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Alcohol & Joint Pain: How Are They Related?

Alcohol can potentially contribute to joint pain, although this contribution tends not to be direct.

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Excessive alcohol consumption can trigger peripheral nerve damage, harm nutrient absorption, and contribute to dehydration, all of which can worsen joint pain.

It’s also worth noting that alcohol consumption has shown some benefits in protecting against rheumatoid arthritis.

How Alcohol Contributes to Joint Pain

Alcohol consumption is one of several lifestyle factors with the potential to contribute to joint pain. First, continued alcohol consumption can cause peripheral nerve damage, with the alcohol wearing away the protective sheathing of nerve cells.[1] 

There’s also evidence that alcohol affects the gut’s ability to absorb and process certain nutrients, which makes managing joint disease more difficult, as this can make diet changes less effective. Finally, alcohol is also a diuretic, meaning it can cause a person to become dehydrated, which can worsen joint pain due to worsened joint lubrication.[1] 

As discussed more below, alcohol can also negatively contribute to or impact chronic joint and bone problems.

Inflammation & Alcohol

When the immune system detects something harmful (like bacteria or damaged cells), it triggers inflammation. Cell changes are designed to bring more blood to the injured tissue. Immune system cells flood the area to remove the pathogen and help repair the damage. 

Often, an immune response causes pain. Swollen, hot tissues feel uncomfortable, and the pain persists until the swelling goes down.[8]

Researchers say high levels of alcohol consumption can trigger inflammation. Brain changes caused by heavy alcohol use can make it harder for the immune system to control how many cells it releases and how strong they are. The result is uncontrolled inflammation in response to nothing but alcohol.[9] Sometimes, people feel this pain in their bones and joints.

Dehydration & Alcohol Joint Pain

Alcohol works directly on the kidneys, and at high levels, it can stop them from working properly. When the kidneys aren’t functioning, they remove too much water from your bloodstream. The result is dehydration.[10]

When you’re dehydrated, your body tries to retain as much water as possible. You may feel sleepy and fatigued. You may also experience joint pain.[11]

Your joints rely on lubricated cartilage to keep bones from rubbing together. When you’re dehydrated, this crucial tissue becomes less effective. You may feel stiff, creaky, and painful.[11]

Joint & Bone Conditions That Can Be Affected by Alcohol

Some joint and bone conditions that can be affected by alcohol consumption include the following:

Alcohol-Induced Osteopenia

Alcohol consumption can affect bone health, potentially leading a person to develop osteopenia. More specifically, it’s been found that “alcohol has a dose-dependent toxic effect in promoting imbalanced bone remodeling,” which can then lead to osteopenia.[2]

Osteopenia is a medical condition characterized by reduced bone mass and weakened bones. Most people with the condition don’t have symptoms, says the American Academy of Family Physicians.[6] However, some people can have bone fractures. The condition can also lead to osteoporosis, which involves more serious levels of bone loss.

In addition to cutting back on alcohol, you can lower your risk of osteopenia by following these steps:[6]

  • Stop using tobacco.
  • Limit carbonated beverages.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet, including foods with plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Get treatment for eating disorders.

If you have osteopenia, your doctor might encourage weight-bearing exercise to strengthen your bones and changes to your diet to increase your consumption of calcium and vitamin D.[6]

Rheumatoid Arthritis

One of the more complicated topics to discuss when it comes to how alcohol consumption can affect joints is its impact on rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Alcohol has been shown to have both a positive and negative impact on a person’s risk of RA, with at least one study concluding that it seemed to provide an overall observable and measurable protection against RA.[3] 

With that said, the Arthritis Foundation urges caution around alcohol. You should first get your doctor’s permission to drink and keep your drinking to one drink a day or less.[4] Also note that many medications used to treat arthritis interact badly with alcohol.

Gout & Alcohol Consumption

Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis that typically affects one joint at a time. Most people notice gout in the big toe joint closest to the foot. 

While there’s no cure for gout, people with the condition can effectively address it by reducing their exposure to triggers. Alcohol is one such trigger.[7]

Gout attacks occur when the body makes too much uric acid. Typically, that overproduction occurs when people consume food that has too many purines.[7] Alcoholic drinks, including beer, have high levels of purines.[4]

One study found that whether a person with gout drank wine, beer, or liquor, they saw an increased risk of a gout attack. The risk of an attack increased with heavier alcohol consumption.[5]

Long-Term Health Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of potential long-term health effects, many of which can be quite serious. Some of the health risks worth highlighting include a higher risk of the following:[6]

If you choose to drink, experts recommend limiting your intake to two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less in a day for women on the days you consume alcohol. A standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol and is generally equivalent to the following:[6]

  • 12-ounces of beer
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor
  • 5-ounces of wine
  • 1.5-ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor

Getting Help for Alcohol Abuse

If you struggle with alcohol abuse and want to stop your drinking, seek help from an addiction treatment program. Most people need help to recover from alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Addiction professionals can help you identify what is driving you to drink and work with you to form a treatment plan, so you can start to gain control over your drinking. Once you identify underlying thoughts that lead to alcohol abuse, you can aim to change them and change the resulting behavior. 

Addiction treatment programs like the one we offer can help you reduce your drinking in several different ways. At Boca Recovery Center, we can help you medically detox from alcohol and build the skills to resist alcohol abuse in a controlled, residential treatment setting. You may also benefit from our outpatient treatment program, where you spend some of your week in treatment and otherwise can live life as normal, living at home. 

There is no single treatment path that works for everyone. The best approach for you will be individualized.  Most people work toward increasing amounts of autonomy as they build the skills to resist alcohol abuse and progressively need less support to avoid drinking. 

Contact us today to learn more about our offerings and how we can help you avoid physical, mental, and life issues related to alcohol abuse.

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated April 29, 2024
  1. The surprising link between alcohol and joint pain PMIR. Published May 10, 2023. Accessed September 20, 2023
  2. Luo Z, Liu Y, Liu Y, Chen H, Shi S, Liu Y. Cellular and molecular mechanisms of alcohol-induced osteopenia. Cell Mol Life Sci. 2017;74(24):4443-4453. doi:10.1007/s00018-017-2585-y
  3. Alcohol and arthritis Arthritis Foundation. Accessed September 20, 2023.
  4. Neogi T, Chen C, Niu J, Chaisson C, Hunter DJ, Zhang Y. Alcohol quantity and type on risk of recurrent gout attacks: an internet-based case-crossover study. Am J Med. 2014;127(4):311-318. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2013.12.019
  5. Alcohol use and your health Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published April 14, 2022. Accessed September 20, 2023
  6. Osteopenia. Oller B. American Academy of Family Physicians. Published January 2024. Accessed April 24, 2024.
  7. Gout. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published June 12, 2024. Accessed April 24, 2024.
  8. What is inflammation? Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Published November 23, 2010. Accessed April 24, 2024.
  9. Alcohol, inflammation, and blood-brain barrier function in health and disease across development. Vore A, Deak T. International Review of Neurobiology. 2021;161:209-249.
  10. Alcohol’s impact on kidney function. Epstein M. Alcohol Health and Research World. 1997;21(1):84-92.
  11. What’s to drink? Arthritis society Canada. Accessed April 24, 2024.
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