How Does Drinking Alcohol Impact Cystic Fibrosis?

Alcoholic beverages are the stuff of adult celebrations, socializing, and evenings out on the town. But, drinking alcohol holds special health risks for people with cystic fibrosis (CF). Perhaps the biggest danger is it can make it easier to forget daily treatments or skip medications.1

Drinking alcohol and cystic fibrosis

The primary medical issues with alcohol consumption for people with CF are:1-4

  • Because alcohol is a depressant it decreases function of the respiratory system, which may make it harder to breathe or clear mucus.
  • Certain medications, like antibiotics, become less potent when mixed with alcohol. Other medications interact poorly with alcohol and cause unpleasant side effects.
  • Drinking alcohol can impact laboratory tests.
  • Consuming alcohol at night can disrupt sleep patterns, making it hard to get proper rest.
  • Alcohol, because it is essentially liquid sugar, can make it harder to control blood glucose if you have CF-related diabetes.
  • If your drinking turns into substance abuse, it may affect your eligibility for a transplant, should the need arise.
  • Alcohol may aggravate or intensify health conditions common to people with CF such as dehydration, osteoporosis, and liver disease.
  • Drinking alcohol can increase the likelihood of pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas.

Tips for healthy alcohol consumption

Depending on your individual circumstances, you may be able to drink alcohol in moderation or you may not be able to drink at all. Always check with your medical team to be sure drinking is safe for you. Other tips include:2-5

  • Be aware that what is considered moderate drinking for people with CF is often less than what is considered moderate drinking for an otherwise healthy adult.
  • Before reaching for an adult beverage, be sure to check all of your medications for interactions with alcohol.
  • Always eat some food and take your enzymes before drinking.
  • Choose lower-alcohol beers and wines or add an extra mixer to reduce your alcohol intake.
  • Drink plenty of water between drinks and after consuming alcohol
  • Take a least two days off before drinking again.

Drinking alcohol with cystic fibrosis-related diabetes

If you have CF-related diabetes, you should take some extra precautions if you decide to drink alcohol. Namely, alcohol increases your risk of having hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). That is why it is important to never drink on an empty stomach and eat carbohydrate-rich snacks while drinking.

Since the symptoms of hypoglycemia (hypo) look much the same as being drunk, make sure to update your emergency information on your ID with your usual hypo treatment and carry it with you. You also should make sure that your friends know how to recognize and treat you if the need occurs.

Problem drinking and CF

Drinking alcohol, or using any mind-altering substance, creates special problems for people with CF. That is because maintaining the daily routine of CF treatments is such a vital part of slowing the progression of CF, and misuse often makes it harder to sustain daily care.

One 2015 study of teens with CF found that 36.5 percent reported using alcohol and 20 percent used marijuana. These young people were more likely to forget or deliberately skip medication compared to non-drinkers.1

A recent study of adults with CF who misused alcohol and opiates were more likely to miss doctor appointments and were more frequently hospitalized than their non-drinking peers.6

Getting help for problem drinking

If you feel you have a problem with alcohol, confide in someone on your medical team and ask for help. You can also consult a local 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, or sign up for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s CF Peer Connect program.

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: September 2019