Woman looking at glass of wine

The Risks of Turning to Alcohol for Pain Management

If you’ve been leaning on alcohol to help “take the edge off” of your chronic pain — or the stress of life, in general — you’ve got company. In 2021, nearly a quarter of American adults reported an increase in their alcohol consumption to help deal with the stress of the COVID pandemic alone.

Perhaps you’ve even found research suggesting that moderate drinking may boost your health.  But a larger community of experts agree that there is actually no safe amount to consume.

When you’re self-medicating with alcohol to help manage your pain, there are other, unique risks at play. Here’s more about the danger, and why we encourage you to pursue alternative solutions.

Pain Medication + Alcohol = A Potentially Deadly Combination

Prescription painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet, or OxyContin work by blocking the pain messages between your body and your brain. They’re also helpful in calming down the body by slowing breathing, and inducing a feeling of relaxation. Alcohol can amplify these effects and has the danger of dramatically slowing your heart rate and breathing, which — if extreme enough — could put you into a coma.

Simply mixing a couple of aspirin and a glass of wine can negatively impact your gastrointestinal system, but combining alcohol and opioids could be deadly. In general, if you are reliant on pain medication of any kind to manage your chronic pain, it’s recommended to avoid alcohol altogether.

Weight Gain Can Increase Pain

Beyond being full of “empty” calories, alcohol consumption can significantly slow how your body burns fat. This may lead to weight gain, and can also make it difficult to lose weight you’ve gained over time. Drinking even a moderate amount may also interfere with your body’s ability to register when it’s full — potentially causing you to eat more than you need to.

“There’s a lot of evidence that indicates being overweight can contribute to your pain levels. So if you are trying to lose or maintain weight to help with your chronic pain, abstaining from alcohol may be even wiser advice than avoiding the ice cream.

Other Health Dangers

Drinking more than very occasionally can also pose several other health risks, including shrinking your brain matter, negatively impacting your heart, and increasing your risk for several cancers.

Though considered a sedative, alcohol before bed can also contribute to harmful disruptions in your sleep patterns. Once alcohol levels drop, your brain shifts into heightened activity, causing restlessness. This can be a terrible combination for those who are already experiencing sleep problems due to their chronic pain.

Too much alcohol can also contribute to increased depression or anxiety, weaken your immune system, and systemic inflammation. If you’re experiencing chronic pain, you may already be struggling with feelings of isolation or helplessness, and alcohol certainly will not help improve them. Similarly, those with chronic pain need healthy, well balanced immune systems to help combat disease while reducing inflammation that may otherwise exacerbate the issue.

If you’re suffering from chronic pain, and are relying on alcohol to medicate it, our caring, award-winning physicians want to help you find a solution that isn’t detrimental to your health. We will work closely with you to identify your pain source and determine a healthy course of action. You can call us at 770-929-9033 for an appointment, or schedule one online.