October 19, 2020

Boost Your Immunity With Less Alcohol

General Health

Welcome to Week 4 of our Rock the Walk 2020 Challenge! We’re all about boosting your immunity during this year’s challenge. For this fourth week of our wellness challenge, we’re focusing on ALCOHOL and its effects on immunity.

Most people would agree that 2020 has been a bit more stressful and uncertain than in past years. If everything feels more challenging right now, you’re not alone.

So how are Wisconsinites coping? Increased alcohol sales and reports from medical providers suggest that we’re drinking more. More alcohol, to be exact. While having a drink might offer temporary relief, drinking more might be hurting you more than you realize. How? For one, increased alcohol consumption can make you more vulnerable to COVID-19, the flu and other illnesses.

Is drinking alcohol good or bad?

You may have heard that a glass of red wine has health benefits. You’ve probably also heard that drinking too much has health risks. So what’s the deal?

It comes down to how much you drink. Studies show that while moderate drinking might reduce your risk of heart disease (the jury is still out), heavy and/or binge drinking increases your risk of:

  • Weight Gain
  • Injuries from car accidents, burns, falls, and drownings
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Learning and memory problems (including dementia)
  • Mental health problems including depression and anxiety
  • Alcohol use disorders, or alcohol dependence
  • A weakened immune system

What is moderate drinking?

It’s probably less than you realize. Moderate drinking for a woman is 1 drink/day (or less). Moderate drinking for a man is 2 drinks/day (or less). Anything over that, and you move into the heavy or excessive drinking category.


  • Moderate Drinking = 1 drink/ day
  • Heavy Drinking = 8 or more drinks/week
  • Binge Drinking (bringing BAC level to 0.08% or more) = Usually around 4 or more drinks within 2 hours
  • Excessive Drinking = Includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, alcohol use by people under 21, and any alcohol use by pregnant women.


  • Moderate Drinking = 2 drinks/day
  • Heavy Drinking = 15 or more drinks/week
  • Binge Drinking (bringing BAC level to 0.08% or more) = Usually about 5 or more drinks within 2 hours
  • Excessive Drinking = Includes binge drinking, heavy drinking, and alcohol use by people under 21.

In other words, if you tend to be a moderate drinker and you find yourself drinking a little more in 2020, you might need to reclassify yourself as a heavy drinker. And, those few extra drinks might be putting you at risk of developing a lot of long-term illnesses. For right now, your increased drinking could make you more susceptible to viruses and colds.

Why do a few more drinks really matter?

Does having a few extra drinks during the pandemic really matter right? In terms of your immune system, yes. While many things can boost your immunity (sleep, good nutrition, more exercise, etc.), alcohol impairs it. And this is not a great year to slow down your immune system! Here are a few ways that alcohol affects your immunity:

  • Alcohol slows the immune system response so that it takes longer to clear out bacteria & viruses from your body. When germs hang around longer, they are more likely to make you sick.
  • Alcohol can kill normal, good gut bacteria, so your system has less to work with and less to fight off infections that might be there.
  • Alcohol can negatively affect other aspects of your life, such as sleep hygiene. When we sleep less, our body is more susceptible to illness.
  • Alcohol has an adverse effect on cells in the immune system, which can lead to illness and infection and can slow down the healing process.

Do you need to worry?

If you find yourself drinking more regularly, be mindful of how much alcohol you are consuming. Here are ways that some people have reported drinking more during the pandemic:

  • Filling your wine glass a little fuller each time
  • Starting to drink earlier in the day
  • Having a 2nd (or 3rd) drink when you normally would have 1
  • Drinking every day instead of a few times a week
  • Having several drinks in a period of 2 hours (i.e., binge drinking)

If you find yourself in the moderate drinking category, you’re probably fine. But, talk with your provider, because you might have risk factors that do not mix well with any amount of alcohol. If you find yourself beyond moderate drinking, it’s time to rethink your drinking.

Alternatives to drinking during the pandemic (and beyond)

If it’s time to cut back (or stop), try replacing that drink with a different, health-promoting activity, such as:

  • Go for a walk- Physical exercise can reduce anxiety and burn some of the extra energy that keeps you from relaxing.
  • Try meditation- Meditation has been shown to decrease stress and increase feelings of calm, peace and balance.
  • Call a friend or family member- Talking to a supportive person might reduce anxiety and provide even more of a sense of relief than a drink.
  • Read a book or start a puzzle
  • Find a new non-alcoholic beverage or make your favorite mixed drink without the alcohol and have that instead.

If you are drinking more and find it difficult to cut back, it’s time to talk with your provider. They can provide suggestions and helpful information. They’ll also know what options are available to you.

Now is as good a time as any to start a new habit. Make it a habit that promotes your health and well-being. Reducing alcohol intake is one way you can boost your immunity and help fight off infections this fall. So, lift a glass of piña colada (without the rum) and toast to a healthier you!


For more information:

Facts about Moderate Drinking: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm
Frequently Asked Questions about Alcohol: https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm