It may not just be a body hangover if you’ve been experiencing muscle pains from drinking alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin that can have both short-term and long-term effects on your muscles.
What is happening in my body to make the muscles sore? Is the pain permanent? How do I stop the pain from happening?
Here’s everything you need to know about the effects of alcohol on the muscles and why you may be experiencing pain from drinking.
Short-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Muscular System
Alcohol is a toxin that can cause dehydration electrolyte imbalance and inflammation in the body. After a night of drinking, someone may notice muscle problems or discomfort such as:
- Pain or cramps
- Poor athletic performance
- Decreased endurance
- Impaired recovery
These symptoms are often linked to hangovers since the discomfort only lasts for a short amount of time, but these problems can persist and become serious with more frequent heavy drinking.
Why Alcohol Affects Muscle Development & Recovery
Drinking alcohol has been shown to harm the muscular system by disrupting muscle growth and recovery. Many experience muscle pain from drinking because alcohol:
Interrupts Calcium Absorption
Calcium is a substance your body produces to help your muscles to contract. Drinking alcohol interrupts the flow of calcium in your muscle cells, which is why drinking may reduce your strength.
Inhibits Protein Synthesis
To build muscle, the body must process dietary protein through a process called protein synthesis. Drinking alcohol disrupts signaling pathways that tell the body to build muscle and can contribute to muscle breakdown.
Induces Insulin Resistance
Alcohol has been found to reduce insulin production. Insulin is a stimulator that allows the body to absorb carbohydrates into the muscles and is necessary for muscle growth. When alcohol is consumed it limits the absorption ability, impairing muscle development and recovery.
Contributes to Muscle Cramps
Alcohol is a toxic substance, meaning your body will prioritize getting it out of your system and it will take your body longer to rid of other toxins. Lactic acid is a chemical that your body produces when exercising and causes cramps when it lingers in the body. When drinking alcohol your body will prioritize getting rid of the alcohol instead of the lactic acid, thus causing muscle pain and cramps.
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it also can easily contribute to dehydration. When the body is dehydrated, it causes the body to feel weak.
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Muscular System
Myopathy is a term for muscle diseases where the muscle fibers don’t work properly and cause pain or weakness. Some are born with myopathy, inherit it, or develop it later in life from causes such as autoimmune disease, metabolic disease, or other causes.
Alcoholic myopathy can happen suddenly after binge drinking or develop due to chronic alcohol use. It has been found that one-third of those with alcoholism will develop alcoholic myopathy.
Some symptoms of alcoholic myopathy include fatigue, lightheadedness, muscle pain, weakness, dark urine, cramping, twitching, muscle tightness, sensitivity to heat, and a decrease in muscle mass.
Some diseases that can be developed due to chronic drinking include:
Drinking causes inflammation, which arthritis is the result of inflamed joints. Arthritis can make movement painful and is more prominent in those that participate in heavy drinking.
- Type II Muscle Fiber Atrophy
Type II muscle fibers are fast-twitch muscle fibers used for fast reactions. Atrophy is the gradual decrease in strength and muscle mass. Type II muscle fibers tire easily, and when they develop atrophy they become weak and movement becomes more and more difficult.
In a study done by the National Library of Medicine, it was found that 33% of alcoholics have type II muscle fiber atrophy. After an extended time of alcohol abuse, this condition can lead to noticeably impaired movements.
- Alcohol-Induced Rhabdomyolysis
Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscles. Due to alcohol’s harmful effects on muscle tissues, chronic alcohol use has been found to cause rhabdomyolysis. A study found that 67% of rhabdomyolysis cases involved alcohol use.
Rhabdomyolysis causes muscle tissue to break down and releases myoglobin into the bloodstream. This toxic protein can cause severe damage to the kidneys.
Other Complications of Alcoholic Myopathy
Drinking too much alcohol over time can lead to deficiencies in B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium, and vitamin D. These deficiencies cause problems converting protein into muscle and repairing muscles.
Alcohol also causes oxidative stress and interferes with glycogen and lipid storage which causes a decrease in energy and weakness. Too much alcohol can also lead to kidney failure and depleted levels of mineral salts.
Alcoholic myopathy also can make it difficult for your heart to pump blood through the body. This can lead to breathing problems, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, and severe damage to the heart muscle.
How To Treat Muscle Pain
If you have minor muscle aches from one night of heavy alcohol use, your muscles may begin to improve within a few days. However, there are cases where the effects of chronic alcohol use can cause severe damage and may not be reversible.
The only proven remedy for muscle pain from alcohol is to reduce or stop drinking. In most cases, it has been found that quitting drinking alcohol can help reverse the effects of alcoholic myopathy. The effects of alcoholic myopathy take time to recover, but 85% of people who quit drinking will regain muscle strength and movement within 2 to 12 months and are fully recovered within 5 years.
If you or a loved one are experiencing muscle pains related to chronic alcohol use and think treatment is the answer, Healthy Life Recovery is here. Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment programs located in San Diego, California.
Whitten, Cheryl. “How Chronic Alcohol Use Affects Your Muscles.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/what-to-know-alcoholic-myopathy.
“How Alcohol Affects Your Body.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/ss/slideshow-alcohol-body-effects.
Simon, Liz, et al. “Alcoholic Myopathy: Pathophysiologic Mechanisms and Clinical Implications.” Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513686/.