Effects of Alcohol on Autoimmune Conditions


It’s widely acknowledged that alcohol consumption causes damage to your pancreas, liver and other organs, but it also has a variety of effects on your natural defenses. For example, alcohol reduces cough and mucociliary clearance from your lungs, which increases the risk of pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory conditions. Alcohol also suppresses inflammatory mediators that help fight infection, making such infections more likely. Immune system response is affected in a variety of ways by alcohol consumption – including contributions to immunodeficiency and possibly autoimmunity – sometimes resulting in altered immune function and chronic inflammation, both of which are hallmarks of autoimmune disease.

Is there research that shows any short- or long-term autoimmune effects (positive or negative) from drinking alcohol?

Alcohol consumption directly affects your immune system. Specialized immune cells, called natural killer cells, have reduced effectiveness when alcohol is in the bloodstream, and T-cells also become dysfunctional. Fewer B-cells are produced, although their antibody production may be increased, and circulating antibodies in heavy drinkers have been putatively linked to autoimmune conditions.

It has been found that ethanol metabolism creates “neo-antigens,” which attach to normal body proteins and trigger immune cells to attack, leading some to believe that alcoholic liver and pancreatic disease may be partially autoimmune phenomena. There are many anecdotal reports of increased rates of autoimmune flare-ups with alcohol consumption, especially in regards to lupus and arthritis, although no serious human research is being conducted.

In addition, some studies have suggested a positive effect and an accompanying reduction in symptoms from autoimmune disease, secondary to moderate consumption, though more research is needed before clinical recommendations can be made.

Research on animals suggests that some forms of alcohol may trigger increased production of some types of immune cells, known as regulatory T-cells that help to guard the body against an overactive immune system, including that seen in autoimmune disease. This finding has potential implications for the treatment of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and type-1 diabetes, though much more research on people is necessary before any recommendations are made. Therefore, introducing more alcoholic beverages into your diet is not recommended at this time as an effective method of boosting regulatory cell activity and combating autoimmune disease.

If I had a flare related to alcohol consumption, how soon would the flare occur after having a few drinks?

Reactions to alcohol are extremely varied and related to the amount and type consumed, as well as gender, size, weight and ethnicity. Some people with rheumatoid and other types of arthritis, for example, report feeling more pain and stiffness in their joints within an hour of drinking a glass of wine or having a cocktail. But these reports are quite variable and largely anecdotal.

Can the type of alcohol or number of drinks consumed affect a flare?

It depends on the condition in question, but if it’s the ethanol content that’s causing the flare-up, then certainly the flare would be negatively impacted by the number of drinks within a certain period of time, since this impact is based on blood alcohol content. However, some disorders do respond better or worse depending on the type of alcohol as well, with dark beers or liquors sometimes leading to more severe exacerbations than might occur with other beverages. At the same time, sufferers of other diseases may be able to drink only wine or beer, with other formulations being problematic. But again, this varies widely among autoimmune diseases, and you should always check with your doctor regarding alcohol’s effect on your condition, whether positive, negative or a combination of the two.

Questions for your doctor

  • Is it best to completely eliminate alcohol from my diet if I have an autoimmune disease?
  • Is red wine, in moderation, the best choice in order to minimize autoimmune flare-ups?
  • How might liver and pancreatic damage relate to my autoimmune condition?


This post contains opinions of the author. is not a medical practice and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  It is your responsibility to seek diagnosis, treatment, and advice from qualified providers based on your condition and particular circumstances.  Camino Real Ventures, Inc., the company that makes available to you, does not endorse nor recommend any products, practices, treatment methods, tests, physicians, service providers, procedures, clinical trials, opinions or information available on this website.  Your use of the website is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy



  1. Can alcohol induce auto-immune disorders?
    I have this very weird health issue that is triggered by alcohol consumption. I occasionally drink with my friends and whenever I do, from the next day onwards, all of my fingertips and even toes become very sore and painful. My nails start getting thicker, pits start forming on top of my nails, they become yellowish and this leads to the disorder known as hyper-keratosis.

    This causes thick keratin growth to bulge out from beneath my fingernails and toenails. Adding to this misery, the skin from the palm of my hand and from underneath the palm of my legs flake out like layers of paper tissues (it worsens when my feet or hands get wet).

    Upon consulting a skin specialist(I did not tell her that I was a drinker), she told me that it was some sort of an abnormal keratin growth, more like an auto immune disorder and prescribed me with coal tar solution and petroleum jelly. It sure did make my condition better, but every time this happens, it takes exactly 3 months to completely heal. I haven’t been drinking for more than a year now and am totally fine. I am quite sure this happens only when I consume alcohol. I even tested it once and the same **** happened again.

    Can anybody please explain all this to me?

    I have such a rotten luck! I can’t even get drunk! Is there any way I could?

  2. Avatar Katie Cleary says

    Hi Ashihs, thanks so much for your comment – I am going to ask around from other autoimmune folks I know to see if I can get an answer for you – one thought though, you might go to a rheumatologist and explain the same chain of events to that type of doctor. It could be that you have Raynaud’s, which would be different from what the dermatologist diagnosed. Some of the symptoms you described above are in keeping with that condition. If I get any other advice, I will let you know — this isn’t medical advice as I am not a doctor, but just ideas from one autoimmune patient to another. Until then, take care and good luck.

  3. Avatar maxine watson says

    Hi I was diagnosed with lupus sle a year ago. I have never been a big drinker may be a glass or two of wine every couple of weeks. Now I am not able to drink any thing, within an hour I will be in excruciating pain. And it,s just not worth it I do miss have a glass of wine. And I have tried spirits but find them to be even worth than the wine. Just wanted to know if this as happen to anyone eles ?

    • I have not spoken with anyone else with Lupus that has this alcohol induced pain. I was diagnosed 14 years ago and I was only a one drink kinda girl, but now since my lupus has gotten worse, I hurt all over after a glass of wine. I had 1 margarita at a party and was in such pain for the next 18 to24 hours.. Not a hangover at all. (no nausea, vomiting or head ache) My muscles and bones ached for 18 to 24 hours. I had never felt this before. I thought it was maybe just a normal flare starting. however it was over about the time all the alcohol would have left my body. I had one glass of wine a wedding a few months later and the same thing happened. I could not move my muscles, the were even hot to the touch, and my bones hurt bad. I nave not had a drink of alcohol since and have not had that awful experience again. I do miss a good margarita in the summer !

    • I’m currently being screened for auto immune diseases and can NOT tolerate alcohol, even one drink, or it literally makes me feel like I’m getting body aches of the flu. The eliminated RA and were leaning towards Lupus. I can’t even drink a weak drink or I’m miserable. I thought that I was allergic to alcohol. Yes

  4. I have Hashimotos and every time I drink I get headaches for days afterwards and a butterfly type rash under my eyes/cheeks. I don’t drink very often but it would be nice to have the occasional drink. Does this happen to anyone else and is there anyway to combat this or is it something I have to live with forever? 🙁

  5. I was recently diagnosed with Raynaud’s that affect my toes. All my blood work is excellent. Would I be able to drink one glass of red wine a day?

  6. Hey I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and drink a bit. I was pretty well behaved the first 18 months or so then got pretty fed up with never being able to join in on nights out (newsflash drunk people are annoying to sober ppl). Anyway I try and keep it to around 3 drinks tops but about once every other week I overdo it. I have to say though I get flares that are related to alcohol. Instead of a hangover I get debilitating pain in my wrist, hands, shoulder or knee. It’s probably not worth it for me. A few glasses of wine seems fine though and my blood work is always good.

  7. Avatar Dr. P. B. Bennett says

    This article has a very authoritative tone but without any scientific references to evidence to back it up. Opinion is not fact. Please document the assertions.

  8. I have been diagnosed with Lupus through tissue samples about 13 years ago I am a fairly drinker daily 12. To 15. Beers a day 2years a go I was hospitalized because of liver disease I stopped for a month and started again I was so fatigued if i drink I have more energy it makes no sense but I found on line that in some cases alcohol suppress the symptoms of Lupus by suppressing the anyone system I ain’t saying to drink more study needs to be done I just thought I wood share this I am sure that is not my cure

    • Avatar shakti moore says

      Interestingly enough, I just read William Haugen’s take on lupus and alcohol, and it seems to me that although I have been diagnosed by SLE since 2012 I take no medications and my doc is not the wiser for it, but find the only real symptom I have is RAYNAUD’s and I am always cold. Drinking a glass or two of wine I inadvertently found out that I feel better after drinking the wine.

      So what to do, I don’t particularly want to take drugs that lead to blindness….don’t like the trade off and since they don’t know the cause of SLE exactly how do they determine what meds to give a person? I do know that I am affected by everything I eat. The less I eat the better I feel.

      Anyone else?

      • Hey — I am stumbling upon this years later but wanted to put my voice in. Yes I have the same experince with lupus and food. If I don’t eat then I feel ok, this is why I weigh less than 90 pounds now. Going plant based vegan with no wheat / gluten and no sugary candy etc has helped my physical symptoms a TON. It is hard to maintain and keep sacrificing things but it is worth it. For alcohol, it makes me violently ill. No matter what. Rashes all over my body and lupus flare. I can no longer drink alcohol either. Anyway I hope things are going ok for you and you are on the mend (relatively speaking)

  9. Sorry I missed spelled immune with anyone on the previous post

  10. Avatar William Haugen says

    Sorry to keep reposting but I don’t know how to edit my posts I just wanted to know if any one else has experienced this again sorry to keep reposting

  11. I have lupus/mixed connective tissue disease and I was wondering if anyone experience migraines after drinking wine?

  12. I have chronic idiopathic urticaria (hives), have had allergy tests with no results, and have been on many different combinations of antihistamines which lessened the hives but turned me into a zombie. The only thing that takes them away is alcohol consumption, but of course I don’t want to drink myself to death. Has anyone heard of this? Any answers? Doctors just shake their heads at me. Thank you for reading.

    • Avatar Laura Herold says

      Hi It sounds like you have an autoimmune disease! I had hives for 3 years and found that I had hashimoto disease from my thyroid problems. the itching was horrible at night and I took benadryl to be able to sleep.

  13. i have Discoid Lupus. Was diagnosed almost 2 years ago BUT! I have systemic symptoms. Its my meds and the Lupus itself but NO doctor or “specialist” will help me figure it out. I am treated as a mere “skin” patient. I have internal problems …..but …as for drinking…DONT! I do but DONT! Its never good. I become very very sick. A deep deep sickness . Feels like it is taking over my vessels and bones. Like the flu from hell. But without fevers etc. And Discoid patients NEVER seem to have the respect and the good ear we need to be heard. I have shat blood. Yes I used the word shat. NOT when or after drinking but just a thing. And no doctor will ever say – “You have some SLE symptoms”. I am not saying others will have the same experiences with doctors or specialists but why cant i be taken seriously?? DONT DRINK! IF YOU HAVE ANY KIND OF AUTO IMMUNE DISEASE DO NOT DRINK. Love to all. PEACE

    • You described so well what I feel too from drinking alcohol-a deep sickness in my bones and blood vessels. I also hear you about not being heard by medical professionals. I’ve given up on them.

  14. I have psoriasis, lichen sclerosis, and possibly lupus, although I think my case is too mild to be diagnosed yet. Yesterday I drank half a glass of red wine. I had been feeling great-just perfect and no pain whatsoever. Today I feel like I have the flu and all my symptoms are back, including a pounding headache. I will strongly support some of the above comments: if you have an autoimmune disorder, don’t drink! It’s just not worth it.

  15. Some people are getting flare due to nutritional deficiencies and viruses reactivated cause even more nutritional deficiencies
    …so when you drink even socially please add your multivitamins,, especially a methylated B complex. Not that difficult….

  16. Avatar Laura Herold says

    Looking for HELP with diagnosing flushing or red hot face! My Dr thinks its anxiety another thinks its Rosacea. I think its autoimmune disease. I get flair ups over my entire face even my forehead. Sometimes my neck has what looks like a red necklace. My hands and chest can be red at times as well. I tend to have this after anything foreign or unhealthy…sugar coffee alcohol hot soup spicy foods. I had Hashimoto Disease years ago which came with years of Hives at night. I drank benadryl to sleep. I have Thyroid problems and take Levithroxyn 88mgs. I was diagnosed in my 20’s. Any feedback would be wonderful to hear since I feel I’m on my own. My Dr said to take an antidepressant and you’ll be fine! Lol I don’t think so. My email is [email protected] or try me on this forum. Thank you in advance!

    • I to get hives on my scalp red bumps spots on my face whenever i drink alcohol or eat something with gluten yeast. Also inflammation pain in my neck and back i do have autoimmune disease went to allergy clinic for years it’s still hard to control it’s a battle

  17. Avatar Gary Koehn says

    I have lupus with kidney nephritis. If you drink beer you better hope your bed is close to the restroom. The more beer or fluid you intake during the day happens to move slowly through the bladder and kidneys. I guarantee you that you will be getting up every hour to urinate or even more depending on your weight. Your choice os to drink or sleep. Unfortunately I also have a digestive issue also due to this condition. My doctors tell me I have to dtink more water tjhan most people due to this condition. It’s a damn if you do or a damn if you don’t situation. Plus their is the pain and swelling of the joints. This is a terrible disease. Hopefully someone will solve this mysterious desease. I pretty sure my was due to work place conditions from exposure to radiayion and chemicals. As far as I know, their is no hard proof that alcohol is a contributing factor. I don’t recommend drinking to ease the symptoms.

  18. Avatar Susan Samra says

    I have vitiligo and have noticed that when I drink alcohol it definately makes the vitiligo worse. Is this possible?

  19. I have vaginal lichen sclerosis and wanted information on the effect of wine on this immunological disorder.

  20. Avatar Kunal Thakur says

    Hii i have just discovered that im hlab27 positive and possibly having alk spondalysis so in that case can i drink any sort of alcohal plzzz tell. ..

  21. Great article.

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