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Alcohol Health Res World. 1997;21(1):30-41.

Alcohol's contribution to compromised immunity.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.


Alcoholics frequently suffer from infectious diseases and have increased rates of some cancers, indicating that alcohol impairs the immune system, which protects the body against this type of damage. Alcohol interferes with the functions of many of the cells and molecules that are part of the immune system. For example, alcohol inhibits the functions of the cells that ingest and destroy invading microorganisms (i.e., neutrophils, monocytes, and macrophages). Both acute and chronic alcohol exposure also alter the production of signaling molecules that help coordinate the immune response (i.e., cytokines). Finally, alcohol adversely affects the functions of the cells that mediate the immune response against specific microorganisms and long-term immunity (i.e., T cells and B cells). As a result, alcoholics have an increased susceptibility to diseases caused by bacterial infections, such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. Alcoholics also may be more susceptible to infections from the virus that causes AIDS. In addition, alcohol intoxication can exacerbate the immune suppression that occurs after traumatic injuries.

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