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Posted on: November 18, 2019 at 5:47 pm

So, are they are not just being dramatic in the movies when a person with a gunshot wound grabs the nearest bottle of moonshine to dull the pain? Possibly not, but it doesn’t mean you should.  

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According to experts from the University of Greenwich in a 2017 study, alcohol can reduce pain levels by nearly one-quarter [1][2]. A 0.08 percent elevation in the body’s alcohol content will reportedly elevate the body pain threshold, and by so doing, cause a “moderate to large reduction in pain intensity ratings[2].

The researchers conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis of data from 18 experiments involving over 400 people. The participants were exposed to different kinds of pain such as cold, heat, and pressure while their vitals were closely monitored. In some of the experiments, some participants received two pints of beer while others received pain-killing tablets.

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Booze or pills?

The researchers found that that beer was a more effective pain killer than Tylenol (aka acetaminophen or paracetamol), although more research is required to determine the mechanism by which the alcohol produces this effect. They are not yet sure if it reduces the activity of the nociceptors (pain detectors) in the brain or lowers anxiety – which will, in turn, lower the perception of pain.

Findings suggest that alcohol is an effective analgesic that delivers clinically-relevant reductions in ratings of pain intensity, which could explain alcohol misuse in those with persistent pain, despite its potential consequences for long-term health,” said Dr. Trevor Thompson, lead author of the paper and senior psychology lecturer. “We found robust evidence that alcohol is an effective painkiller. Consuming around four units of alcohol – about two pints of beer or medium glasses of wine – resulted in a drop of 24 percent drop in people’s pain ratings”.

Comparable to opioids

Opioids work by binding to the opioid receptors in the brain and inhibiting the transportation of pain messages to the cerebral cortex. This will tell your body that you are not in pain and significantly reduce your perception of the feeling – although this relief is usually short-lived and comes with a huge price to pay afterward.

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“[Alcohol] can be compared to opioid drugs such as codeine and the effect is more powerful than paracetamol [acetaminiphen aka Tylenol],” Dr. Thompson said. He also acknowledged that the pain-relieving potentials of alcohol should not be harnessed directly. “If we can make a drug without the harmful side-effects, then we could have something that is potentially better than what is out there at the moment.”

 “The amount of alcohol consumption needed to provide any sort of sustained, long-term pain relief could lead to a range of serious health problems, and even increase the likelihood of developing a long term persistent pain condition,” Dr. Thompson warned [3].

This is not a license to drink oneself into liver failure

While the study is an interesting one, alcohol will only cause you more harm than good in the long run. If you’re dealing with pain beyond the scope of prescription pills, it’s best practice to see your doctor and discuss alternative treatments. 

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

Everyone’s alcohol tolerance is not the same. Two pints of beer may significantly numb one person’s pain, but for another, they could induce some short terms side effects such as:

  • Headaches.
  • Blurred vision 
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness.
  • Nausea.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Excessive urination
  • Diarrhea.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Breathing difficulties.

Some long-term side effects of chronic alcohol consumption include [4]:

  • Liver disease.
  • Respiratory infections.
  • Cardiovascular diseases.
  • Nerve Damage.
  • Ulcers.
  • Brian 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 both men and women. This equates to six pints of beer or six 175ml glasses of wine. Six pints of beer is the same as six standard drinks. When compared to the U.S drinking guidelines, the difference is shocking as the United States recommends no more than 14 standard drinks per week (7 for women), which is two pints of beer daily (1 for women)  [5]. One study published in The Lancet even showed that the United States’ guidelines may lower a person’s life expectancy [6]. So alcohol for short term pain? Maybe, but definitely not for chronic pain. 

The Boozy Conclusion? 

Drinking in moderation is important (yes, we all know that). If you wish to stop or do not drink at all, that it great and no one would tell you to do otherwise. The bottom line? This is an interesting study, but we wouldn’t suggest that you think of beer or any alcoholic beverage as your go-to analgesic beverage of choice. 

  1. Editor. Beer can be ‘an effective painkiller’, say university experts. The University of Greenwich. https://www.gre.ac.uk/about-us/news/articles/2017/a3865-beer-an-effective-painkiller
  2. Thompson et al. Journal of Pain. http://www.jpain.org/article/S1526-5900(16)30334-0/fulltext. Retrieved 15-11-19
  3. Rachel Hosie. TWO PINTS OF BEER BETTER FOR PAIN RELIEF THAN PARACETAMOL, STUDY SAYS. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/two-pints-beer-paracetamol-painkillers-pain-relief-study-university-greenwich-a7708991.html. Retrieved 15-11-19
  4. Admin. What Are the Effects of Alcohol? Alcohol Rehab Guide. https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/alcohol/effects/. Retrieved 15-11-19
  5. Rachel Rettner. Drinking the Recommended Amount of Alcohol May Still Shorten Your Life. Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/62295-alcohol-guidelines-lower-limits.html.  Retrieved 15-11-19
  6. Risk thresholds for alcohol consumption: combined analysis of individual-participant data for 599 912 current drinkers in 83 prospective studies https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)30134-X/fulltext  Retrieved 15-11-19

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Penelope Wilson
Team Writer
Penelope is a writer and health enthusiast with a B.Arts in Language Studies. She is a deeply spiritual person, a relationship expert, a nutrition freak, and a skin-care maverick.

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