise to reduce flare-ups.

Can alcohol cause inflammatory bowel disease?

Alcohol might lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) due to the high levels of chronic inflammation in causes. Even moderate alcohol intake may even worsen the symptoms and progression of IBD such as colitis and Crohn’s disease. 

Alcohol likely damages the intestinal barrier, allowing more gut microbe components to enter circulation and drive inflammation. Booze also suppresses gut-protective molecules and alters populations of bacteria in ways that promote leaky gut. Binge alcohol drinking enables more intestinal inflammation triggers to enter your system. This causes flare-ups and a vicious cycle of worsening IBD. 

Can acute exposure to alcohol cause inflammation?

Even short-term alcohol intake triggers widespread inflammatory effects. Studies show binge drinking and acute alcohol exposure activate certain immune cells, prompting the release of proinflammatory cytokines. These inflammatory cells boost reactive oxygen species that damage your entire body. Acute alcohol exposure also elevates liver inflammation and endotoxemia. 

So while a single night of heavy drinking may not cause permanent damage, it does incite short-lived systemic inflammation that stresses organs and tissues throughout the body. 

Can alcohol cause cognitive deficits?

Alcohol may, directly and indirectly, lead to cognitive deficits. 

Direct effects:

  • Acute and chronic alcohol exposure activates microglial inflammatory cells in the brain. The microglial activation causes neuroinflammation that damages neurons.
  • Alcohol exposure suppresses neurotransmitters that normally restrain neuroinflammatory signaling.
  • Alcohol provokes oxidative stress and the production of free radicals that directly damage delicate neural tissues.
  • Repeated alcohol exposure can destroy synapses and neural pathways involved in learning, memory, and impulse control.

Indirect effects:

  • Alcohol-induced gut inflammation and endotoxemia provoke liver damage and peripheral inflammation that indirectly disrupt brain function.
  • By exacerbating metabolic disorders, alcohol contributes to vascular effects like hypertension that elevate risks of stroke and cerebrovascular dysfunction.
  • Alcohol interactions with prescription or over-the-counter drugs may also indirectly contribute to cognitive impairment.

Previous studies suggest that neuroinflammation underlies many aspects of alcohol-related dementia and cognitive decline. 


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