Does Drinking Alcohol Lead to Lower Back Pain?

Like so much in life, there’s not a clear-cut answer as to whether alcohol is good or bad for you. In truth, alcohol may worsen back pain—or it may actually help. It depends on a lot of things, such as how much you’re drinking and if you have a spine condition that could worsen with alcohol consumption.
Female doctor holding bottle and glass of wineWhile medical professionals and national health advisory boards generally agree that moderate drinking is a healthy way to consume alcohol, some people should avoid alcohol completely.Research reaffirms that alcohol’s role in back pain can take several forms—both healthy and harmful. For example, studies have shown that people who consume light to moderate amounts of alcoholic beverages have reduced markers of inflammation throughout the body compared to heavy drinkers or those who don’t drink alcohol.

  • But another study showed that alcohol abuse and dependency were associated with chronic lower back pain.1
  • Another key consideration is that many people with back pain take medication, which presents a minefield of problems when mixed with alcohol.
  • Most people with back pain may safely drink in moderation. But that’s easier said than done, in part because many don’t understand the medical definition of moderate drinking.

What Moderate Drinking Looks Like
Moderate drinking is defined as up to one “standard” drink a day for women and up to 2 standard drinks a day for men. To get more detailed, a standard drink in the United States is a drink that contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of "pure" alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Alcoholic beverages vary greatly in terms of how much alcohol they contain. To illustrate this, below are examples of different alcoholic beverages that contain the same amount of alcohol and count as one standard drink:

  • A 12-fluid-ounce regular beer (containing 5% alcohol)
  • A 5-fluid-ounce glass of table wine (containing 12% alcohol)
  • A 1.5-fluid-ounce glass of 80-proof distilled spirits (containing 40% alcohol)

While medical professionals and national health advisory boards generally agree that moderate drinking is a healthy way to consume alcohol, some people should avoid alcohol completely. If you are taking pain medication for a spinal condition, you may be among them.2

Medication Matters
Medications—even over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen—can cause serious problems when mixed with alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shares how some common back pain medications create adverse reactions when alcohol comes into play:

  • Alcohol and acetaminophen may lead to acute liver failure.
  • Alcohol and aspirin increases gastric bleeding risk.
  • Alcohol increases the analgesic and sedative effects of opiates, which raises the risk of overdose.

If you’re on a medication regimen to treat your back pain, you need to understand how alcohol interacts with the drug. Keeping track of your drug warnings can be challenging, especially if you’re on multiple medications. Rely on the expertise of your local pharmacist and personal doctor: They can help you understand how your medications work together, and if alcohol can be safely consumed in moderation or should be avoided entirely.

Drinking Away the Pain: A Slippery Slope
One of the benefits of moderate drinking is that it may help you relax and ward off stress, which helps manage and prevent back pain.

However, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that about 28% of people with chronic pain turn to alcohol to manage their pain. This presents several problems.

  1. First, alcohol’s pain-killing effects kick in when you drink beyond the recommendations for moderate drinking. This may lead to excessive alcohol use.
  1. Secondly, the more alcohol you drink to relieve pain, the more likely you are to develop a tolerance and dependence on alcohol.

Ultimately, chronic alcohol use to dull back pain can cause you to develop a greater sensitivity to pain. If you withdrawal from alcohol after months or years of abusing it, you may feel pain to a greater degree than you did before. Because of this, many people go back to drinking as a form of pain management. This long-term, excessive use of alcohol causes significant and harmful problems for your overall health and safety.

Alcohol and Back Pain: The Best Thing You Can Do
So, is alcohol good or bad for your back pain? Your doctor can tell you the answer.

Having an honest conversation about your drinking habits with your personal doctor is the best way to safely enjoy alcohol while protecting your overall health. National alcohol guidelines are general and may not be safe for people with chronic back pain. Your doctor will help you understand how alcohol relates to you, as he or she best understands how alcohol affects your specific spine condition and interacts with your treatments.

Most importantly, don’t ignore it if alcohol interferes with your life, your health, and your relationships. If you have problems with alcohol abuse, talk to your personal doctor about how to get help and regain control of your life.

Updated on: 04/04/18
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