According to experts from the University of Greenwich in a 2017 study, alcohol can reduce pain levels by almost a quarter. A 0.08 percent elevation in the body’s alcohol content will reportedly raise the body’s pain threshold and in doing so will cause a moderate to large reduction in pain intensity ratings. But can drinking beer really be more effective than pain relievers?

The researchers conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis of data from 18 experiments with more than 400 people. The participants were exposed to different types of pain, such as cold, heat and pressure, while their vital signs were closely monitored. In some of the experiments, some participants received two mugs of beer, while others received pain reliever tablets.

Drink beer or pills?

The researchers found that beer was a more effective pain reliever than Tylenol (also known as acetaminophen or paracetamol), although more research is required to determine the mechanism by which alcohol produces this effect. They are still not sure if it reduces the activity of nociceptors (pain detectors) in the brain or decreases anxiety, which, in turn, will decrease the perception of pain.

“The results suggest that alcohol is an effective pain reliever that offers clinically relevant reductions in pain intensity ratings, which could explain alcohol abuse in people with persistent pain, despite its potential health consequences to long term, ”said Dr. Trevor Thompson, lead author of the paper and senior professor of psychology.

“We found strong evidence that alcohol is an effective pain reliever. Consuming about four units of alcohol, about two medium beer mugs or wine glasses, resulted in a 24 percent drop in people’s pain ratings. ”

Comparable to opioids

Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and inhibiting the transport of pain messages to the cerebral cortex. This will tell your body that it is pain free and significantly reduce your perception of the sensation, although this relief is generally short-lived and comes at a high price to pay afterward.

“Alcohol can be compared to opioid drugs like codeine and the effect is more powerful than acetaminophen (acetaminifene also known as Tylenol),” said Dr. Thompson.

He also recognized that alcohol’s potential pain relievers should not be exploited directly. “If we can make a drug without the harmful side effects, then we could have something that is potentially better than what is available right now.”

“The amount of alcohol consumption necessary to provide any type of sustained long-term pain relief could lead to a number of serious health problems and even increase the likelihood of developing a long-term persistent pain condition,” warned the Dr. Thompson.

This is not a license to drink

While the study is interesting, alcohol will only do you more harm than good in the long run. If you are dealing with pain beyond the reach of prescription pills, it is good practice to consult your doctor and discuss alternative treatments.

“ Drinking too much will cause you more problems in the long run . It’s best to see your GP, “said Rosanna O’Connor, Director of Alcohol and Drugs at Public Health England.

Everyone’s tolerance for alcohol is not the same. Two mugs of beer can significantly numb pain for one person, but for another, they can induce some short-term side effects, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty expressing
  • Excessive urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomachache
  • Breathing difficulties

Some long-term side effects of chronic alcohol use include:

  • Liver disease
  • Respiratory infections
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Nerve damage
  • Ulcers
  • Brian’s degeneration
  • Multiple types of cancers

In the UK, the government recommends no more than 14 units of alcohol a week (or two units a day) for men and women. This is equivalent to six beer jars or six 175ml wine glasses. Six beer mugs are the same as six standard drinks.

Compared to the US alcohol consumption guidelines, the difference is striking, as the United States recommends no more than 14 standard drinks per week (7 for women), which is two mugs of beer a day (1 for women).

A study published in The Lancet even showed that US guidelines can reduce a person’s life expectancy. So, alcohol for short-term pain? Maybe, but definitely not for chronic pain.

Final notes

Drinking beer in moderation is important , and not just beer, any type of alcohol (yes, we all know that). If you want to stop or not drink at all, that’s great and no one will tell you to do otherwise. The bottom line? This is an interesting study, but we don’t suggest that you think of beer or any alcoholic beverage as your pain reliever drink of choice.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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