Question & Answer

Does drinking alcohol protect you against COVID-19?

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  • There are not many studies that examine the relationship specifically between alcohol consumption and COVID-19. The disease COVID-19 is caused by the virus Sars-CoV-2, a member of the coronavirus family. Coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections such as the common cold and more severe respiratory diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) states that ‘alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases’. The WHO also notes that alcohol consumption can make many things worse, including health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence, and advises that it is important to stay sober during this time “so that you can remain vigilant, act quickly and make decisions with a clear head, for yourself and others in your family and community”.
  • Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of “alcohol use disorder” or AUD. There may be particular problems for people with Alcohol Use Disorder during the pandemic, and they should seek support and treatment from their GP.
  • A recent study notes that when the immune system is compromised through alcohol-related damage in Alcohol Use Disorder patients, there is a susceptibility to pneumonia and to infectious diseases. This study recommends that reducing alcohol consumption may be critical during the pandemic.
  • The Central Statistics Office reported that a fifth of all adults in Ireland who drink alcohol are consuming more alcohol during the pandemic, while a smaller percentage report a decrease. The Social Impact of COVID-19 survey found the percentage of men increasing their alcohol intake was almost 21%, with just over 23% of women reporting a similar increase.
  • DRINKAWARE provides practical advice on alcohol and mental health, drinking at home and your immune system and links to support. Drinkaware note that “now more than ever, we all need to be more mindful of how much alcohol we are drinking and thinking about the impact this may be having on our mental and physical wellbeing”.
  • The WHO has developed a factsheet which provides guidance on alcohol use during the pandemic: “Alcohol and COVID-19: what you need to know”. It states that “in no way will consumption of alcohol protect you from COVID-19 or prevent you from being infected by it”.
  • The Department of Health states that ‘Heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.’ The HSE provides guidelines on measuring alcohol intake.
  • We should continue to follow public health guidance when meeting with small numbers of friends and families in the coming months: practise social distancing (remain 2 meters from people other than those you are living with), cough and sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your elbow and wash hands properly and regularly.

Things to Remember

Reviewers

  • Lead Researcher: Dr Michelle Queally, Department of Economics, NUI Galway.
  • Reviewed by: Elaine Finucane, HRB-Trials Methodology Research Network, School of nursing and Midwifery, NUI Galway.
  • Evidence Advisor: Prof Susan Smith, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and General Practitioner in Inchicore Family Doctors, Dublin.
  • Evidence Advisor: Casey Donaghey, PPI Ignite, NUI Galway.
  • Journalist Advisor:  Dr Claire O’Connell, Contributor, The Irish Times.