How alcohol affects our immune system

Drinking alcohol effects our bodies in many ways. It can compromise our immune system which protects us against infections. Let’s take a closer look. 

It seems baffling that something as seemingly insignificant as having a drink can cause such disharmony in our bodies doesn’t it? The reality is that the effects of alcohol on the body are far reaching.  Let’s look at how it affects our immune system. 

When we drink alcohol, it causes different effects across the body which compromises elements of the immune system: 

  • Gut health. Alcohol interferes with the way we breakdown, digest and absorb nutrients from our foods. It also causes an inflammatory response which can lead to intestinal inflammation. Damage to the gut lining/barrier means that bacteria can pass through to the bloodstream more easily.    
  • Lungs. Alcohol damages the immune cells and fine hairs which have an important job: to clear pathogens from our airways. This increases our risk of infections like pneumonia and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). 
  • Sleep. Alcohol compromises the quality of our sleep which is a vital part of the immune response. Good sleep improves the efficiency of our T Cells which respond to bacteria or pathogens that enter our bodies.   

Because alcohol is a toxin that can’t be stored in the body, when we drink it, our body must temporarily postpone normal functions to process the alcohol first.  The Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines state men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week to avoid alcohol-related health problems. Those at risk of ill-health due to underlying conditions such as diabetes or heart disease are advised to consume even less than this. Maintaining a healthy, moderate relationship with alcohol is important when considering ways to improve your health and wellbeing. 


Thinking about a change in your drinking habits? You’re not alone. Join our free Drink Less programme and receive the compassionate support, guidance, and expertise you need. Whether you aim to stop drinking or simply want to reduce your intake for a healthier lifestyle, we’re here to help you every step of the way.


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