Just A Reminder: This Is How Alcohol Affects Your Immune System

With bars closed and parties called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are replacing in-person drinks with virtual happy hours. And as the country’s drinking habits adapt to social distancing, our alcohol consumption appears to be going up.

According to a report by the market research firm Nielsen, alcohol sales spiked during the week of March 15–22, with spirit sales climbing to 75% over the same period in 2019. (Nielsen also said the trend may reflect people stocking up, but regardless, Americans have a lot of alcohol at home right now.)

That may be a problem, say Kathy Jung and Joe Wang, experts at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). In addition to the well-known risks of drinking too much, they noted that chronic drinking can do serious damage to your immune system over time. Not only that, but their review of literature suggests drinking too much during a pandemic may put you at greater risk of infection.

“In addition to compromising the immune cell function, chronic drinking and binge drinking can damage barrier functions in the lungs, the gut and the blood-brain barrier.”

As researchers work to understand the novel coronavirus, studies that would prove a connection between it and alcohol consumption are not yet available. Still, there’s plenty of cause for concern.

“There is evidence that chronic alcohol use makes people more susceptible to respiratory viral infections,” said Jung, the NIAAA’s director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects.

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