Long before the the development of modern pain-killers, people realized that drinking alcohol reduces pain. Therefore, they have apparently consumed alcohol to relieve pain since prehistoric times. And they’ve done so throughout recorded history up to the present time. Who hasn’t seen an old Western movie showing someone drinking whiskey to help endure removal of a bullet or other great pain? Indeed, many people around the world deal with pain with alcohol. About 25% to 27% of people in the U.S. currently drink alcohol to relieve physical pain.
I. The Study
Laboratory research shows that alcohol reduces pain. And such studies demonstrate that alcohol reduces pain in both humans and lab animals. However, the pain inflicted in labs tends to be very short-term.
But what about chronic pain? That’s the continuing pain suffered by so many people. This includes pain from many different diseases.
I. The Study
Researchers wanted to learn the effectiveness of moderate alcohol consumption on chronic pain. To do so, they studied 2,583 new chronic pain patients at a pain clinic. They identified patients who were moderate consumers of alcoholic beverages. That is, men who had 14 or fewer drinks per week. And women who had seven or fewer drinks weekly.
Also, many of the patients had fibromyalgia. Therefore, the investigators examined alcohol in relation to pain and fibromyalgia symptoms.
Moderate drinkers had significantly less pain, fewer painful body areas, and greater physical function. That’s in comparison to alcohol abstainers. And it was true for both men and women.
Patients who had fibromyalgia and drank moderately enjoyed the same pain relief. But in addition, they had significantly fewer fibromyalgia symptoms.
These findings are consistent with those of other studies. For example, a Scottish study found that pain patients who drank alcohol suffered less disability from their pain. That’s in comparison with alcohol abstainers. Moreover, the heaviest drinkers had the least disability.
Similarly, a study of fibromyalgia patients reported that drinkers had less pain, less fatigue, and fewer work absences than non-drinkers.
Source: Scott, J. et al. Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced pain and fibromyalgia symptoms in chronic pain patients. Pain Med, 2018, 13. doi.org/10.1093/pm/pny032 (Abstract online).
Fibromyalgia is a condition causing widespread pain, sleeping problems, fatigue, and sometimes emotional stress. Pain tends to occur in nine pairs of specific locations in the body indicated by the red spots.
Risk factors include these.
- Gender (twice as common among women).
- Age (risk increases with age).
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
This page does not make any medical suggestions. Speak with your doctor for advice about any fibromyalgia and/or pain concerns.
III. Resources for Alcohol Reduces Pain
Barrett, D. Paintracking: Your Personal Guide to Living Well with Chronic Pain. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2012.
Chandler, P. Fibromyalgia Basics. Yorkshire Pub, 2017.
Finestone, H. The Pain Detective: Every Ache Tells a Story: How Stress and Emotional Hurt Become Chronic Physical Pain. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2009.
Jaikumar, P. Pain Sourcebook: Basic Consumer Health Information. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2017.
Kanner, R. Pain Management Secrets. Philadelphia: Hanley & Belfus, 2003.
Kassan, S. et al. Chronic Pain for Dummies. Hoboken: Wiley, 2008.
MacFarlane, G. & Beasley, M. Alcohol consumption in relation to risk and severity of chronic widespread pain. Arth Care Res, 2015, 67(9), 1297-1303. (Abstract online)
Thompson, T, et al. Analgesic effects of alcohol. J Pain. 2016 ,Dec 2. pii: S1526-5900(16)30334-0 (webpage)