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Alcohol Consumption Decreases Likelihood of Developing Pain

Study participants who drank moderate amounts of alcohol each week experienced decreased chronic pain prevalence and lower levels of disability compared to non-drinkers.

According to research presented at the European League Against Rheumatism annual congress in Paris, France, from June 11-14, 2014, Study participants who drank moderate amounts of alcohol each week experienced decreased chronic pain prevalence and lower levels of disability compared to non-drinkers.

Researchers from the Epidemiology Group at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom studied 13,587 patients surveyed at general practices around the United Kingdom. Patients were about 55 years old, and were 56.8 percent female. The researchers wanted to conduct the study because recent literature suggested reduced symptoms among drinkers with fibromyalgia (FM) and chronic widespread pain (CWP) compared with non-drinkers.

The investigators collected data about age, body mass index, employment status, smoking, pain levels, measured on the Chronic Pain Grade scale of 3 or 4, and alcohol consumption, based on units per week (0-5, 6-10, 11-20, 21-35, and 35+). Logistic regression was used to discern the relationship between alcohol consumption and CWP/pain-related disability.

Researchers found male patients’ CWP prevalence decreased with increased alcohol consumption from 16.7 percent in non-drinkers to 11.8 percent in patients that drank 21-35 or 35+ units of alcohol per week. The patients drinking 35+ units per week showed the greatest decrease in CWP. Disabling pain for males with CWP decreased from 45.5 percent in non-drinkers to 15.5 percent in those drinking 21-35 and 35+ units per week.

The prevalence of CWP in females showed the greatest reduction (21 percent) in patients drinking 11-20 units per week, but increased among patients in groups drinking 21-35 and 35+ units per week. Disabling pain decreased from 47.5 percent in females with CWP to 17.5 percent in those drinking 11-20 units per week and rose in patients drinking 21-35 and 35+ units per week.

“These include the possibility that alcohol is analgesic, but we did not observe a dose—response relationship and alcohol has a short-acting effect,” Marcus Beasley, MSc, researcher with the study, said to conference attendees. “Maybe people in severe pain decide not to drink alcohol because it may interfere with medications, or perhaps disability from pain interferes with socializing. Or maybe people who are light to moderate drinkers just happen to be those who are normal and healthy. Alcohol consumption is associated with many diseases and poor health outcomes, so we wouldn’t suggest advising patients with pain to start drinking.”

The researchers also looked at alcohol abstainers, who acted as the control group, and found people who drank a low to moderate amount of alcohol were less likely to develop disabling pain (18.2 percent of men vs. 17.5 percent of women) than those who consumed 35+ units per week (55 percent of men vs. 28.7 percent of women).