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Can Alcohol Abuse Cause Joint Pain?

Joseph Sitarik, DO

Medically reviewed by

Joseph Sitarik, DO

January 23, 2019

The use of alcohol, whether it is abused or used in moderation, can aggravate or even cause joint pain. Alcohol depletes the body of water and nutrients causing an increase of inflammation and pain in the joints.

Alcohol abuse can cause or even aggravate preexisting joint pain. Alcohol depletes your body of water and nutrients. It can suppress your immune system and increase inflammation. All of these things can inflame joint pain. Alcohol abuse can worsen existing conditions which cause joint pain, like fibromyalgia, gout, and various types of arthritis.

When you pour or sip on a drink, chances are you’re not thinking about the ways it could make your back or knees ache the next day. But for those with existing joint pain concerns, and even for those without, if you abuse alcohol, or even use it moderately, this can be a very real concern.

Can Alcohol Make Your Joints Hurt?

Alcohol can actually cause or exacerbate existing joint pain and acute inflammation. Even small amounts of alcohol may cause these adverse health effects for some individuals who are very sensitive to it. Alcohol abuse can decrease you bone density. This can complicate arthritis and increases the chance of fracture.

Can Pre-existing Joint Pain Be Aggravated By Drinking?

Certain illnesses and diseases which cause joint pain, tenderness, swelling, and/or inflammation, can be magnified by alcohol consumption. These include:

  • Celiac disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout
  • Lupus
  • Osteoarthritis (OA)
  • Other forms of arthritis
  • Other musculoskeletal conditions
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Some of these (like celiac, lupus, and RA) are autoimmune diseases. This means your body essentially turns on itself as its immune system begins attacking healthy tissue instead of disease-causing invaders. Not only can alcohol decrease your immune system, making these conditions worse, but some of its individual components increase symptom severity. It’s believed that the gluten in grain-based alcohol (like beer and many vodkas) triggers joint pain and flare-ups for those who suffer from celiac disease, lupus, and RA.

Now let’s look at gout. Gout is caused by purine-rich beverages such as beer, though liquor and wine may still create this effect. Frequent and prolonged drinking is not only a risk factor for developing gout, it can also cause debilitating episodes of pain, once you have the condition.

So can you drink if you have these conditions? You need to listen to your body and discuss these concerns with your doctor. For some, having one glass of wine or drink with dinner won’t create any noticeable changes in pain or new symptoms. But you should still proceed with caution, especially since alcohol has been linked to other diseases.

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Alcohol Abuse Can Cause Bone Death

Alcohol is a known risk factor for avascular necrosis, or “the death of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply, as detailed by Mayo Clinic. “Also called osteonecrosis, avascular necrosis can lead to tiny breaks in the bone and the bone’s eventual collapse.” This disease hits people at a fairly young age, often when social drinking is the norm. It’s most frequently witnessed in individuals aged 30 to 60.

Why does alcohol expose you to this risk? Mayo explains: “Consuming several alcoholic drinks a day for several years also can cause fatty deposits to form in your blood vessels.” These deposits can block the blood from traveling to certain areas of bone tissue, causing them to necrotize or die.

How Does Alcohol Create Joint Pain?

When you consume alcohol it can create numerous circumstances which precipitate or inflame pain, such as:

  • Behaviors while drinking: Alcohol decreases your inhibitions and makes you more apt to engage in risky behaviors. Within these states you might do certain things which stress your body, such as jumping from a great height or playing contact sports without the proper equipment.
  • Dehydration: Alcohol severely dehydrates you. Your joints need ample hydration to stay lubricated and to fight inflammation.
  • Delayed healing process: Alcohol directly impedes your body’s ability to heal itself. It also suppresses your immune system, which can stress existing conditions or make you more susceptible to new ones.
  • Diet: Many people are more likely to consume junk food under the influence, versus when they are sober. These foods may be laden with refined carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fats, all of which are reported to increase inflammation.
  • Interactions with medications: Certain painkillers should not be taken with alcohol. For this reason, some individuals may skip a dose so that they can drink. Doing so can make their pain more acute.
  • Poor sleep: Alcohol impairs your quality of sleep. Fatigue can cause pain to intensify. Your body also needs this time to mend and rejuvenate. Without it, any damage you’ve done to your body isn’t able to heal as effectively.
  • Weight gain: Alcohol is full of carbohydrates and empty calories. Over time, these can lead to weight gain which places extra stress on your joints.

Can Alcohol Reduce Inflammation And Pain?

No amount of alcohol is considered truly safe to treat pain. Even moderate amounts of drinking still carry risks. However, some research does point to certain health benefits of drinking. This includes alcohol’s potential as an anti-inflammatory agent, within specific circumstances. Studies even suggest that alcohol could reduce your risk of developing fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), two chronic and potentially debilitating diseases which cause intense joint pain.

This doesn’t mean that you should start drinking or drink for the purpose of preventing a symptom or disease. First, this benefit was linked to moderate drinking and amounts which were less than one drink per day for women. Secondly, alcohol is a drug and toxin, and while small amounts of alcohol may offer some benefits, there are still many other dangers associated with it. These could significantly outweigh any perceived benefits.

Lastly, as we’ve noted, if you already have a condition which causes joint pain, alcohol may only serve to make it worse. Though alcohol might seem to numb or reduce pain in the short term, this is just a temporary fix. This self-medication only serves to mask the symptoms while the alcohol could be causing deeper, long-term damage.

Can I Drink Alcohol On Pain Meds?

If you’re taking pain medication, either over-the-counter or as a prescription, you might wonder if it’s okay to have a glass of wine with dinner or several drinks after work. Many people may do this very thing and not even think about the repercussions. Mixing alcohol and opioid painkillers can be harmful to your health and in certain cases, it can even lead to a deadly overdose.

Your liver is responsible for metabolizing drugs, including alcohol. When you use these substances together, it places an even greater burden on this important organ. Certain medications which contain acetaminophen (like Vicodin or Tylenol #3 and #4) increase the likelihood of liver damage even further. Further, light to moderate doses of alcohol paired with acetaminophen-containing drugs also raises your risk of kidney damage.

If you’re taking an opioid painkiller, you need to be exceedingly mindful about how you use alcohol with these substances. Both alcohol and opioids depress your central nervous system (CNS). Drinking while painkillers are in your system compounds CNS depression. The potential for respiratory depression (dangerously slowed breathing) and fatal overdose climb due to this action.

We Can Help You Heal From Alcohol Abuse

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol, contact us today. RehabCenter.net is committed to helping you live a healthier, sober life.

Arthritis Foundation - Alcohol and Arthritis

Arthritis Foundation - The Connection Between Gluten And Arthritis

BioMed Central - Association between alcohol consumption and symptom severity and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia

Men's Journal - Another Reason Tylenol and Alcohol Don’t Mix

Mayo Clinic - Avascular necrosis

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