Person reaching for inhaler due to alcohol related breathing problems

Alcohol is a widely consumed beverage but it can have various effects on the body including physical and psychological side effects. While many of us are aware of the dreaded hangover that some people suffer with after drinking alcohol as well as the more serious health complications related to the liver, few are aware just how serious alcohol can be when it comes to breathing.

In this article, we look at the long-term effects of alcohol on the body’s respiratory system, and highlight why it’s important that both occasional and regular alcohol drinkers are aware of all of the risks. Plus, we’ll answer the common question ‘Can alcohol cause shortness of breath?’

Immediate Effects of Alcohol on Breathing

Alcohol is officially classed as a central nervous system depressant and has been shown to influence breathing from the moment it is consumed. The body’s central nervous system is responsible for various bodily functions which include breathing. When someone consumes alcohol, the central nervous system is slowed down which results in a slower breathing rate and depth of breath. This is known as alcohol-induced respiratory depression.

Alcohol and shortness of breath is a real thing and can also become very dangerous. For this reason, it is essential that people practise responsible drinking in order to minimise any breathing problems. By consuming alcohol in moderation and at a slower rate, the body is better able to process it more effectively which reduces the risk of breathing complications.

Why Does Alcohol Cause Breathing Problems?

In order to consume alcohol safely, individuals must be aware of the potential risks of drinking. When it comes to alcohol and breathing problems, it’s important to be aware of the common respiratory issues that can occur and be made worse after alcohol.

Asthma and Alcohol

Those who suffer from asthma may find that their symptoms become worse after drinking alcohol. This is because alcohol can be a trigger for breathing concerns, leading to an increased sensitivity in the airways, inflammation and even bronchoconstriction. Signs that your condition may be getting worse as a result of alcohol include a cough, itching and shortness of breath from alcohol. If you do feel like you are suffering from worsened asthma, it’s important to stop drinking and consult your GP.

Sleep Apnoea and Alcohol

Alcohol has been shown to relax muscles in the body and this includes in the throat, which can worsen and lead to the condition of sleep apnoea. This is a sleep disorder where individuals suffer with intermittent breathing pauses during their sleep.

The result is not only dangerous but can also disrupt sleeping patterns and lead to long-term health complications. Those individuals who suffer with sleep apnoea or are at risk of the condition are advised to limit their alcohol intake in order to reduce any potential risks.

Disturbed Sleep Due to Alcohol Poisoning or Consumption

It’s wrongly believed that alcohol can help people to sleep more deeply, and while you might feel like you do sleep better after a drink of alcohol, the truth is that alcohol consumption close to bedtime can disrupt the natural sleeping cycle.

Not only will your body fail to get into a deep sleep but you’ll experience shallow breathing, snoring and a reduced oxygen intake which can all lead to breathing difficulties. For this reason, it’s important to establish a cut off time when it comes to alcohol consumption before bedtime so that you can improve your sleep quality and get a safer night’s sleep.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)

Long-term alcohol abuse has also been linked to COPD, a painful and debilitating lung condition. In worse case scenarios, COPD can even be life threatening which is why it’s so important for those with COPD or those with a history of excessive alcohol consumption to undergo regular breathing assessments with medical professionals. Not only will this help to detect any potential issues early on but it can help to prevent them from getting worse.

The Dangers of Breathing Problems From Chronic Alcohol Abuse

Excessive alcohol consumption doesn’t just have an impact on breathing but can also lead to serious respiratory health concerns, which are painful, debilitating and even life threatening. Beyond immediate effects, chronic alcohol abuse can result in conditions like lung infections, impaired lung functions and pneumonia.

Again, as well as the immediate effects, these health conditions can cause even more health risks which again highlights the importance of addressing alcohol-related concerns through lifestyle changes, moderate drinking and medical intervention if required.

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Sleep Apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a sleep disorder that has a direct connection to alcohol. If you suffer from it, or are at risk of the condition, it’s important to be aware of its connection to alcohol in order to take proactive steps to minimise the risks. Alcohol has been shown to relax throat muscles, which can cause intermittent pauses in breathing while asleep.

As well as disrupting sleep, this can also be dangerous and may lead to long periods of non-breathing and even unconsciousness. Those with sleep apnoea or those who are at risk should try to limit their alcohol intake in order to reduce these effects and improve overall sleep quality.

How to Prevent Breathing Problems From Alcohol

The most important thing to note is that breathing problems worsened by alcohol can be improved. It just requires responsible drinking habits.

Limit Your Alcohol Intake

Moderation is key when it comes to alcohol intake and will also reduce any of the above risks. Ensure that your alcohol consumption is within the recommended limits. It’s also important to know your own personal tolerance levels in order to maintain your respiratory health. Set clear limits and track how much alcohol you have consumed to stay within your boundaries.

Make Informed Choices

In a bid to reduce your alcohol consumption and the breathing risks that come with that, choose your alcoholic drinks wisely. Consider the alcohol content in each and try to choose lower-alcohol alternatives. You may also find that you are more sensitive to specific types of alcohol so being aware of this can help you to make decisions that align with your wellbeing.

Seek Professional Help

If you’re struggling with breathing problems because of alcohol consumption or you think you might be suffering with alcohol addiction, getting help is essential. What’s more, the team at Step 1 Recovery can provide you with the guidance and support you need to overcome any alcohol-related challenges including alcohol breathlessness.

As well as personalised support, we have a variety of treatment options that can address both the physical and psychological impact of alcohol addiction and we can help you to get back on track once and for all.

Get In Touch With Step 1 Recovery

Being aware of the potential impact that alcohol can have on your body is important for anyone that consumes alcohol – both occasionally and regularly. By adopting responsible drinking habits, you can mitigate some of the risks associated with breathing though.

If you need any additional support or want more information about breathing difficulty after drinking alcohol, contact your GP. Alternatively, at Step 1 Recovery, we offer resources and assistance and can help you to take the first and important steps towards your recovery.

If you struggle with alcohol addiction, get in touch with us today by filling out our contact form or phoning +44 (0) 800 012 6006.