Alcohol and its effect on the Immune System

Drinking alcohol will reduce your immune system for about 24 hours. There is no doubt that alcohol impairs the functioning of our immune system, but it does not make you more prone to infections; rather it weakens your body’s ability to fight them. These are the effects of alcohol on your immune system: Alcohol makes you more prone to flu and other infections as it lowers your body’s natural defense system. It reduces white blood cell count which makes you more susceptible to infections and viruses. The positive effects of drinking alcohol are very short-lived, while negative effects remain longer in terms of impaired cognitive function, risk of developing cancer and lowering the body’s natural defense mechanism against infection.

What is the mechanism behind how alcohol affects the immune system?

Alcohol consumption can alter the levels of cytokines and other key molecules that orchestrate the immune response. The levels of these molecules are altered in the blood and are also found in altered concentrations in different types of immune cells. The specific immune cells that seem most susceptible to these changes are cytotoxic T cells and natural killer (NK) cells. Cytotoxic T cells play a central role in the immune response to infections, including viral infections, and NK cells are important for protection against tumors and other abnormal growing cells. NK cells are activated by cytokines and other molecules produced by the immune cells. Cytokines can be thought of as the fuel that activates and drives the immune cells. Cytokines are produced in greater quantities inside the body when the immune system is activated in response to a pathogen. When we consume alcohol, it has been shown that the amount of cytokines in the blood decreases. The amount of cytokines in immune cells also decreases, which leads to a reduced activation and function of cytotoxic T cells, NK cells, and other cells of the immune system.

The effects of alcohol on our body’s natural defense

White blood cells - Every year, more than one billion people worldwide get infections, and many of them are hospitalized. Infection-related diseases are also the leading cause of death in low- and middle-income countries. This highlights the importance of the immune system's ability to fight infections. When your body is under attack, white blood cells called macrophages travel to the site of infection and infection-fighting proteins called cytokines are released to kill the bacteria and viruses. Some of them also protect us from cancer cells. The liver is an important organ that helps remove alcohol from our blood, but when we drink heavily, the liver will get stressed and it doesn't function as well. The extra alcohol in our blood can damage our macrophages, which can make us more susceptible to illnesses and infections. And if we drink heavily over a long period of time, our immune system may become so weak that we'll get sick more often.

Alcohol-induced loss of white blood cells

White blood cells are responsible for defending our body against bacteria, fungi and viruses. Alcohol-induced loss of these cells can lead to the following diseases: Diseases caused by fungi, these include infections of the nail bed (fungal nails), infections of the skin and other soft tissues (tinea infections of the skin), and infections of the lungs, sinuses, and other areas (aspergillosis, candidiasis). Viral diseases, Viruses that can cause diseases when a person’s immune system is weakened by alcohol include cytomegalovirus (CMV) and herpes simplex virus (HSV) (for example, genital herpes). Bacterial diseases, these include pneumococcal infections, staphylococcal infections, and other bacterial infections.

Alcohol and risk of developing cancer

There are certain types of cancer that are more common in people who drink heavily, including cancers of the head and neck, esophagus, liver, larynx, breast, and colorectum. There are many factors that affect our risk of cancer. Alcohol is one risk factor that can be changed. When alcohol is metabolized in the liver, it may cause damage to DNA and increase our risk of developing cancer. Alcohol is also a carcinogen, which means that it causes cancer. Research has shown that people who drink heavily have a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers. The risk is higher among people who drink heavily over many years, compared with people who drink heavily for a short time.


The effects of alcohol on the body are complex and go beyond simple changes in blood alcohol concentration. It is important to note that alcohol consumption impairs the functioning of many organs, including the immune system. The immune system is responsible for protecting the body from infections and other diseases, and alcohol consumption can make one more susceptible to these illnesses. In conclusion, alcohol consumption can temporarily improve mood and reduce stress, but it also impairs our body’s ability to fight diseases.