a woman enjoying a glass of wine

A quarter of people with chronic pain use alcohol for pain relief. Doctors and caregivers have major concerns about the potential for interactions between alcohol and pain medications — and the potential to develop an addiction.

Estimates of addiction among people suffering with chronic pain vary from 3% to 40%. Some studies claim that alcohol does not reduce pain while others say it’s effective at reducing symptoms.

Before modern painkillers became widespread, alcohol was commonly used to manage pain. The earliest evidence of alcohol as medicine was found in the tomb of Scorpion I, one of Egypt’s first pharaohs. The argument for alcohol as medicine became popular again during prohibition.

Today, scientists are looking at alcohol to see if our ancestors were right in thinking moderate consumption has benefits for everything from diabetes to dementia. It can be tricky to get approval to conduct studies on alcohol, since doctors are hesitant to potentially expose volunteers to harm.

In a study, published in Arthritis Care & Research, of 2,239 individuals with chronic widespread pain, the key feature of fibromyalgia, those who regularly consumed alcohol had lower levels of disability than those who never or rarely drank.

Those who drank 21 to 35 units of alcohol per week were 67% less likely than never drinkers to experience disability. (One unit of alcohol is a half pint of average strength beer, one small glass of wine, or one single measure of spirits.)

“Although we cannot say that alcohol consumption causes less disability among people with chronic widespread pain, the observed link warrants further investigation,” said Dr. Gary Macfarlane, co-author of the study.

Of course, the correlation isn’t causation. This is an early study and doctors agree on one thing — they don’t know enough about the potential health benefits of moderate drinking to suggest it.

Written by Michelle Daly

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1 Comment

  1. This is a huge issue with some of the people I work with as a volunteer. The biggest problem is when they are mixing the alcohol with pain killers. Sometimes devastating results.

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