Can drinking alcohol make coronavirus symptoms worse?

By Rebecca Israel, MS, Charles Li, MD

April 24, 2020

  • The effects of alcohol on bodily functioning are well studied.

  • Alcohol is known to increase your risk of breathing problems.

  • Drinking alcohol could increase your odds of severe breathing problems if infected with COVID-19.

Alcohol & Coronavirus

Could drinking alcohol make your symptoms worse?

Ever since the coronavirus shutdown, alcohol sales have gone through the roof. Families are passing the time by playing drinking games and teachers are catching their students drinking in their zoom classes.

The dangers of excessive drinking are already well established. The WHO says that alcohol can harm every organ in the body, weaken your immune system, alter your thoughts and behaviors, and even cause cancer.

Under certain circumstances, alcohol is also associated with breathing problems.

Can drinking alcohol worsen your ability to breathe?

Yes. In 2006, researchers look at the medical records of 1357 admissions to a Minnesota intensive care unit. They measured the association between excessive alcohol consumption and acute respiratory distress syndrome(ARDS).

Excessive drinking is defined as consuming 2 or more drinks a day, or more than 14 drinks a week.

ARDS occurs in people who are very ill. It causes lung inflammation, shortness of breath, and an inability to breathe on your own. Patients with this syndrome often require mechanical ventilation for oxygen.

Alcohol & ARDSStudy Setup


ICU Admissions


Cases of ARDS
Study Parameters

EMR Data Reivew


Full Year - 2006


Two ICUs in Minnesota

This study found a positive association between patient history of alcohol consumption and their risk of ARDS. Previous studies have found similar results between alcohol and breathing-related illnesses.

Along with all the other organs, excessive drinking harms the lungs. Your lungs become progressively worse with how much you drink and how long you’ve been drinking.

Alcohol & ARDSResults

Alcohol & ARDS Risk




Heavy drinking nearly triples your risk of ARDS compared to non-heavy drinkers.


Excessive alcohol consumption defined as 14+ drinks a week or 2+ a day.

Adjusted for risk factors, gender, and smoking.

Does coronavirus lead to breathing problems?

Yes. According to the CDC, a few of the most common symptoms reported by coronavirus patients include coughing, shortness of breath, and sore throat.

Common COVID-19 Symptoms USA

Data was obtained from 146,510 adults across the United States.

80% of COVID-19 patients had a cough.

43% had shortness of breath.

35% had a sore throat.

In pandemic reports across the globe, one of the most common causes for critical care and death is serious breathing issues.

In Wuhan, China, researchers tracked the clinical outcomes of 138 COVID-19 confirmed patients in January of this year. Out of all the patients hospitalized, 16% developed ARDS.

Strikingly, 61% of patients who required critical care had ARDS and were unable to breathe on their own. This data shows us that ARDS was the most common reason for patients to be taken to the intensive care unit for life-saving treatment.

COVID-19 & ARDS Results

61% of patients were transferred to the ICU due to ARDS complications.
Study Parameters

138 COVID-19 Patients


Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, China


January 1-28, 2020


Retrospective review of clinical outcomes.

It is important to recognize that this study is small and conducted early on in the pandemic. Our knowledge of coronavirus changes every day, and so do the numbers. Regardless, this report was necessary to inform the world that coronavirus can lead to ARDS and other serious breathing problems.

If you or someone you know has been infected by a coronavirus, they most likely have experienced some degree of breathing issues. The worst cases of coronavirus require hospitalization or critical care, usually because the patient has trouble breathing.

It is essential to be open and honest with your doctor about your drinking habits and consider how excessive drinking can influence your ability to safely recover from coronavirus or other respiratory infections.

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