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Fibromyalgia & Alcohol: Does Drinking Make It Worse?

Last Updated: November 3, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Fibromyalgia is a painful condition with no known cure, and its symptoms can be worsened by heavy alcohol use.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that makes people more sensitive to pain throughout their bodies. Research shows that light alcohol use does not negatively affect fibromyalgia pain and may even help to reduce it. Heavy alcohol use, however, is considered bad for fibromyalgia symptoms and can likely increase their severity.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Medical scientists don’t know exactly what fibromyalgia is. In fact, for many years, it was debated whether it was an actual condition or not. While the medical community now recognizes that it is a legitimate medical condition, what it is and how it occurs is still the subject of ongoing research.

Fibromyalgia is thought to be a condition affecting the nervous system that increases sensitivity to pain. It affects 2–4% of people and occurs more commonly in women. While fibromyalgia can impact your quality of life, it is not associated with a higher rate of diseases or other medical problems.

Fibromyalgia Symptoms

  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Problems sleeping
  • Bloating or constipation
  • Muscle and joint pain or stiffness
  • Heightened sensitivity to touch
  • Increased sensitivity to light, odor, noise or temperature changes
  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Chronic pain throughout the body or affecting multiple locations
  • Overwhelming feeling of fatigue or tiredness

How Is It Diagnosed?

Because there are so many unknowns, fibromyalgia is very difficult to diagnose. There are diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia, but it cannot be directly tested for. It is generally diagnosed based on the symptoms that someone reports and by excluding any other potential medical explanation for those symptoms. If you believe you may have fibromyalgia, a rheumatologist or a doctor specializing in pain management is the best place to start for a diagnosis.

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Fibromyalgia Treatments

There are no cures for fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia treatments typically involve improving your overall health through exercise or therapy. It can also involve using certain medications to regulate how your brain perceives pain.

Exercise is recommended for those with fibromyalgia, even though it may be uncomfortable. Additionally, certain talk therapies may help those with fibromyalgia better cope with the pain they experience. Other forms of therapy, like acupuncture or chiropractic medicine, may also help.
There are some FDA-approved medicines for fibromyalgia. These medications change the brain’s sensitivity to certain signals and may help reduce the pain it causes. Over-the-counter pain medications may also help; however, they should not be used long term without consulting a doctor.

Alcohol and Fibromyalgia Overview

Research into alcohol and fibromyalgia is difficult, as the science behind what causes fibromyalgia is largely unknown. Most of the research into alcohol and fibromyalgia indicates that light to moderate drinking could reduce some pain in select people with fibromyalgia. However, other symptoms, like fatigue, may be worsened with alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use has been demonstrated to have a negative effect, increasing pain and other symptoms.

Based on this information, some people may believe drinking alcohol is good for people with fibromyalgia; this is not the case. Alcohol builds tolerance, meaning that over time, larger and larger amounts of alcohol are needed to create the same effect. Additionally, alcohol can be addictive, causing people to lose control of their behaviors and become heavy drinkers, which is detrimental in those with fibromyalgia.

Does Alcohol Cause Fibromyalgia?

There is no evidence showing that alcohol use causes fibromyalgia; however, due to the unknown nature of fibromyalgia, this possibility cannot be excluded. There are anecdotal reports of people whose fibromyalgia is triggered by alcohol use. These reports have not been fully studied yet, and the exact relationship between alcohol and fibromyalgia remains unclear.

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What is known is that heavy alcohol use can disrupt the ability to sleep deeply, which may worsen chronic fatigue for people with fibromyalgia.

Does Alcohol Worsen Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

Alcohol does generally worsen fibromyalgia symptoms. One study shows that when people with fibromyalgia use alcohol, they are more likely to experience:

  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Worse hangovers

There is research to suggest that light to moderate alcohol use can temporarily decrease fibromyalgia pain, but this comes at the expense of worsening other symptoms. Therefore, using alcohol on purpose to treat fibromyalgia is considered unhealthy and will not be sustainable for most people.

Can Moderate Drinking Improve Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

Yes and no. Moderate drinking can improve fibromyalgia pain but has been shown to make other fibromyalgia symptoms worse. While it can improve pain, using alcohol as a pain treatment tool is risky. Over time, the likelihood of increased alcohol use grows, which could lead to dependence and addiction.

Help for Alcohol Addiction

If you or your loved one is using alcohol to cope with fibromyalgia symptoms, it’s important to get off of alcohol and begin a healthy symptom management program. At The Recovery Village Kansas City, we help people successfully stop using alcohol as comfortably and safely as possible. Contact us today to learn how to get started on your recovery journey.

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