The most common relationship between alcohol and arthritis is that alcohol can worsen the side effects of the medication prescribed to treat the condition. Other than the effect alcohol has on the medications, there appears to be a protective effect of moderate alcohol intake and rheumatoid arthritis in particular. Recent studies have concluded that moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with a significant reduction in susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis. In patients already suffering from the condition, alcohol consumption was also shown to reduce the severity of it.
The first ever study examining the relationship between alcohol and arthritis did not focus on the quantity of alcohol but rather the number of times alcohol was imbibed and it found that the more often rheumatoid arthritis sufferers drank, the milder their symptoms compared to non-drinkers. However, the link between alcohol and arthritis is still unclear as the study did not specify the amount or type of alcohol needed for the effect to be positive rather than negative.
The researchers themselves admitted that a drawback of the study was that short term effects were examined only and hesitated to recommend alcohol as a treatment for arthritis. Many arthritis sufferers abstain from drinking alcohol completely as they report their symptoms worsen after drinking. As rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of the inflammation of the joints, and chronic alcohol increases inflammation, the combination is not one that benefits everyone.
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis which are categorized into three categories: osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia are not exacerbated by alcohol, but consuming it can worsen some of the side effects of the painkillers used to treat the two conditions. When combined, alcohol and arthritis painkillers can lead to stomach aches and liver disorders. These side effects are also possible for the combination of alcohol and medications taken for rheumatoid arthritis.
Sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis often have a lower ability to fight off disease, a symptom often made worse by the use of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or DMARDs. Drinking too much alcohol also leads to a compromised immune system. In combination, an excessive intake of alcohol and arthritis means more viral infections and vitamin deficiencies as well as stomach, intestine and liver problems. Another medication for which alcohol intensifies the effect is benzodiazepines, prescribed to sufferers of fibromyalgia as a muscle relaxant and sedative. Combining alcohol with these drugs intensifies the action on the brain and nervous system.