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Adrienne Dellwo

Alcohol, Holidays & Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By November 21, 2012

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There's not a problem with a champagne toast, or a little peppermint schnapps in your hot chocolate, is there? These kinds of things may sound great during the holidays, but for a lot of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, a little drink can have a big impact on symptoms.

Alcohol intolerance is something we need to watch out for. Like most symptoms, it doesn't hit all of us - some of us can handle a drink or two. However, some of us can't handle any alcohol, and it's rare to find someone with these conditions whose alcohol tolerance is still what it used to be.

This symptom hasn't gotten attention from researchers, so we can only speak in generalities, such as:

  • Alcohol a toxin, and our bodies don't deal with toxins well.
  • Alcohol has an inflammatory effect on your body, and inflammation can increase pain as well as reduce blood flow to tissues (which may result in lower energy as well as burning pain.)
  • Alcohol disrupts sleep patterns, and ours are plenty disrupted already.
  • Alcohol is a depressant, so those who are clinically depressed should avoid it.
  • Alcohol can have a negative interaction with many of the meds that are commonly prescribed for us.

The first step is to know your limits and stick to them. 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? Did you learn the lesson the hard way? Is it tough for you to avoid drinking during the holidays? Leave your comments below!


Photo Sean Locke/Getty Images

November 23, 2012 at 11:55 am
(1) Rachael says:

When I was in my early twenties, I was very aware that my tolerance to alcohol was very different compared to that of my peers. After a night of having a few social drinks with friends I would awaken to a terrible hangover that would leave me so sick that I found it impossible to leave the couch. I wouldn’t recover until nighttime. My friends on the other hand may have had a slight headache when they woke-up, but after a short-time quickly rebounded back to their old selves. Drinking alcohol more than two days in a row was always an absolute impossibility for me, while my friends on the other hand could go on vacation and engage in social drinking night, after night.

I thought about this often over the years and wondered ,”Why”? What made us so different? The conclusion that I came to was that my friends had the ability to restore dopamine stores quickly in the brain; for some reason my brains (neuroanatomy, neurochemistry) lacked this ability. Alcohol seemed to completely deplete my dopamine reserve.

Without dopamine, prolactin levels rise activating the immune system, sending out a strong immune response to the alcohol (toxin, poison) which somehow managed to enter the body. Drinking is scientifically a sedative. Once that sedative effect from drinking alcohol wears off (for some of us); all hell breaks loose.

I have often said ME/CFS feels like a terrible hangover that you never recover from. This observation has helped me in my own conquest to find answers regarding “my” case of ME/CFS.

November 23, 2012 at 4:54 pm
(2) sue says:

Yep, CFS is like a chronic hangover and it’s like having the flu and trying to go swimming. Alcohol also depletes Vitamin B12 which we lack anyways. I’ve had cfs/fibro for 25 years and I’m just now finding out how depleted I am of vitamins (b12, d, e, k), my pancreas is insufficient and now my pain and fatigue are so much better. Ask me again in six months but I think I’m on to something after feeling like I did again when I first got sick.

November 23, 2012 at 7:14 pm
(3) Bec says:

I’ve never had a great tolorence for Alcohol anyway before getting sick (always had issues with my liver) but definately have noticed gotten worse since. I usually just avoid it except on special occassions and then only one drink. Never really thought about the link between alcohol and causing more pain because i’m usually in pain to start with anyway but will definately use the suggestions above for the future

November 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm
(4) Gina says:

I have learned that taking zyrtec can help with my alcohol intolerance. Generally I end up with a very nasty headache, which can turn to migraine very quickly along with just feeling horrid for several days after having just one drink. If I take zyrtec or another type of antihistamine, I at least do not get the migraine and the symptoms are shorter.

November 24, 2012 at 8:33 pm
(5) Tricia Watkins says:

I see the alcohol issue from the perspective of acid/base balance which is yet another homeostatic mechanism which is out of whack in our illnesses. From my own experience, I have aches and pains when my body is too acid or too alkaline which makes me believe that an unstable pH is a perpetuating factor for trigger points. Alcohol makes me more acidic and how much I can tolerate depends on how acidic I am before I start drinking. I am mostly too acidic these days though I become too alkaline when I am cycling and my hormone levels drop (yes, I still cycle and get PMS even though I am menopausal, though I no longer menstruate). I test my urine regularly for pH and try to keep my pH close to neutral by choosing the right foods for me. Every one has a different metabolic type and the same food can make one person more acidic but make another more alkaline. I have worked out that I am a fast oxidiser and for me carbs make me go towards acid and protein makes me go towards alkaline. A fast oxidiser needs a diet of 50% protein, 30% fat and 20% carbs. Physical exercise makes one more acidic which is why I can’t exercise but I believe that those who are slow oxidisers and too alkaline are the ones who will benefit from exercise as it takes the pH back towards neutral. pH is influenced by cortisol and dopamine levels which rise and fall together. High levels cause the body to go towards alkalinity whereas low levels send the body towards acidity. Anti-inflammatories have the same action as cortisol so would make one more alkaline and from what Gina says, anti-histamines must do the same and therefore oppose the acidic effects of alcohol.

November 25, 2012 at 8:11 am
(6) Debra An says:

I used to tolerate alcohol extremely well, even as a child of 5years, I had an iron stomach! I rarely ever got a hangover when I over did it and I used to over do it a lot! It was acceptable in my family for me to drink if that was what I choose to do, as it was never dis-encouraged. I would only drink when their were people around and for special holiday occasions! I never became a alcoholic. I could stomach it, but it was not my thing to do, as it was never forbidden in my family on my father’s side, especially. As I got older and right before I became seriously ill with CFS and Fibromyalgia, I started to have problems with my kidneys. They stopped after I discontinued Motrin (Ibuprofen), which the military gave out like candy for whatever ailed me! Then while still thinking my kidney’s were a problem, I jokingly asked my doctor, “So doc, how are my kidneys?” She stated, “your kidneys are fine, but your liver is a problem now” Then I replied, “well, if it’s not one vital organ it’s another!” Shortly after that my liver cleared up too, but it had nothing to do with drinking alcohol, as I rarely did that. Daily I did use to take Motrin. When I stopped Motrin my kidneys and liver improved dramatically! On my 38th birthday, I had one Pina Coloda for my birthday! Before that I had not drank anything in about 4 years. I got so sick from that one drink, I stayed away from alcohol for another 2 1/2 years, until my new husband and I had a bit of Malibu Rum, with pineapple juice, one of my favorite drinks besides the Pina Coloda drink. This time it was not as bad as I only had about 2 ounces of very diluted alcohol. Where I used to have an iron stomach to handle hard liquor, like Vodka, Brandi, Bacardi, Peppermint Shcnops and their many other wonderful flavors, I could no longer drink as I once did. It used to make me hyper anyway! I miss the energy, but I do not miss anything about feeling ill!

December 4, 2012 at 9:13 am
(7) Dlee says:

I don’t touch alcohol anymore. I used to have a high tolerance for alcohol & now I don’t go near it. My gut does not like it & I generally feel so unwell most of the time it is not appealing.

December 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm
(8) Lillian Thurston says:

Even as a teenager could not drink much awful migraines for days. Now I rarely drink because it is just to painful. Now a days one drink and I’m drunk and two put me to sleep. Just not worth it.

August 23, 2013 at 1:41 am
(9) freshest reggae video clip SEME! - marijuana says:

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