As people across the globe are told to stay inside, many are turning to alcohol — but it could be making you sick

  • As people across the world stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, many are turning to booze as a coping mechanism.
  • Alcohol sales are rising, and bars are catering to demand by offering cocktail delivery services.
  • However, excessive alcohol consumption has been proven to weaken the immune system.
  • Dietitian Nichola Ludlam-Raine told Insider she urges people not to overdo the booze while self-isolating.
  • Moderate drinking — one beverage a day for women and two for men — is thought to be OK or even beneficial for the immune system.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

In these uncertain times, it seems people across the globe are turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism — especially after pubs and bars have been closed in many countries and residents are being told to stay at home.

Indeed, if social media and memes are anything to go by, everyone is getting through the coronavirus pandemic by stocking up on booze, drinking all day, and making "quarantinis."

However, dietitian Nichola Ludlam-Raine told Insider she urges people not to use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

People are drinking more

While we know everything we see online should be taken with a pinch of salt (and a wedge of lime?), comments from experts suggest alcohol sales really have risen.

The New York State Liquor Authority confirmed it had seen a significant increase in alcohol sales, and Evan Cuciniello of Ambassador Wines said people were now buying wine in cases rather than bottles, according to AFP.

Bars and booze companies are getting creative to stay afloat too — east London bar The Proofing Room, for example, has launched a UK-wide cocktail delivery service.

But as the coronavirus death toll rises, is it really wise to be consuming vast quantities of alcohol?

Alcohol is proven to weaken the immune system

Alongside stress, sleep-deprivation, and smoking, alcohol weakens the immune system.

The reason for this is that it changes the makeup of the gut microbiome, and also damages the immune cells that line the intestines and serve as the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses, as Insider's Madeline Burry explained.

"By damaging those cells in your intestines, it can make it easier for pathogens to cross into your bloodstream," Nate Favini, MD, medical lead at Forward, a preventive primary care practice, told Insider.

Research shows that all it takes is one episode of binge drinking — classed by the CDC as four or more drinks in two to three hours for women, and five or more drinks in that same time period for men — to significantly lower your immune system function.

A dietitian urges people not to use alcohol as a coping mechanism

No one's under any illusion that drinking in vast quantities is a healthy lifestyle choice, but given it's been specifically linked to having a negative effect on the immune system, drinking excessively probably isn't something you want to do right now.

"Long-term alcohol misuse can have a detrimental impact on your health, which includes your immune system," specialist dietitian Ludlam-Raine told Insider.

"Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol may also mean that you're filling up on a drink which doesn't provide any nutrition, and you may be more likely to make unhealthy food choices both during the drinking session and the next day as well (I doubt anyone will be reaching for apples when the munchies hit!)."

Fries are always more appealing after a few drinks.

And in turn, those less nutrient-rich food choices don't do your immune system any favors.

"It's advised that we don't drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, and don't drink this all at once (you should spread it over three days at least)," advised Ludlam-Raine, adding that one unit of alcohol is the equivalent of approximately one 25 ml shot of spirit, one small glass of wine, or half a pint of beer.

"We're going through a difficult time at the moment and I would urge people not to turn to alcohol as a way of coping," she said.

"Drink it in sensible, moderate amounts (for example a glass of fizz or two whilst on 'Houseparty' with your friends on a Friday night).

"Try to not get into the habit of drinking Sunday to Thursday, even though you'll be spending more time at home. Now is a time to protect your health and immune system, not make it worse."

A moderate amount of alcohol could be OK

If you enjoy a drink, you don't necessarily need to go sober to avoid getting ill.

In fact, some research suggests that moderate consumption of polyphenol-rich alcoholic drinks like wine or beer could have health benefits — but the key word here is "moderate."

According to a study by the University of California, although heavy drinking negatively impacts the immune system, drinking moderately may give it a boost. Research by Oregon Health & Science University suggests the same.

Bear in mind, however, that US dietary guidelines class moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, and it considers one drink to be "12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol), 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol)."

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