If you have Parkinson’s disease (PD), you may be wondering whether alcohol consumption affects the development or progression of your condition. Some people may wonder if they should avoid drinking completely. As one MyParkinsonsTeam member asked, “How does alcohol affect Parkinson’s — how much can I drink? Or should I avoid drinking altogether?”
Some studies haven’t found that small amounts of alcohol are associated with a higher PD risk, while others highlight the dangers alcohol can pose for anyone with a chronic condition. In addition, there may be adverse interactions between alcohol and common Parkinson’s medications. Because of conflicting information, people with PD may feel confused about whether or not to drink.
“I’ve been told by more than one doctor that I should not have any alcohol,” one MyParkinsonsTeam member wrote. “And at this point, I don’t remember which doctor or specifically why.”
So, how do you decide what approach to take?
If you have Parkinson’s disease and are trying to decide whether or not to reduce your drinking — or quit alcohol completely — here are some things to consider.
In general, alcohol can be harmful to people with chronic conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overconsuming alcohol can be a long-term risk factor for a weakened immune system, learning and memory problems, high blood pressure, digestive issues, and various types of cancer. When looking specifically at Parkinson’s symptoms, however, reports differ on how alcohol and PD may be linked.
The type of alcoholic beverage consumed may affect whether drinking has an impact on PD. A 2013 study found that the risk for developing Parkinson's disease appeared to increase depending on the amount of liquor consumed, although no link was conclusively found between drinking wine and the development of PD.
In terms of how long-term alcohol use affects the risk of PD, one study published in 2013 followed people who had been admitted to the hospital with alcohol use disorders for up to 37 years. The study authors found that a history of alcohol abuse increased the risk of admission into the hospital for Parkinson’s for both men and women. The study authors suggested that chronically drinking too much alcohol can have neurotoxic effects on dopamine, the neurotransmitter in the brain that is relevant to Parkinson's disease.
There may also be factors other than observable symptoms — such as how alcohol interacts with your medication — that are important to consider when making decisions about your lifestyle and drinking habits.
The interaction between Parkinson’s medications and alcohol is a common topic on MyParkinsonsTeam. “I miss my red wine and whiskey on occasion,” one member wrote. “I found that it just makes my meds stop working.” Another member said, “My husband has been told he shouldn't drink with his meds.”
“I have to limit myself to one Scotch on the rocks now,” a MyParkinsonsTeam member said. “I used to have three or four, but the side effects are too bad.” Another wrote, “Never really a good idea to mix alcohol with meds.”
Whether you decide to continue your current drinking habits, cut down, or eliminate alcohol altogether, it’s important to listen to your body and have open conversations about these topics with your neurologist.
If you find yourself drinking alcohol to cope with other issues, such as depression and anxiety, you may find that healthy practices such as physical activity can help. In addition, participating in activities such as tai chi, yoga, and meditation may help ease the symptoms and complications of PD.
It is important to discuss alcohol consumption with your doctor to make sure you are approaching it safely. Elements of PD, including motor symptoms such as bradykinesia (slowed movement) and dyskinesia (involuntary movements), will vary from person to person, so it’s important to make decisions based on your medical history.
Taking into account environmental factors such as how central alcohol is to your social life can affect the decisions you make. Be honest with your doctor about your habits and preferences — remember, your doctor wants to work with you to make your symptoms as manageable as possible, not to judge or shame you.
As you decide how alcohol may fit into your life post-diagnosis lifestyle, there are many factors to consider, such as the type of alcoholic beverage, your other risk factors, and your neurologist’s recommendations specific to your medical history. Most importantly, monitor how you feel when you drink alcohol and be willing to have open and honest conversations about drinking with your doctor and other important people in your life.
“I am not even a big drinker, but miss the odd one,” wrote a MyParkinsonsTeam member. “So, I had an alcohol-free beer, which tasted OK, to be honest.”
Deciding to change your drinking habits after a diagnosis of PD isn’t easy, but if you decide to do so, you have 76,000 people to talk to who understand what it’s like to deal with Parkinson’s symptoms.
It’s important to be patient with yourself as you make any lifestyle adjustment. Whether your goal is to drink less often, reduce your moderate alcohol consumption, or cut out drinking altogether, it’s essential to have a support system around you as you make these changes.
How has your PD diagnosis affected your drinking routine? Share your experiences in the comments below, or by posting on MyParkinsonsTeam.