How Binge Drinking Affects Your Immune System

The end of the year is typically time for overindulgence. Holiday dinners and parties with an abundance of food and drinks are not uncommon. As New Year’s Eve approaches, researchers warn against the effects of binge drinking.

In young, healthy adults, binge drinking disrupts the immune system. Majid Afshar, MD, MSCR, now at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and colleagues studied participants who drank 4 or 5 shots of vodka. Depending on their weight, when they were measured at 2 hours and 5 hours after peak intoxication, their immune systems were less active than when sober. This was a reversal from immediately after peak intoxication, when the immune system is revved up.

The study included 8 women and 7 men with a median age of 27 years. The researchers took blood samples at 20 minutes, 2 hours, and 5 hours after peak intoxication. These times were chosen because they are often when intoxicated patients typically arrive at trauma centers for treatment of alcohol-related injuries.

Previous studies corroborate the findings here and have shown that binge drinking delays wound healing, increases blood loss, and makes patients more prone to pneumonia and infections to catheters. Not only does binge drinking impair the body’s ability to recover from injuries, but binge drinking increases the risk of falls, burns, gunshot wounds, car accidents, and other traumatic injuries. In fact, a third of all trauma patients have alcohol in their systems.

While most individuals are generally aware of how binge drinking can affect behavior and judgment, they typically are less aware of the effect alcohol is having on other areas, according to Elizabeth Kovacs, PhD, a co-author of the study and director of Loyola’s Alcohol Research Program.

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