Alcohol & Fibromyalgia: What You Need to Know for Better Pain Management

Living with fibromyalgia can impact many people's quality of life, and adjusting to how fibro affects you can be more of a struggle if you are used to socializing with friends over a few drinks at the bar or a restaurant.

In this article, we will explore the research between alcohol and fibromyalgia and how to maintain social drinks without exacerbating your symptoms. We will also delve into strategies to treat fibromyalgia and observe the symptom severity.

What is the research on alcohol use & fibromyalgia?

The drinking habits among those with fibromyalgia show a broad spectrum. Research exploring the link between fibromyalgia symptoms and alcohol intake has sorted drinking patterns into four distinct groups:

  • None
  • Low (no more than 3 drinks per week)
  • Moderate (between 4 and 7 drinks per week)
  • Heavy (more than 7 drinks per week).

Surveys suggest that a notable 58% of individuals with fibro abstain from alcohol completely. On the other hand, 6% drink moderately or heavily, and 36% report consuming alcohol at a low level1. For context, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines low-to-moderate alcohol consumption as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men2.

Red wine may help with fibromyalgia symptoms

In a recent study from 2023, scientists found that women with fibromyalgia reported feeling less widespread pain after drinking 15 grams of alcohol in the form of red wine each day for 4 weeks. They also reported feeling less worried and happier overall3.

Before we jump to any conclusions, what's 15 grams of alcohol? Well, it's not the same thing as 15 grams of red wine, that would be about an egg cup-sized glass! Grams of alcohol measures the amount of pure ethanol (the true alcohol in all alcoholic drinks) in a drink. If you're drinking something that has a high percentage of alcohol, such as whisky, that might equate to about 40 mL of whisky, while for red wine it might be closer to a 125 mL glass (a small glass of wine).

It's important to remember that this study was done under strictly controlled conditions. When it comes to real life, we cannot control all the factors.

Alcohol & inflammation

On the other hand, alcohol is typically an inflammatory food, and inflammation in the body can cause pain, stiffness and other symptoms. Alcohol can also contribute to brain fog, so if that is a symptom that you struggle with, proceed with caution!

Moderate alcohol consumption on sleep & insomnia

Another study conducted in 2016 indicated that those engaging in moderate alcohol consumption faced less severe symptoms of insomnia compared to people who did not drink at all4. Unfortunately, despite helping lots of people to fall asleep, alcohol can impact your ability to get truly restful sleep. If you use a sleep tracker, you might notice that after a drink or two you get less deep sleep that if you haven't had a drink.

As with many aspects of fibromyalgia, everybody is different which means there's no one-size-fits all approach. You can experiment and by tracking your diet, your alcohol consumption, your symptoms, and other factors in your life, you can start to understand how these different things affect you – helpful or unhelpful!

This information doesn't mean that alcohol is a cure for sleep problems or fibromyalgia, but it does highlight some possible benefits of drinking alcohol in a careful and controlled way.

Alcohol's role in mental health for patients

Studies have shown a bit of alcohol might lift the spirits of people with chronic pain. Drinking a moderate amount seems to lessen feelings of sadness and worry. This might be because alcohol increases a chemical in the brain called GABA, which can help with these mood changes5.

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Does drinking alcohol cause fibromyalgia?

While there's no evidence to suggest that drinking alcohol directly causes fibromyalgia, it's important to understand that alcohol and fibromyalgia symptoms can interact in complex ways. Alcohol can sometimes trigger flare-ups and cause problems if you're taking certain medications for fibromyalgia.

Several things can trigger a fibromyalgia flare-up. These triggers can be different for everyone, but some common ones include:

  • stress
  • insomnia
  • illnesses, which can put additional strain on the body
  • infections
  • vaccinations
  • overexertion
  • weather changes
  • hormonal changes
  • dietary changes.

How to live with fibromyalgia while still enjoying alcohol

When dealing with fibromyalgia, you don't have to stop enjoying a drink with friends. But it is important that you understand how it might affect your symptoms, interact with your medication, other risks, and how to manage your drinking. Finding the right balance between a casual drink and your health is crucial.

Track your fibromyalgia symptoms before & after you drink alcohol

While indulging in low-to-moderate drinking might temporarily ease the discomfort of chronic pain and accompanying depression. It becomes a problem when it is used as a crutch to manage fibromyalgia pain. This may lead to:

  • an increased tolerance that escalates into alcohol dependence
  • exacerbation of fibromyalgia symptoms
  • harmful interactions with prescription drugs
  • heightened likelihood of accidents and injuries.

Maintaining a straightforward journal to track fluctuations in your fibromyalgia symptoms when drink alcohol and when you don't could prove insightful. It can allow you to create a comprehensive data set that can reveal patterns and triggers that might otherwise go unnoticed. This can help you identify specific factors that exacerbate your symptoms, such as certain activities, foods, or even emotional stressors.

Consider adopting the following approach for an effective self-assessment:

  • observe any differences in your condition post-alcohol consumption
  • document the type and quantity of alcohol consumed
  • look for recurring correlations between your alcohol intake and symptom intensification.

Alcohol may interact with your medication

Certain medications prescribed for fibromyalgia are not compatible with alcohol and can have harmful effects on your liver. They might increase the risk of accidental overdose or even have fatal consequences. Therefore, when considering your alcohol consumption, it's critical to exercise caution and seek guidance from your doctor or pharmacist.

Retraining your pain response

Understanding how the brain interprets pain is quite a complex task. It's about identifying what causes the pain, such as stress or certain ways of thinking that have become a habit. Once we recognize these causes, we can start using techniques that help the brain learn to respond differently to pain. It's like training your brain to process these pain signals in a new way, and it takes practice to change these patterns in your brain.

Managing stress

Managing stress effectively is quite important, as it can make your pain feel worse. There are many good ways to reduce stress. One method is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help you develop helpful thinking habits.

Mindfulness exercises are also useful; they help you focus on what's happening right now and can bring you peace. Sharing your experiences with friends, therapists, or support groups can provide emotional support and a sense of community.

Sleep quality

Getting good sleep is key in managing fibromyalgia. Many people with this condition find it hard to sleep well, which can make their daily life tough. Here are some tips to help you sleep better:

  • Value your sleep: Try to sleep for eight hours every night at the same time.
  • Keep naps brief: Short naps are okay, but long ones can mess with your sleep at night.
  • Exercise regularly: Being active during the day can help you feel tired and ready to sleep later.
  • Wind down at night: Set up a bedtime routine without TV or phones to help you relax.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable: It should be dark, quiet, and not too hot or cold.
  • Watch your caffeine: Drinking less caffeine, especially in the afternoon, can help you sleep.
  • Be careful with food and drink: Don't have a big meal or alcohol right before bed.
  • Try relaxing activities: Things like meditation or reading a book can calm your mind and help you sleep, which is important when dealing with fibromyalgia.

More information

At MoreGoodDays®, we guide you through the complexities of living with fibromyalgia with understanding and care. Recognizing the significant effects this condition can have on your everyday life, we are committed to providing you with resources that are both easy to understand and practical. Our content is designed to give you a clear understanding of fibromyalgia and offer strategies to manage pain and reduce tiredness.

We are dedicated to supporting your journey toward a healthy and enjoyable life, even when dealing with the challenges of fibromyalgia.

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