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Adrienne Dellwo

Does Alcohol Improve Fibromyalgia?

By March 18, 2013

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Research Brief

In news that's seemingly contradictory to reports that fibromyalgia leads to alcohol intolerance in many, researchers report that people with fibromyalgia who drink alcohol have less pain and better quality of life than those who don't drink.

Researchers gathered information from nearly 950 people with fibromyalgia, 58% of whom did not consume alcohol at all. Of those who did drink, the vast majority reported low levels of consumption.

Participants answered questions regarding physical function, well-being, missed work days, and major fibromyalgia symptoms (pain, fatigue, morning tiredness, stiffness, job difficulty, anxiety, and depression.

Researchers say drinkers had higher education levels, lower body-mass index, less unemployment, and less opioid (narcotic) use than non-drinkers. Moderate drinkers had the lowest overall symptom load and higher quality of life scores than the other groups.

Also, they say sow and moderate drinkers had better general-health perceptions and social function than non-drinkers.

Researchers say they're not sure what is behind these results. Since this is the first study of fibromyalgia and alcohol consumption, they don't have other results to compare these to. However, they say that these results reflect those of the general population, in which drinkers overall have better quality of life scores, less chronic pain, and higher productivity.

What Does it Mean?

It's hard to really decipher this one. We know from other research that alcohol, especially wine, has some health benefits. But is that what's at work here?

I think you really have to look at some socioeconomic factors. The moderate drinkers were more likely to have more education and to be employed. That means they're more likely to have health insurance, and therefore might have better doctors and more access to treatments. They may have less financial stress due to illness, too.

Also, we have to consider why people choose not to drink. A lot of people with fibromyalgia find that they can't tolerate alcohol. Could alcohol intolerance be a sign of more severe illness? We don't know. Are people who need more pain meds avoiding alcohol because of the negative interaction? It's certainly possible.

So really, this study may just show that sicker people drink less, or that people with better access to treatment are less sick. Neither of those options is much of a revelation.

However, it's far too early to discount the possibility that something about alcohol is beneficial - at least to some of us. To know for sure, we'll need not only more research, but research that focuses on what kinds of drinks people are consuming.

Meanwhile, we have to judge for ourselves whether we can tolerate alcohol, and whether it's a wise choice for us based on medications and other lifestyle factors.


Photo Annabelle Breakey/Getty Images

March 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm
(1) Jen says:

I am well educated, financially sound, great doctors and gainfully employed. However, I am also heavily medicated, overweight due to meds and do not drink due to the warnings on most all of the prescribed meds I take. I no longer respond well to any alcohol…wine, beer, liquor, etc… I consider my illness severe so I guess the test results do not ring true for me. I will continue keep away from the alcohol simply because of all the toxins my poor liver already has to contend with by way of meds. Thanks for all of your weekely info Adrienne! You have helped me immensely!

March 18, 2013 at 2:00 pm
(2) Quaterra says:

I have moderate to severe CFS and Fibromyalgia and have been on disability for it for 20 years. I have consumed alcohol on and off during this time. On often go to a no alcohol policy when I go on guilt sprees because I tend to read about what effect alcohol will have with my med load and make my decision based on that and not on the blanket – no alcohol warnings (yes, read what I say but don’t do as I do – this is not advocating this behavior, just honesty). The conclusion I have come to on paying a lot of attention to when I have alcohol is that maybe they have something going in this study. Usually I find I desire or want some wine when I feel like crap. And then I get some relief. I can take no pain meds whatsoever because of allergies to these medicines. Therefore, for me, it is cope with the pain and do what I can, or I would not be coping at all. So with some wine at night I get a brief respite from the pain which may in the end have its own health benefits. Who knows…just a thought.

March 18, 2013 at 3:58 pm
(3) Rachael says:

People with large dopamine stores are probably less likely to develop fibromyalgia in the first place, or to a lesser degree. I believe those who have the ability to consume and tolerate alcohol, who suffer from less pain and seem to have a better quality of life than those who don’t/can’t drink have inborn greater dopamine reserves in their brain.

PET scans have shown that people who have more dopamine storage capacity in their amygdala are less likely to suffer from anxiety, pain and stress. Your ability to handle/tolerate alcohol may be due to the innate neuroanatomy and neurochemistry of your brain.

If you don’t have a sufficient amount of available dopamine stockpiled daily because of a biological reason, you won’t have the ability to make pain-killing, feel-good endorphins. Drinking will only make you sick, or add to your pain. Perhaps, people who can’t tolerate alcohol can’t because they were already different. They already had less dopamine/endorphin neurotransmitter manufacturing capabilities.

March 21, 2013 at 11:10 am
(4) Gert says:

Highly educated/qualified and with comprehensive health care free at the point of use. Overweight and significantly medicated. Was a normally heavy drinker as a student and beyond. (By that i mean perfectly normal for my culture. Probably shockingly excessive for some other cultures).

Regular drinking in moderation helps me relax, and definitely alleviates pain in the short term. Recovery time is longer than before fibro (but I’m now ten years older). Sometimes my body rejects alcohol even though I’m enjoying my meal and the company. Sometimes it just slips down, and the endorphins flow freely.

March 22, 2013 at 3:17 pm
(5) Gina S says:

I have to say I am one of the Fibro people that alcohol works well with and actually helps. I agree that the labels on medications tell you not to drink and I definitely think that when you are taking new medications you should be careful. But I also know that drug companies cover their you know whats and list every thing possible on the labels. For me, a few glasses of wine stops the pain and for some reason acts as a stimulant. My worst problem is tiredness. Alcohol wakes me up. Again, everyone’s body reacts differently. I am glad something works for em at least temporarily.

March 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm
(6) Susan Spaulding says:

I have not minutely read the study. But drinking a beer or a glass of red wine is something that, in addition to my pain meds (small dose of methadone) helps relax me and relieves some pain. It also makes me feel like a normal adult in some ways. I don’t suffer any deleterious effects from one drink unless it’s too close to bedtime. I guess i’m lucky.

Forgot to mention that it seems to slow me down during a meal so that I eat more slowly and taste my food better and thus, enjoy eating more.

But that’ just me–anectdotal…..

March 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm
(7) vader says:

way before i was diagnosed & even had any real symptoms, i would be in bed all weeekend for having 2 drinks. When previously i would be out partying all weekend, so i definitly have alcohol intolerance. so no way would it help me at all, i think people use it to get drunk to help with pain instead of pain killers for whatever reason, that study is ridiculous.

March 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm
(8) Maggie says:

While I’m surprised that such info would be released, thank you for sharing the study. I am college educated, have insurance (state) but cannot work due to my FM/anxiety and eligibility for health care. I find my pain gets worse in the evening and a couple drinks help quite a bit. And yes, I drink on ‘a’ pill, one thing I don’t have is a provider willing to help me with correct dosing. So when that pill fails, alcohol can help. I’m glad there may be logic in my actions. FM has pretty much taken my life at 35. I will be married in a month and we have decided not to even try for kids. I don’t have the energy or will for pregnancy, childbirth or child raising.

March 22, 2013 at 4:28 pm
(9) Mary says:

Many of us with CFS/FM also have issues with intestinal dysbiosis (Candida and bacterial overgrowth). Alcohol is a definite no no in these cases. I had a severe reaction and became very ill on an occasion when I was accidentally served vodka in a glass of orange juice which I ordered while dining with friends.

March 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm
(10) Cheryl says:

I know for sure that alcohol helps..I have CFS/FM…and If I have a couple of glasses of wine, it helps..I don’t do it often but when I do…It’s a nice break from the pain.

March 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm
(11) Cheryl says:

I would much rather have a couple of glasses of wine than take C-class pain killers!!!

March 22, 2013 at 5:20 pm
(12) sue says:

This article is unclear to me and does not indicate quantities or references to experts. Yes, I like to drink wine and it helps me psychologically to relax which helps pain- of course, overdrinking is not effective. The side effect is that medications and alcohol affect the pancreas among other organs.

March 22, 2013 at 5:43 pm
(13) 27 year CFS/FM Sufferer says:

I’ve unfortunately suffered from CFS and FM for 27 years. Since having FM
especially(I had CFS first), every time I have a sip of wine, my muscles have a negative reaction and start to hurt immensely. I wanted to know if anyone knows why this happens, and if anyone else has had this experience too. I’m wondering if lactic acid plays a role in this.

March 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm
(14) DONNA says:


March 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm
(15) Julia says:

I thank one writer for saying that her experience is anecdotal. That is, personal and might not apply to other people. We are all reporting anecdotal experience here.

I do not drink alcohol. A small amount starts a headache and gives me GERD symptoms (acid reflux). I would love a glass of wine to relax, but I make a choice not to feel worse.

March 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm
(16) catharine says:

I self medicate with a gin and tonic every day………..and it helps! Helps by relaxing my muscles and ramping down pain. It’s a medicine I use………..and it works.

March 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm
(17) calif girl says:

I’ve drunk wine for years and years, even before FM. I find it definitely helps me with the pain….for me much better than a pain pill or antidepressant. I’ve cut down to about 6 oz. every night after 20 years plus of FM.

By the way, I need caffeine to take away early morning pain. Sometimes even at 2 a.m. if I wake with a roaring headache or muscle pain, I take some ibuprofen and make a cup of coffee, waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in so I can hopefully sleep a bit more.

So I guess I would say I’m on “uppers and downers” legally.

March 22, 2013 at 7:30 pm
(18) Karen says:

This is a very dangerous suggestion. I was a moderate drinker, and I self medicated with alcohol. However addiction runs rampant throughout my family background. Self medicating led to alcoholism. Addiction doesn’t see illness, or socio/economic background, or if you have health insurance. Medications are at least (and hopefully) monitored by a physician. There is no dosage for booze. And it is easy to slip from moderation to abuse. I wish I could use alcohol. It did work. But it also negatively affected my life. Be careful with this study. No one should self medicate without all the information.

March 22, 2013 at 7:36 pm
(19) Gina L. says:

A glass of wine helps me relax and wind down in the evenings. I don’t overdo it – just 1 or 2 glasses to help numb the pain. I am also in agreement that if you have too many drinks (like getting drunk) that the recovery time is much harder and longer than for someone without FM/CFS.

March 22, 2013 at 7:57 pm
(20) Jane says:

I live with and am owned by two basset hound sisters. I HAVE TO GET OUT AND WALK THEM DAILY! Hence, being forced out of the house by these two tough ladies (and they need to be walked for at least an hour) makes me move, even though the pain is ever present. I do feel better when we get home and I then have an occasional glass of red wine because after the walk I need to wind down/relax and also because I am Italian…lol Anyway I consider my girls to be my personal physical therapists.

March 23, 2013 at 6:58 am
(21) LadyDi says:

950 participants is an extremely small number of participants for a study. Especially when 58% of that number were non drinkers making the number much less at about 399.
How long were these participants followed? What was the criteria?
Were there any liver function tests done prior, during and following the study? Certain medications in combination with alcohol can have an extremely detrimental effect on the liver.
Studies are only as good as the criteria used, number of participants, length of study, specifications used as well as who completed the study. Many studies are extremely biased and can be slanted to reflect whatever is wanted/needed.
Be cautious of putting too much emphasis on the findings of a study. More important to know yourself and consider what is best for you and your body.

March 23, 2013 at 2:24 pm
(22) Daniel says:

I suffer from GWI, which is very similar to fibromyalgia. We even use the word fibro when dealing with civilian doctors.

I used to drink moderately. I rarely drank in excess. But the worse this illness grew, the less I could drink alcohol. If I drink alcohol before bed, then I am nearly guaranteed poor sleep. Then I wake up in a lot more pain. The effects of the alcohol also cause me a great deal more pain.

While I am sure people can drink themselves into such a stupor they can forget how much pain they endure for the moment, I worry that they set themselves up for a major flare-up well after that night.

I also worry that people can easily fall into a habit of abuse when the associate drinking alcohol with somehow ameliorating their painful symptoms.

March 23, 2013 at 4:50 pm
(23) me says:

maybe the stimulation of TSH has something to do with it? I believe alchohol does make you push out more TSH. They should investigate because that would involve the pituatory and the thyroid gland in our pain.

March 23, 2013 at 7:10 pm
(24) Diane Barham says:

I would be afraid that with all my meds ,alcohol would cause me to explode or implode. Neither one I care to do.

March 23, 2013 at 7:41 pm
(25) Daphne says:

the only reason that I don’t drink at all, is because it makes’ my eyes puffy! I will try it, though. 1 drink of red wine is good for a person. My Nutritionist said that I could, even with low blood sugar. Last night, my feet ached up into legs’ shins so BAD- Took Lyrica TOO late- it took one hour or more to work, and then I couldn’t wake UP.

March 23, 2013 at 7:43 pm
(26) Daphne says:

My daughter keeps’ begging me to try marijuana. she cares’ how I feel, but it makes’ me choke.

March 23, 2013 at 7:53 pm
(27) Daphne says:

The arthritis anti-inflammatory meds have now torn my stomach up. I can’t take meds for arthritis and fibro at the same time, or even the same day. Tramadol has to be taken 24 hours before Lyrica. Lyrica has to be taken way before another thing- my anxiety/depression meds, which I use at night now, or I am groggy and can’;t wake up. A hot bath is best. Taking Lyrica every other day, or any of them- like 1/2 of a Soma every other day, is dreamy- but that makes me in a spiral of depressed system if done every day! It accumulates’ this way. Cyclobenzaprine 1/3 tablet every other night at 8 PM, is best, and I feel amazing in the morning! Jus tforget to take it THAT early, which is necessary. My doctor says, take Lyrica two times a day without fail. I get vision problems, where I get brown spotted vision. also, makes’ me swell up, or gain weight. Gabapentin made me have WORSE headaches- probably from the heaviness of the drug. Trying to take 100 mg., three times a day and work up to more, but I don’t like to be drowsy, darn. Cannot use a whole pill, or do enough of anything, with my system, so I just take the edge off. Flexiril/Cyclobenzaprine IS best!!!

March 24, 2013 at 10:01 am
(28) Daisy says:

Hardly any docs are willing to prescribe pain meds for chronic pain any more because the FDA is on their case. Also, the FDA is planning on reclassifying everything and making it harder for docs to justify prescribing.

That aside, I am allergic to most opiods and even some NSAIDS. So, often I get to just suffer.

I know that if things get bad, a good stiff tequila sunrise or two will take most of the pain down to a manageable level so I can get to sleep. At least I don’t have to fight with a doc. Big Pharma takes stuff that worked that was non-addicting off the market when the patent runs out and they aren’t making huge profits anymore. So, I’m not as much at their mercy either.

Everyone needs to make their own, hopefully informed, choices and go with what helps the most with the least amount of harm.

March 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm
(29) DP says:

As a young adult I found drinking would make me bloated and sick but I always thought it was the fizz.
Sometimes I would get a sore feeling throughout my bones but it would disappear after a few more drinks.
Now in my late 30′s I hardly drink but when I do I usually enjoy it, however I cannot substitute alcohol for pain meds because although I can fall asleep much easier, I wake up in agony once the drink wears off.

March 24, 2013 at 6:59 pm
(30) Ali xx says:

I have had a few occasions where alcohol and new meds.. or too many meds, didnt go well together at all. Embarrassing even. I have also had more than a few occasions where no amount of meds would give me any relief but top it with alcohol and you could live through it. I am currently cutting down my alcohol as I have just ended a very stressful relationship and now want to pull myself back together and feel as strong as possible, I dont make any excuses for drinking though and feel as though I have enough restrictions put on my life by my health. My liver seems to be quite sensitive and it is an ongoing discussion with my doctor wether I am relying too much on alcohol or not at the time of my liver numbers going up. Often it has just been the meds. I had to get an ultrasound on my liver last year as my numbers kept going up and my gp was freaking out. I walked in to the xray and the specialist asked me if I was in for a general checkup. I said no, I take lots of meds and like a drink. Wine connoisseur he asked, strictly bourbon I stated. After looking all over my liver the specialist found nothing to be wrong at all. He sent me home wishing me a good afternoon and said with a wink “Enjoy a drink” As for circumstances, I used to be financially stable, not college educated but worked in Management and positions of responsibility. Insurance doesnt count as I live in Australia. I can no longer work more than about 8 hours a week and am on disability now. I once had a chiropractor tell me that part of his oath was about the patient living a happier life, not a healthier one lol. Have a wonderful day everyone, Ali xx

March 24, 2013 at 7:13 pm
(31) Ali xx says:

P.S. I forgot to mention the point of the message, funny how we do that. Yes alcohol does definitely help me and at times I would have been lost without it. I do agree it is better to keep it in moderation though mostly. I am lucky I can tolerate it though, Im sorry for those who it would help psychologically if their body wont let them.

Again, hugs to all, I hope today is a good one,
Ali xx

March 25, 2013 at 9:55 am
(32) Jim says:

I have had severe CFS/ME for nineteen years, and FMS for sixteen years. I was a well educated mental health and substance abuse profesional for over thirty years. I drink two glasses or red wine a night; more than that and I have problems not related to CFS/FMS. I find that it relaxes me, and at that level, it doesn’t interfere with my sleep. Be aware of three things regarding ETOH: one is that a little too mcuh can greatly interfere with sleep; it is about as good of a vaso-dilator as their is; and all medicines say that alcohol interferes with the medication. There is emerging evidence that out vascular system is a significant component of FMS. Dilating the bood vessells improves blood flow, and is therefore relaxing.
At the end of the day, like everything else with M.E./CFS and FMS, each individual has their own tolerance for ETOH, as well as medications. My biggest problem at the moment is to lose the twenty-five pounds that Lyrica put on me in less than six months. Good luck to everyone!

March 29, 2013 at 12:12 pm
(33) sia says:

I will never take Lyrica again, Im still tryin to lose the weight I gained from taking awhile ago. I drink a beer a few times a week, it does interrupt my med taking but I enjoy drinking it. Tried marijuana for FMS, it helped take my mind off the pain and stress. Oh the pain!

March 29, 2013 at 3:32 pm
(34) Sherry says:

I’m on disability due to fibromyalgia and CFS since 1997, but I know I’ve had fibro for many more years. Been a Registered nurse since 1975. Have good insurance with Medicare and private insurance. Have never drank very much at all. I have an occasional wine or mixed drink but I can’t have very much of it. Half glass starts up a bone crushing pain. Starts in my shoulders and works its way down. Terrible pain! So just a little sparkling wine or sangria, please! It’s just for fun though because alcohol doesn’t affect me in any other way except the pain if I have a full glass or drink it too quickly. My favorite pain med of choice is hydro-oxycodone. It does reduce most of my pain and it makes me feel similar to the “old” me before fibro. Makes me feel almost normal. But I rarely have those drugs unless I have surgery or extremely painful issue such as trigeminal neuralgia. This is really some way to live – but I don’t “look sick!!” Good luck, take care, and I sincerely hope each one of you can find some love and joy in the corners of your lives!

March 29, 2013 at 4:15 pm
(35) Sue says:

Can’t drink- besides having Fibro, I also get migraines and just a little alcohol can bring one on!

March 29, 2013 at 5:03 pm
(36) Faye says:

Alcohol gives me horrible heartburn that lasts for most of the night. Terrible chest pains… I have GERD and this is one of the things I have to stay away from. Even a small amount of wine can give me problems.

March 29, 2013 at 6:59 pm
(37) Paula says:

Like Jim, I have two glasses of cream sherry every nite. It helps me sleep and helps the pain unless the pain is too. Also like him I can’t go over two glasses I then have problems with extreme fatigue/weakness.

March 30, 2013 at 12:16 pm
(38) Michelle says:

I have a reduced alchol tolerance since I developed CFS. However, I drink small amounts (i.e. a few oz of wine) a few times a week as it does help me relax, get some pain relief, and “feel like a normal adult” as one other reader wrote.

April 2, 2013 at 1:42 am
(39) Michael says:

I was a good drinker for 10 years.I stopped last year in April and my Fibro really took off! Leg pains fatigue couldn’t sleep! Sore heads problems with my bowels and my heart I am now on pregabalin and seem to be slightly better I can sleep for 4 hours a night and get through my working day but only just! I do not talke alcohol at all now I do miss it but I must move forward and get healthier there are other options out there and hope!

April 16, 2013 at 9:21 pm
(40) Denise says:

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in the early 90′sI have found that drinking a little bit of alcohol and I mean a little bit like one or two beers gives me some relief. I also have tried marijuana and it would give me relief. I have some education I do have insurance and I’m a business owner.but because of my career I cannot smoke marijuana and alcohol is very rarely.one thing I’m curious if anybody else is notice that if you go on antibiotics you go into a type of remission. as soon as the antibiotics get out of my system then my fibromyalgia comes back full blown.

June 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm
(41) Alan says:

I,ve had CFS for 20 yrs and 7 yrs ago diagnosed with fibro….in all that time I would drink fairly heavy for the pain and just to feel something better than what I feel like all the time with pain and other symptoms. I have stopped drinking in the last few months to lose some weight and my pain is so much worse without the alcohol…the only thing I dont miss about drinking is the hangovers and the weight gain. I believe wholeheartedly that it( alcohol) helped with my pain and releived stress..Now without it I can hardly walk at all, my feet and knees and now my hips get so painful that just a short time walking in the grocery store almost brings me to tears!!! My pain is 10 times worse now that I am not drinking…

August 16, 2013 at 6:25 pm
(42) Theresa says:

Well, that article didn’t help at all! Get to the “why’s” and what kinds of alcohol and THEN write the article.

August 16, 2013 at 6:42 pm
(43) Carol Moss says:

I really like wine…but since I’ve had FM it gives me such a bad headache..I get a headache after we eat dinner also….no matter what I eat…haven’t tired any other drinks…really don’t like it…

October 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm
(44) Jan says:

Did anyone hear of alcohol soaked cherries for arthritis? 40 years ago I heard about these, and when someone’s arthritis pain elevated they were to eat one cherry, no more than one per hour. Thought it was an old wives tale but now with new scientific research, this actually could work. CFS and FM are both autoimmune related. FM is thought to be due to decreases in GABA, which is why Lyrica (pre-gaba) works well. Research has also found that alcohol increases GABA.

I do not take any pain meds or neuro type meds for my PA and FM, but I do feel a REAL difference in my muscles after one drink. A huge relaxation of my muscles, one that no muscle relaxers can’t duplicate. The only problem is I don’t like the way it affects my brain.

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