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Adrienne Dellwo

Alcohol Intolerance in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By December 17, 2009

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Holiday Blog Classic: To Drink or Not To Drink?

How have you changed your alcohol consumption since you started living with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS)?

Notice I didn't ask whether you'd changed it, just how. That's because most of us discover that we just can't handle alcohol like we used to. During the holidays, it's harder not to enjoy a drink now and then - a glass of wine with Thanksgiving dinner, a champagne toast, or a beer to unwind after shopping. As with so many other things, the key is knowing your body and your limits. Some of us can handle a drink or two OK, while some can't handle any at all.

So far, this aspect of our conditions hasn't gotten a lot of attention from researchers, so we don't know why we tend to develop alcohol intolerance. What we do know about alcohol, in general, is:

  • It's a toxin, and we don't deal with toxins well.
  • It has an inflammatory effect on your body, and inflammation can increase pain as well as reduce blood flow to tissues.
  • It disrupts sleep patterns.
  • It's a depressant.

These are all good reasons to stay within your limits. If you do choose to drink, do what you can to mitigate the negative effects:

  • Think moderation!
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory.
  • Give yourself extra time to sleep and recover.
  • Be aware of how it may interact with your meds, and don't combine it with pain killers.

How has your illness impacted your alcohol tolerance? Was this a lesson you learned the hard way? Is it tough for you to say no during holiday celebrations? Leave your comments below!

Learn more or join the conversation!


Suggested Reading:

Photo © Sean Locke/Getty Images

December 17, 2009 at 7:30 am
(1) Gary says:

I’m questioning the mention of taking an anti-inflammatory to mitigate alcohol effects. Generally this is not advised, especially since medications like Motrin can increase the risk of GI bleeding.

December 17, 2009 at 10:33 am
(2) Catherine says:

I no longer can tolerate wine, red or white, and one glass is enough to cause trouble. Sometimes I can get away with a glass but now I generally just avoid drinking it all together. I can still drink hard liquor. I am careful to stay hydrated and I do take ibuprofen any evening I drink which does seem to help. Since I rarely drink anyway, an occasional dose of ibuprofen doesn’t bother me.

December 17, 2009 at 10:39 am
(3) Rosalie says:

ACtually, I’m just the opposite….I used to drink Rum all the time…but now it seems I can only drink white wine…I can drink quite a bit of it (lol) but for some reason- I have one or 2 rum drinks at the end of the night and I almost black out- feel comatose? I’m not sure if its the sugar etc…also I emailed the company b/c it says Bacardi has an almond flavor- well I’m allergic to almonds. Go figure. I find Vodka is better for me than rum..but yes- moderation and recovery time the next day are needed!

December 17, 2009 at 2:49 pm
(4) J says:

I find alcohol can help with fibro pain, when other pain killers don’t help. I can’t take NSAIDS for more than a day or two at a time. Best medicine is a bowl of hot chilli and a couple of glasses of wine. The endorphins are released and muscles relaxed!

December 17, 2009 at 3:45 pm
(5) Jenny says:

I have a complete intolerance of alcohol, which is a shame because I definitely appreciate the taste. When I am at my baseline I can have one drink, but that is only if I’m planning on taking the next day off completely. More than that and I cannot sleep and feel like I’m going to die! Vomiting will follow the next day.

I’ve been looking for other ways to have fun drinks, without alcohol, like sparkling cider, sparkling grape juice, tonic with fresh lime… just trying to stay creative.

I just have to say bye bye to my dad’s famous mai – tais for now and forgo the ice breaking glass of wine on a date…. maybe we’re all better for it anyway!

December 17, 2009 at 3:56 pm
(6) fogmom says:

I never had much tolerance for alcohol any way. Three drinks was my max. I can only drink wine without sulfates, and I usually get a headache if I have more than one drink. I don’t mean the next day I mean while I’m drinking. But as with all things in life chocolate is the cure. If I’ve had more than I’m comfortable with chocolate sobers me up. yeah!!!! chocolate.

December 18, 2009 at 1:16 pm
(7) S King says:

I quit drinking long before I was diagnosed. I had become aware that alcohol made my joints and muscles hurt for days after a drink. What used to be a pleasure had become a poison. When chemical sensitivities kicked in, I developed an absolute intolerance for red wine, so much so that just sitting next to a person who had red wine made my sinuses go crazy. Now I’m always the designated driver after parties. Don’t mind that one bit.

December 18, 2009 at 4:49 pm
(8) lakegal says:

I can’t take any pain meds and beer (preferably Corona Lite) is the only relief I have from pain – oddly enough the day after drinking enough to ease the pain and put me out, I feel wonderful. I researched why on line and found similar results from others with fibro – hops seems to be the reason – researched hops and it is a muscle relaxant – any other info from anyone on hops and beer?

December 18, 2009 at 5:31 pm
(9) Ina says:

When i drink i feel much better. Itīs the only time the clouds around my head get away. I feel better in my body and head. I can do things i could not whitout alcohol in my body. And i even feel better the day afther. Its horrible. I did not drink a lot before my illnes but now its a way to feel “normal”.
The problem is that sometimes in larger partys i just want to stay in the mood so i keep on drinking.

my problem is that i dont feel drunk and nobody notice but houers laiter it all come in one time and i dont know what i am doing.

If i am at home and drink whit some friends i allways just feel good.

What can explane that iām in so bad condition but feel so good while drinking? Before i get cfs it was the opposite.


December 18, 2009 at 8:01 pm
(10) Barbs says:

I have become a “red wine snob” avoiding hard liquor now… I take one aspirin “chewed” with my breakfast and one (chewed) after dinner and I can make it through the day pretty well…and…the one I take in the evening helps my body when sleeping…everything hurts and the aspirin absolutely does help me…I am also taking a powder form of a “medicine food” that is specifically for FMS…I have only been on it for one month and it is recommended that I stay on it for at least 3 months before I make a decision as to to stay on it or not…sleep comes and goes too frequently…a good sleep is essential to a good day! Stress is not good for anyone but definitely not good for FMS…Let’s keep helping each other find the best “path.”

December 18, 2009 at 10:00 pm
(11) Ann says:

Since CFS, I have an extreme intolerance to alcohol. 1-2 glasses leads to a 2-3 day “hangover” and extreme fibro pain. Therefore, I have stopped drinking alcohol entirely. I think it’s important to note that my doctor, Dr. A. Martin Lerner, believes alcohol may be a cardiac toxin and asks all patients to not drink. This can be found in #3 under comments on: http://www.treatmentcenterforcfs.com/personal_statement/index.html

Happy Holidays everyone!

December 19, 2009 at 6:10 am
(12) LadyForce says:

I can commiserate with most of you. I never had much tolerance for alcohol in my 49 years, although I drink occasionally now. It can make me relax a bit, which makes everything a little better.
I too, like to have a glass of white [can't drink red cuz of the tannins (sp?)] wine, when I take a warm (can’t handle hot anymore) bath.
I don’t exactly know when I started having symptoms of Fibro, but I always knew that I was a light weight when it came to alcohol; so I mostly kept my drinks to two, unless I felt like letting go completely.

December 20, 2009 at 3:47 am
(13) Marcella says:

I enjoy a glass of wine and an occasional scotch and water on the rocks. They help to relax me and relieve muscle tension. When I do have a drink it is always with food, and of course like everything I do, since being diagnosed with Fibro and CFS, only in moderation.

December 20, 2009 at 6:18 pm
(14) Another_Name says:

Like S. King, I quit drinking long before I was diagnosed. I was not a big drinker to begin with having only a taste for drinks where you couldn’t taste the alcohol (remember Brown Cows or Monkey’s Lunches? haha). I found, and still find, that anytime I had a drink or anything that contained alcohol, I would immediately feel an achey pain in my neck and shoulders. People thought it was all in my head and, I admit, I often did too as no one else I ever talked too experienced anything like this. Now whether that was an early indicator of FM or simply a quirk of my own body, I don’t know but it was enough discomfort for me to stay away from alcohol all these years.

December 20, 2009 at 7:26 pm
(15) judson says:

lol are you kidding me? i don’t think i could even think about drinking in this state. how could you even think drinking is a possibility with CFS?

December 22, 2009 at 7:08 am
(16) Aly says:

Hi, I gave up regularly drinking alchohol around 6 years ago. I was diagnosed with FMS around 2 years earlier and more recently with hyperthyroidism.

My ability to work full time became impossible and coping with brain fogs and hangovers an impossibility.

I dont miss the alcohol and a rare glass of wine is a real treat now. I do mean rare too, one glass 2-3 times a year is what I am happy with.


December 22, 2009 at 12:12 pm
(17) Wendy V says:

Have to agree with Judson. How can you possibly drink alcohol when your body already feels poisoned? I’ve never been a drinker even when well, one glass would make me feel ill and never enjoyed it. Then when M.E returned 8 years ago, I very quickly realised that even one social drink at Christmas was a total no-no as made me very ill. Now I have severe M.E, my body cannot even tolerate alcohols in other forms, mouthwash etc. The thought of wine etc now makes me feel very sick, even if I just smell it it sends my head funny.

December 22, 2009 at 6:01 pm
(18) Daniel says:

This all started for me after I returned from a deployment to the Gulf. Needless to say, alcohol was a rather large part of life in a military barracks. Shortly after I returned, something odd happened. While I still had a pretty high tolerance to alcohol at the time (trying to out-drink our British and Aussie allies is no small feat), I suddenly found alcohol extremely unpleasant. My actual consumption dropped off very fast.

Now, more than a decade since the pain, fatigue, and all these other problems became so awful, I *rarely* drink alcohol. It brings almost no enjoyment to me. I often feel nauseated and something I can only describe as a poisoned feeling.

I always liked drinking ale. I still miss the *taste* of ale. I will drink a pint maybe once every four to six months. But that is it. The only thing that can even draw me to such a place is socialization. At that, I prefer to just be a designated driver. The only other drink I really like is absinthe but the cost of importing makes it less attractive as well.

I don’t know if all this is related to fibromyalgia. But the change happened at the same time.

Honestly though, if it is related, it was probably a good result of this disease. Alcohol is not really a very good thing to consume. I don’t believe the heart-healthy line for a minute.

Still, I would be highly doubtful of such a connection unless there was an extensive and exhaustive research performed on a very large and carefully constructed dataset. Further, the people behind it should have no connection to the alcohol industry what-so-ever.

December 26, 2009 at 1:35 pm
(19) Journeyalone says:

I used to drink frequently, and had a very high tolerance and consumed large amounts compared to most people. I no longer have any desire to drink, although I still want to “Party” with people…I just can’t get into it. It seems no matter how much I drink these days, it has absolutely no effect on me as far as “getting a buzz”. I have tried to party with friends, and just have no interest in alcohol of any form. I used to drink both wine and Crown Royal, and occasionally a White Russian. Both liquors are very strong, and most people would be pretty drunk if they drank even half of my tolerance. There is just no point in hurting my body, or consuming calories over it, because there is simply no enjoyment in it at all. I do however feel a little sick on my stomach when I try to drink socially, which is another reason not to even bother anymore. I am saving money too!

January 7, 2010 at 12:40 pm
(20) Sammy says:

I suffer the CFS for a while, and I actually found out that drinking 60-80 grams of vodka in the evening makes me feel normal without any medications. And when I stopped drinking, I felt fatigue again. Interestingly, whiskey or beer make me feel worse.
To me it seems that vodka (in moderation of course!) relaxes the immune system, which make me feel normal again. Of course watch for drug interaction if you take any!

January 8, 2010 at 12:33 pm
(21) Heather says:

Last time I drank was at a party for work. Had half a glass of home-made wine and couldn’t stand up. I sat down and was pretty darned quiet after that because the room was spinning.

Back in college, I used to be a heavy girl (and thanks to fibro, now I am again)… but I could drink a lot and just end up tipsy. I only went out about 3 or 4 times with friends, but I had lots of alcohol and really should have been drunk… and wasn’t.

The less-than-a-glass of wine became a rule almost 2 years ago… and now it’s none at all. It’s a shame, because I love the taste. Just… well, I need to walk.

Muscle relaxants and alcohol also don’t mix. Many meds that we take don’t mix — not just painkillers. I think the best advice is to take time to know the warnings for your medications.

January 8, 2010 at 12:34 pm
(22) Heather says:

And other sleep meds, too… generally they’re not safe with alcohol.

I think it’s pretty risky. Personally, I guess all these medications are pretty hard on the liver so adding alcohol into the mix seems a little iffy to me, period.

January 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm
(23) Benia says:

My husband and I love microbrewed beers, especially the higher alcohol varietals, like IPA, Barleywine, Barrel-aged stouts, etc. We are always hydrating while we taste our beers, but the enjoyment I get from the experience and the pain-numbing effects helps to balance out any negative effects.

We also like to drink in the afternoons, so we have more time to sip, talk, hydrate, graze, and enjoy the experience, rather than guzzling and trying to get to bed right away.

May 3, 2010 at 10:54 am
(24) kimmie says:

i love to drink and no longer can.my neck goes extremely stiff.splitting headaches and pain behind eyes. dreadfull

August 12, 2010 at 11:22 pm
(25) sue says:

Every now and then I can drink a beer but most days even a sip hits my system like poison. I can’t help but thinking that this is a BIG clue that any doctor should be able to read and go, “Aha! Here’s what’s wrong with you!”

How can a sip instantly make me feel bad?

December 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm
(26) Valetudinarian says:

Alcohol brings on a flare for me. I haven’t had this little alcohol since before I started my underage drinking! I am glad I enjoyed it then!

I am bummed because my in-laws bring in nice liquors, good wine and champagne is a tradition on Christmas day.

I think I may try a little Champagne on Christmas day!

December 17, 2011 at 12:17 am
(27) *twelc2000* says:

I used to drink 3 liters of vodka a week for years.
About 7 months ago I just got tired of it and quit.
Although I had some minor fatigue problems before that time, it got severely worse since I quit drinking.
I’m at the point where I have tried everything the doctor can give me to reduce the fatigue and it’s to the point where I can hardly even work.
Since there isn’t much left to try I’m contemplating trying some vodka to see if there is any noticeable difference. There’s nothing left to lose at this point.
Thanks for the forum to voice our opinions.
Take care all,

May 13, 2012 at 12:34 am
(28) Taylor M. says:

Ugh. I just learned this the hard way last night. I had never gotten drunk before (though I’ve had wine and have been fine), and wanted to see how it would affect me before I go off to college. I had the smallest amount of rum and my shoulders and ribs hurt so bad, I stopped immediately. Once I sobered up, like twenty minutes later, I felt fine. Today, I have been sprawled out on the couch waiting for death to just take me already. Lol this sucks. Everything is making me sooo sick, and I’ve been depressed all day. I’m glad I looked this up because I thought I was losing my mind. Looks like I’ll have plenty of studying time in college… No more drinking for me:) good luck fellow sufferers!!

August 23, 2012 at 3:19 pm
(29) Shan says:

I recently been diagnosed with Fibro. and I knew alcohol is something I should considered not having in my diet. And…I learned the hard way yesterday. I had 4 glasses of alcohol and blacked-out (havent done that since I was 19..I’m in my 30′s)And my body took a beating in pm through the late am. Ugh.after reading what others have wrote…it nice to know that others have felt and gone through similar experiences. Now my journey begins of letting go of the alcohol. I know my body,mind and soul will be thanful.

Thank you all again!

October 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm
(30) Tracy says:

Sometimes when I drink (which is rarely because it hurts my body so much) I get the most intense pain in my back – up and down my spine. Has that ever happened to anyone else? So strange.
Alcohol is a toxin and our poor bodies are inundated with enough toxins that it is crazy to me that people with chronic inflammatory conditions (such as fms, cfs, lupus, ms, etc) would even consider drinking on a daily basis. I guess if it made me feel good, not bad, I would probably consider it but as it is, if I drink (wine especially) I feel as though I’ve been poisoned and get an immediate headache.
I’m not judging anyone for drinking. I say, if it makes you feel better (because we all know how hard feeling better can be for us) and it doesn’t hurt anyone else – do it!

January 29, 2013 at 9:54 pm
(31) V says:

I was diagnosed with fibro at age 11, sometime in the middle of college I developed severe alcohol intolerance. Swollen knees, fingers and feet plus my skin becomes hot to the touch and very painful. Type of alcohol does not matter and results are almost immediate.

February 12, 2013 at 2:09 pm
(32) Denise Isaac says:

Wine is the only thing I feel relaxed with. Just on the odd occasion I have one glass or sometimes two. My muscles feel much better and I have no nerve pain with the fms. I also have LD. I had trouble with my liver in the past and the specialists thought I had a drink problem. I never have enjoyed alcohol. I saw my uncle for the last time dying from alcohol and ciagrettes. It was a horrible and shocking to see what these things can do to your body. So I hardly ever drink, I do not enjoy it but it is the only relief I have from fms. I did not drink much in my adulthood, so why do I have liver problems?

September 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm
(33) @Eager4health says:

I stay very healthy these days, so I notice when things are starting to get me feeling crappy; the same way as before I made major lifestyle changes. I notice if I drink more than once a week, I feel just awful, and my symptoms get a ton worse.

I’ll explain my lifestyle changes for those who are curious and want to get better.
I would say CFS would get me so sore/tired/exhausted maybe half the time or more, and I would plug through. Now it is maybe… Once a week? I still get brain fog sometimes though.
CFS I guess has been less severe since I have been making sure I eat very very well (natural!!!, as little refined crap as possible! Veggies, fruit, fiber, protein (cage free eggs, cage free chicken in moderation, quinoa, beans, etc), adequate minerals and vitamins, etcetc. No refined sugar. Ever.) and I stay hydrated; I drink about 8 cups per day. THIS (water!!) WAS KEY!! I also started exercising 3 days a week and lost weight (Ladies, if your body fat is more than 30%, you need to decrease it since it IS messing up your hormones among other things) having an activity you actually enjoy to love forward to helps when youre feeling like shit. Believe me, it was horribly difficult at first, but my muscle aches and exhaustion have decreased since then. I can live life! It was hard to start, but after 4 months, I have seen major major changes.

Good luck… There is no easy Path. Either suffer with cfs, or temporarily “suffer” making permanent lifestyle changes that will in the end lead to better life/health.

October 16, 2013 at 7:53 am
(34) Shirley says:

Hi there. I was diagnosed with FM and CFS three days ago. I actually started crying in the Dr office, because after about 2 years of agony we finally got answers. So this is very new to me. I must say that a glass of wiskey and water does make me feel a bit better. I can actually think straight.:) and pain killers… Well haven’t found any yet that works. So for now.. Wiskey it is.:)

December 1, 2013 at 2:22 pm
(35) Millie says:

I was such a drinker the only one in my family, I enjoyed all types of drinks especially during the holidays. For years I have notice that my tolerance is less and less and have cut down to a glass or two of wine to unwind with my husband maybe twice a month I can not handle anything over that. I had to say goodbye to my Coronas, Sangrias, and Margaritas. I can say that some days after a glass of wine the night before I wake up with more energy and no morning headache. I get a headache or migraine daily. Fibro and chronic migraine had force me to eliminate all the great things I had enjoyed.

March 27, 2014 at 7:56 pm
(36) Rebekah says:

I have FM. It has had a profound effect on my nervous system. In all the research that I’ve done, I’m now curious how being the child of an alcoholic parent has played into the FM. She drank until she found out she was pregnant. I believe that this might be the cause of my FM and other related symptoms I’ve experienced throughout my life. I’m just now starting to piece things together. Needless to say, alcohol is not a part of my life. Not much tolerance anymore let alone interest.

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