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Adrienne Dellwo

Alcohol as Treatment for Fibromyalgia?

By December 6, 2013

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Have you ever turned to alcohol trying to relieve your fibromyalgia symptoms? It's a possibly dangerous and probably controversial topic, but some researchers are putting it out there.

A new paper from Tufts University asks the question of whether alcohol could be an alternative treatment for us. The researchers behind it base their inquiry on two things:

  1. A study released earlier this year, and
  2. Alcohol's impact on pain pathways and the neurotransmitter GABA.

I wrote about the earlier study back in March. Basically, when looking at self-reported alcohol consumption in people with fibromyalgia, researchers linked moderate alcohol use with lower pain levels and better quality of life. (More alcohol did not mean more relief!)

The physiological effects are essentially that alcohol lowers pain levels and increases GABA, which has a calming effect on the brain. Specifically, GABA counteracts another neurotransmitter, glutamate, which gets the brain riled up. Some studies have linked high glutamate levels with fibromyalgia. (Learn more: GABA/Glutamate Dysregulation)

Taken together, the researchers believe it's warranted to study alcohol as a potential treatment for us.

The Problems

Of course, this raises serious issues. First, it's hard to say just what the earlier study means. For instance:

  • Does moderate alcohol consumption improve symptoms and allow people to have less pain and a better quality of life,
  • OR are people with less fibromyalgia pain and a better quality of life more likely to consume moderate amounts of alcohol?

Second, many of us are sensitive to alcohol and can't tolerate it even in small amounts. Then again, some of us also can't tolerate pain medications or antidepressants, so maybe it's not that different from current treatments in that regard.

You could also argue that the risk of addiction and other health problems of alcohol are similar to those of narcotic pain killers. Still, liver damage, functional impairment, alcoholism, and alcohol poisoning are all major issues that will have to be assessed if this line of research moves forward.

Alcohol isn't regulated by prescription. That makes it easily accessible - which can be good and bad. Limits on, say, Vicodin pills are aimed (at least in part) at protecting us from taking too much. Meanwhile, you can buy as much alcohol as you want and your doctor has no way (other than your word) to gauge whether you're over using it.

Then there's the possibility of interaction with other drugs. Most of the meds prescribed for fibromyalgia can interact really badly with alcohol. Please, please, please - never mix alcohol with narcotic pain relievers! Too many people end up dead that way. It doesn't go well with antidepressants, either.

I'm not naive - I know some people already use alcohol to treat their pain. However, if you do, I hope you're using it safely and in moderation and not further damaging your health with it. (For the record, I feel the same about other forms of pain relief, as well.) It takes discipline to stop when you should, especially when you're still in pain.

If research does show that alcohol is effective, it'll be interesting to see how the medical community reacts to it. I know some doctors recommend a daily drink of wine for the health benefits - would they start suggesting that to us? Would it be a last-ditch treatment after all else failed? Would uninsured patients be more likely to get the recommendation? And the biggie - how well would doctors council patients about how much was considered medicinal?

Okay, obviously I have a lot of questions and concerns. What about you? Leave a comment below to tell me what you think about alcohol as a treatment!

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Comments
December 6, 2013 at 8:08 am
(1) Iain says:

Marston’s Strong Pale Ale. Made from Fuggles and Golding’s hops, which seem to be highly sedative. It is 6.2% so there is no live yeast culture left after fermentation. Two bottles put me to sleep. I would recommend avoiding anything that acidifies the gut. Also avoid industrial beers and lagers, which means all well known brands. Find a micro brewery.

December 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm
(2) Eileen says:

I enjoy a light drink with my supper, it definitely helps me relax, calms my nerves and helps me sleep. My favorite right now is a hard cider from ANGRY ORCHARD. Their “Crisp Apple” is naturally gluten free and even helps me with sinus headache pain and does not immediately make me more congested!

December 6, 2013 at 5:00 pm
(3) FayeM says:

I used to use alcohol to excess for fibro back from 1997 to 2006 due to not having anything else that works. I really over did it and it got embarrassing. Also one can become addicted to the alcohol.

I finally got pain pills in 2005, and had to slowly get off alcohol, But recently my doc got in trouble for giving too many pain pills to other patients and lost his license. When he got his license back, he has stopped giving any pain management or pills.

So, I’m back to where I started. I haven’t started on alcohol, but I have been thinking about it. Only problem is it doesn’t last all day. Plus there is the calories that I don’t want or need. Also I have diabetes. So I’m really caught between a rock and a hard place. There aren’t many docs in my area and I really don’t want to leave my doc.

December 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm
(4) Moneca says:

I’m one who cannot drink alcohol anymore. I take just a sip and almost instantly I overheat, no matter what kind of alcohol (beer, liquor, wine) it is.

I know some people will take issue with this but I have taken a very small amount of pot when my meds aren’t enough and I can’t sleep. Not enough to get high, just enough that it makes me relax (and make the pain seem more distant) and go to sleep, but also not enough to get “the munchies”.

December 6, 2013 at 5:12 pm
(5) April says:

For me, personally, alcohol is a bad, bad, BAD choice. Even if I only have 1 drink (usually a beer or margarita) I have a major flare up within just a few hours of drinking it and the following day is even worse. Every now and then a drink just sounds good so I try one and am ALWAYS sorry for it. Honestly though, I have been very tempted to just get wasted and stay that way to get through the rough days, especially now that I am 100% med-free (not by choice- my idiot Dr claims that no one gives pain meds to fibro patients..not even tramadol or strong Tylenol. Ugh I could go on for days about this worthless man but I won’t..this time) and have nothing but ibuprofen to “help” with the pain- I’m just too afraid of the aftermath so I don’t drink. I’ve tried having a glass of wine but get wicked migraines before I even finish the glass and have to stop. Anyway, I wish alcohol could at least help relax me enough so I can sleep but it just seems to have the opposite effect on me and it makes me sad. I hope it helps others and they are SAFE while doing it. Also, a piece of advice from a personal experience, if you take Lyrica DO NOT drink alcohol at all! I was on it for a few months (hated it) and made the mistake of having a special martini with my new husband’s family and seriously thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe- felt like someone was sitting on my chest- couldn’t see, felt like I was going to be violently I’ll and the only thing I could manage to think was “omg I’m going to die.” easily one of the scariest times of my life. If you decide to try alcohol to ease the pain, just please be careful and read all of your Rx labels before you do!

December 6, 2013 at 5:24 pm
(6) elf says:

I’ll never use alcohol for pain, it could be very dangerous if I mix with pills than I’m currently taking.
I had bad experience in the past with not too much alcohol, combine with fatty foods plus my medications ….. I fineshed in the ER :(

Now I’m trying LDN and it’s elping me a lot with the morning stifness.

December 6, 2013 at 5:28 pm
(7) elf says:

I’ll never use alcohol for pain, it could be very dangerous if I mix with pills than I’m currently taking.
I had bad experience in the past with not too much alcohol, combine with fatty foods plus my medications ….. I fineshed in the ER :(

Now I’m trying LDN and it’s elping me a lot with the morning stifness and I have better night sleep too.

December 6, 2013 at 5:49 pm
(8) Mary says:

I enjoy a glass of wine–2 on bad days. I think my pain level is lower than it was 20 or 30 yrs ago–but wine didn’t really get rid of pain.I think what it does is help you relax and if you are relaxed you have less pain.

I’d be careful though–don’t over do and drink plenty of water too.

December 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm
(9) NJS says:

To TC You don’t mention what the topical pain reliever is, I’d like to know.
Thank you~

December 6, 2013 at 7:49 pm
(10) Lisa Petrison says:

I do know a number of people with Fibromyalgia who have found some relief from their symptoms from moderate amounts of alcohol. I’ve encountered fewer people with ME/CFS who are able to tolerate drinking any alcohol at all, on the other hand.

One thing that I hope the researchers will consider is that people with both Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS tend to be hyperreactive to mycotoxins and that certain alcohol (including some distilled liquors) can be very contaminated with these mold toxins. On average, for instance, wines from Europe tend to be less contaminated with mycotoxins than wines from California, because there are upper allowable limits in place in Europe for a variety of mycotoxins while mycotoxins in the U.S. (except for aflatoxin) are subject to no such regulation.

If the researchers give subjects contaminated wine or other alcoholic beverages, it may make them feel worse — even if alcohol alone would have made them feel better. So being aware of this and choosing the beverages used in the study with care seems to be important.

Lisa Petrison, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Paradigm Change
paradigmchange.me

December 6, 2013 at 8:24 pm
(11) Dave Riley says:

Yes indeed. I use alcohol for Fibromyalgia and my most effective pharmacological intervention. And I use it daily.

It’s the only thing that works.

So over the evening meal at night I drink red wine spritzers.

It has saved my life.

The one drawback is alcohol’s sedative effect but as analgesia I’ve turned to it for over 25 years of Fibro symptoms.

[Mind you, I'm not depression prone...]

Its’ not something I talk about or promote for the reasons logged in this post, and while there is research about alcohol as a useful analgesia for arthritis, the preference norm is to go with commercial drugs.

I may take occasional pain killers but after 1-2 doses over a 24 hour period, it often becomes clear that they are ineffective. Whereas wine — guggle guggle — works every time.

I touch on this point here:
http://www.punchratbag.org/p/fibromyalgia-for-beginners.html

You have to weigh up the options and the presumed price you pay with the relief on offer.

That I’m drinking more than the recommended daily level is true. And when the symptoms are really mean you need a filter between you and the grog –such as , in my case,mineral water — roughly, 1 part wine to 3 parts mineral water.

Beer will only cause weight gain. Spirits are far too strong to rely on. Wine has a range of other health benefits.

When I started off, I did pour the wine down my throat because I knew that I would be without pain the next day. This always worked. But then after experimenting you learn a few tricks.

(1) Mix as spritzer
(2) Drink only at home
(3) Drink only between set times — a ‘cocktail hour’ –and always with food.

In used to brew my own beer to drink but that was a mistaken course. Better lifestyle with wine.

December 6, 2013 at 8:46 pm
(12) misssusan says:

I became an alcoholic because of self-medicating my Fibro pain with alcohol. I have been sober for almost 4 years and my pain (and health) is much better than it was then. While I realize not everyone has the “alcoholic gene”, I did. Not a fun road to travel.

December 6, 2013 at 9:10 pm
(13) Nitalynn says:

Until I got diabetes I would often have 1-2 drinks at night, usually rum and coke. I never had more than that and would only have that 3 to 4 nights a week so the drinking was very controlled. I was doing a lot better with the fibro then but since I have been diagnosed with diabetic pancreatitus so there is quite a bit more wrong with me now also. It would be hard to guess whether the alchohol helped me and I am not going to add it to the mix of all the meds I am taking now to try to find out. LOL!

December 6, 2013 at 11:10 pm
(14) Mary says:

I would agree that alcohol hops helps with pain relief. Hops is a natural muscle relaxer. also improves mood. But for me it gives me a Migraine in a couple of hours. Definately do not mix alcohol with Lyrica or Narcotics or antidepressants.

December 6, 2013 at 11:48 pm
(15) carol says:

I have had Fibro for 8 years now but even before I got sick I was not much of an alcohol drinker, not even wine at dinner. Since diagnosed I cannot stand the smell of any kind of alcohol especially beer. My opinion is that everyone is unique and some things help some people and they don’t help others. Listen to your body and you will figure out what works best for you. I’ve seen what mixing alcohol and narcotics can do to a person because I have an uncle that has arthritis has been in car accidents has broken his back, neck, jaw and he started taking pain meds and when that wasn’t relieving his pain enough he would drink which led him to be an alcoholic. A couple years ago he almost died from mixing both narcotics and alcohol. The one thing that saved him was that he had a pimple on his face so when he started getting an anurism (bad spelling) the pimple busted and all the blood came out through there therefore saving his life. That scared me so much that I will not and do not recommend anyone using alcohol and narcotics ever. I know I never will no matter how bad the pain gets its not worth my life. I wish everyone the best and I pray that you all find relief and please don’t think I’m judgeing anyone at all I’m only speaking from what I’ve experienced with my uncle. The one thing he did find relief in is medicinal marijuana and Thank God he is alive and doing much better.

December 7, 2013 at 12:17 am
(16) claire says:

Oh yeah i did this one for about a year , going out every night getting so drunk with my fireds it felt so good not to feel anything but wow the next day was living hell. i finally stoped after my son told me i scare him when iam drunk, i know relie on norspan patches it helps a bit. i dont think drinking is the answer or the cure because when it gets out of control everyone around you suffers not just you.

December 7, 2013 at 3:05 am
(17) Ali says:

I have had fibro and psoriatic arthritis for 5 years. I had always been a controlled drinker prior to that. I would sometimes drink too much but was controlled in the fact that if I was drinking too often I would simply slow down for a while. After getting what I now call FARTS (fibro/arthritis) I did a bad spell where drinking was the only time I had any pleasure in life. 5 years on, I can say I have had times where I drank too often and often too much… other times, I am simply social. It all depends on symptoms and the effects of those symptoms on my life at the time. I think we all go through stronger and weaker times. I do plan on always wanting to know where I am at with it and having some control over it but luckily I am a fibro person who can still enjoy the pleasure of it. I have to also admit to having used it with pain meds and sleeping pills when I was at my worst flares and the pills couldnt even get to me to sleep and I had no relief from the pain. I am always honest with my Dr about if I have been drinking a lot or not, he always used to assume I was all the time, but now knows me better and when I say I havent he believes me. I manage my pacing well now and am doing pretty good, I know alcohol consumption will vary in my life, but it is one thing I want some control of, so when I did have the really bad run in the early days I sought help for it. My FARTS has made me appreciate life more not less, my arthritis will be my worst enemy over time and I plan on enjoying life as long as possible, within the right balance. I believe in quality of life while I have some. Alcohol can sometimes help the pain.. or help you cope, or sometimes it can simply be a pleasure. I wish more fibro sufferers were able to enjoy the pleasure sometimes. Hugs to all xx

December 7, 2013 at 3:54 am
(18) Iain says:

TOPICAL PAIN RELIEF……….
.Aspirin Liniment works for me.
Over the counter gels and creams don’t work. They don’t penetrate the skin
I get some sent from old fashioned pharmacy in London…………Make your own. Surgical spirit, 1% aspirin, Olbas Oil, vapour rub, or other camphor, menthol, eucalyptus product to open the pores of the skin
Or..Horse liniment from veterinary supplier

December 7, 2013 at 7:48 am
(19) GaryC says:

My pain is moderately helped by tramadol. Otherwise, an alcoholic drink at dinner time is the only time when my brain feels any sort of calm from the barrage of symptoms. Never an attempt to become intoxicated, as that would result in some exponential fibro reaction. However, no other med helps me to “step away from it” and become peaceful like a moderate dose of alcohol.

Now all that said, each of us is an individual responder to different meds. So we are charged with listening to what our bodies tell us in terms of response/benefit or potential adversity.

December 7, 2013 at 10:32 am
(20) Budie says:

I do have a couple glasses of wine after 9:00pm, it does help the pain, relaxes me so I can sleep. But never earlier because my fatigue is so bad anyway that would only make it worse. My worst pain in my back is helped with a TENS unit, however I think that pain is from cervical osteoarthritis.

December 7, 2013 at 8:47 pm
(21) Raylee says:

I have two glasses of white wine with my meals on the weekend and it makes me feel very relaxed and it eases my pain and wine makes me have a good nights sleep.

December 9, 2013 at 11:07 am
(22) Patti A says:

There was a study done by Cornell a few years back that showed that whiskey was one of the cheapest and most effective pain relievers known to man. Since I have a Scottish heritage, I was already aware of this, but it was nice to have my opinion validated! The Gaelic word for whiskey roughly translates to “water of life”.

That being said, there are people who can drink, and there are people who can’t. Just like there are people who can gamble occasionally and think no more about it, and people who go to a casino once and lose their retirement savings. So, “A man has got to know his limitations.”

December 9, 2013 at 6:29 pm
(23) Autumn says:

Yes. Alcohol certainly helps. Parf of fibro is that hypersensitivity to pain. Alcohol dulls your senses therefore dulling the pain. I used to party and drink a lot. Since having a baby I can hardly stand alcohol anymore. But when I do have a few drinks I feel much better… plus, because of my age (22), I haven’t found a single doctor willing to treat my pain. They either treat me like an addict or they tell me they won’t treat the symptoms of my diseases without me being on the injectable immuno-suppressant drugs. Which I won’t take because I would still need pain management even with them, and I don’t want to poison my body to that extent while I am so young….. alcohol is much more available, cheaper, and acceptable in society than pain pills, rendering it the only relief that some of us can get. Not really fair, but at least there is something.

December 10, 2013 at 9:19 am
(24) sharon says:

Whisky definately, occassionally a good night of this can numb me for a couple of days.

December 10, 2013 at 10:38 am
(25) TC says:

NJC :

They customize each topical gel for your individual needs and symptoms.

December 10, 2013 at 10:38 am
(26) TC says:

NJS* sorry

December 11, 2013 at 12:13 am
(27) carol says:

My doctor prescribes me lidocaine 5% ointment and I use it on the most tender spots I have pain like hips, neck, lower back, ankles, shoulders and wrists and it really helps so maybe it will help others. The ointment doesn’t radiate heat or cold which is something I love. It just like putting vaseline on ur skin and it has a soft spearment smell and it relaxes my senses. Oh I also use it on my temples when I have a bad headache or my myofacial pain gets bad. My prayers go out to everyone and I hope that everyone finds something that helps like I have. Don’t get me wrong I still suffer but not as bad as it was 8 years ago. Eliminating food and drinks that cause a flare up with my IBS, working out and best of all I listen to my body and doing all three is the best thing I’ve learned by trial and error

December 11, 2013 at 3:42 pm
(28) charlcie says:

I have been diagnosed with fibro for over 5 years now and I started drinking heavy probably 10 years ago….at first it was only weekends then a few times a week…now I can’t go 1 day with feeling bad…I take Lyrica 100 mg and Zoloft 50 mg everyday….if I didn’t take all of it daily I wouldn’t be able to work….yes I feel like crap when I wake up but at least the pain is a bay.

December 12, 2013 at 12:39 am
(29) Helen says:

Good comments. Just FYI — IF you have IBS with your fibromyalgia (as I do), alcohol can make your GI tract feel quite unwell. Alcohol is one of the worst irritants for IBS (for most IBS sufferers but not for all of them). I’ve learned this the hard way myself and THEN looked it up. Oops. Won’t do that again. Ha! Just FYI…

December 13, 2013 at 3:46 pm
(30) Carla says:

I don’t want to sound preachy but to use alcohol as a pain reliever to me is a very dangerous thing to do. First off both beer or wine are fermented, which if you have candida (which many people with Fibro or CFS have) is destructive in that it increases the fungus. Then if you are have any inclinations towards addiction, could contribute to even greater problems. There are other ways to relax ie. meditation, warm baths, yoga, etc. We all want a crutch as we are in distress but doing it naturally is best in my estimation.

December 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm
(31) Kathy C says:

One glass of white wine is fine; any more than that, and I’m awake all night. I’ve been taking GABA for about a month; one in the a.m. and two before bed. I’m calmer and the incessant headaches, neck and shoulder aches seem to have diminished a lot (knock on wood). Good luck to all on this journey.

December 13, 2013 at 5:39 pm
(32) Pr Chris says:

Gin and tonic, one a day…sometimes a half strength second (or small glass of wine with dinner)…never more. I find in late afternoon it helps me relax, and shift into an evening that lasts longer than without. I’m not ready for bed at an early hour (in grad school I regularly read until 1-2 am, reloading the iced tea hourly). With all the pressure about use/”abuse” of opioid pain meds, they better not require us to give up an evening drink. I think there is still a lot of puritan in our national history.

When I was at sea, where US ships, unlike those of other nations, are completely booze free unless there are very extenuating circumstances–often raising to the Commander in Chief of the area fleet, I watched sailors and their drinking patterns. Those with alcohol programs would be stuck at sea for a month or more without ever coming into port. And when they did…the first bar is as far as they got. They would procede to drink themselves into a stupor within a couple of hours, never leaving the first bar (the most sophisticated would visit more than one bar…but having a few drinks at each one.) It seems to be “feast or famine” for them. The British Navy has a carefully restricted beer ration available to petty officers (equivalents) and above, which may not be accumulated, and which can be withdrawn with abuse.

Alcohol has an effect which can be valuable, and it can be abused. In a sane world we would distinguish between the two. If a doctor wants you to absolutely be denied ANY level of alcohol, without making sure why/how you are using it, without making sure that the patients have an alternative that may give the same relief, then I question whether it is your issue, or his/her issue.

Pr Chris

December 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm
(33) cat says:

I’ve been self medicating with a daily gin and tonic for years. I know it relaxes muscles and reduces pain. I’m grateful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

December 14, 2013 at 12:42 pm
(34) Lew says:

I have occasionally had a drink or two. If that doesn’t kill the pain of fibromyalgia (which it doesn’t for me) then further pickeling your brain is a rediculous notion.

December 16, 2013 at 1:56 am
(35) andrew kelley says:

This is interesting. I’ve noticed for quite awhile now that after I’v had a few shots of tequila ( not enough to get me falling down drunk) that I not only feel better (less pain and more energy) while I’m drinking but, I also wakeup feeling refreshed and in less pain the following day.

December 22, 2013 at 2:09 pm
(36) judy deese says:

Happy Holidays A! I noticed my post of about a week ago did not appear
Did I say something derogatory? I did change my provider to outlook from Hotmail which OL absorbed. Not a choice. I am on the treatment from Tuscaloosa Alabama. Those are some kind people.. Judy

December 27, 2013 at 6:10 pm
(37) Dave Riley says:

As I said above I use wine spritzers as an analgesic <i>because it works. </i>…for me.

But it would be a mistake to rely <i>only or mainly</i> on alcohol.

I drive my pain therapy through exercise:

(1) High Intensity Interval Training like <a href=”http://www.hillfit.com/”>HillFit</a> which is an easy every-second-day 8 minute exertion requiring neither skills or equipment.
(2) I also do Soul Line Dancing. Other regimes would do –such as Tai Chi — but I find I can dance <i>even when I can’t walk</i>.

I used to use massage — I ran a massage business for a time — but , seriously, I’d recommend ‘movement awareness” (and dance and Tai Chi is movement awareness ) approaches like the useful <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Relaxercise-The-Easy-Health-Fitness/dp/0062509926″>Relaxercise </a> and high constriction (muscle tioghtening) Progressive Muscle Relaxation instead.

Just on that, my heads up for <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_muscle_relaxation”>Progressive Muscle Relaxation </a> surprises me. I used to teach it in a psychiatric setting but re-discovered it to very good effect on lying down in pain or insomnia. Like ‘movement awareness’ it’s about conscious focusing on the musculature.

January 18, 2014 at 11:06 pm
(38) Red Kildare says:

I have a highly dysfunctional liver, severe allergies/reactions to all prescribed medications. You name them, I have been very ill on them so I take them no more. I do use natural supplements and eat very healthy, yet I suffer greatly with pain every day with no relief other than alcohol. I love craft beers, ambers, porters, stouts, ales the heavier the better. I love a good craft cider too. I enjoy many white and dark spirits, all mostly with a mineral or soda water, no soft drinks. I also enjoy red and white wine, especially with certain meals. I am not overly addictive or depressive in nature and do not consider myself an alcoholic. At 46 it is the only pleasure/relief I have in life, I moderate my drinking and keep hydrated. I would love to try cannabis as a medicinal alternative, not the highly synthetic garbage that the FDA approve and have made legal as ‘medicinal marijuana’ in America, but real natural cannabis, gown in the ground naturally as it has for centuries. It can be in oil form or vaporised into a tonic, these don’t contain the natural ‘high’ that ‘smoking dope’ can give. These things will not kill you if used correctly and in moderation, I guess it all boils down to peoples ability to control themselves. It is a purely individual and personal thing, but as someone who is unable to get any pain relief from manufactured prescribed medicines, I will continue to drink and enjoy alcohol.

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