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:
- A study released earlier this year, and
- 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.
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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