Can lupus patients drink alcohol?

Quick Answer

Alcohol consumption is generally not recommended for lupus patients, as it can worsen symptoms and trigger flares. However, moderate alcohol intake may be safe for some patients if it does not cause symptoms. It’s best to consult with your doctor about your specific case.

Can Lupus Patients Ever Drink Alcohol?

While alcohol is not recommended for most lupus patients, some research suggests that moderate intake may be safe for some. One study found that consuming up to 3 alcoholic drinks per week did not increase lupus disease activity or flares (1). However, alcohol tolerance can vary greatly among individuals with lupus. Factors like medication use, organ involvement, and symptom control should be considered. It’s best to get an individual assessment from your rheumatologist. They can help determine if any level of alcohol consumption is safe for your specific situation (2).

Potential Risks of Drinking Alcohol with Lupus

Drinking alcohol can interact with lupus and lupus medications in several ways:

Increased inflammation

Alcohol can trigger increased inflammation, which is a hallmark of lupus. This may exacerbate pain, fatigue, rashes, and other symptoms (3).

Lowered immune function

Alcohol suppresses the immune system over the long-term. This may seem beneficial, as lupus is an autoimmune disorder. However, the effects are complex, and alcohol can worsen immune dysfunction in lupus (4).

Increased photosensitivity

Many lupus patients are photosensitive, meaning sunlight triggers rashes and flares. Studies show alcohol enhances photosensitivity, likely due to its effects on immune cells (5).

Medication interactions

Alcohol interacts with many medications used to treat lupus, including corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and antimalarials. It can alter drug metabolism in the liver, potentially causing toxicity or changing drug levels (6).

Organ damage

Lupus can affect organs like the kidneys, heart, and liver. Alcohol stresses these organs and makes damage worse. It’s especially risky for those with pre-existing liver disorders or kidney disease (7).

Increased flares

Overall, research shows lupus patients who drink alcohol are more likely to experience increased disease activity and flares compared to non-drinkers (8). Flares can cause widespread, debilitating symptoms.

Specific Risks for Women with Lupus

Up to 90% of lupus patients are female (9). Alcohol affects women differently than men in several key ways:

Hormone interactions

Alcohol may alter estrogen levels in the body, potentially influencing lupus activity and flares during certain times of the menstrual cycle (10).

Lower body water percentage

Women naturally have a higher proportion of body fat and less water than men. Alcohol dissolves in water, so with less volume of water to distribute in, women often absorb more alcohol per drink than men of the same weight (11).

Negative effects on pregnancy

Drinking during pregnancy significantly increases risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal abnormalities. Many lupus medications are also unsafe during pregnancy. Overall, alcohol should be avoided if pregnant or trying to conceive (12).

Types of Alcohol that May Be Worse for Lupus

All types of alcoholic beverages can potentially exacerbate lupus symptoms and flares. However, research suggests some types may be more risky than others:


Beer is high in purines, which can increase uric acid levels. This may worsen kidney problems and increase inflammation in some lupus patients (13).


Many wines contain sulfites as preservatives. Studies show sulfites may provoke rhinitis, hives, and asthmatic reactions in sensitive individuals (14).


Spirits like whiskey, gin, and vodka contain congeners produced during fermentation. Congeners can aggravate lupus conditions like rashes and joint pain (15).

Sugary mixed drinks

The high sugar content of mixed drinks, coolers, ciders and spritzers may elevate blood glucose and worsen inflammation and fatigue in lupus patients (16).

Tips for Drinking Alcohol Safely with Lupus (If Allowed)

If your doctor determines you may safely consume a small amount of alcohol, these tips can help minimize risks:

– Limit intake to 1 drink or less per day
– Avoid beer, wine, and liquor – stick to clear spirits like vodka with zero-calorie mixers
– Always drink with food to slow absorption
– Avoid alcohol completely during flares or times of high disease activity
– Stay hydrated by alternating alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
– Wear sunblock if drinking during daylight hours
– Take medications as prescribed without alcohol
– Don’t drink within 48 hours of lab tests or medical procedures
– Avoid alcohol during pregnancy, when trying to conceive, and while breastfeeding

The Bottom Line

For most lupus patients, avoiding alcohol completely is the safest choice. Alcohol can directly worsen symptoms, trigger dangerous flares, and cause complications with medications and organ damage. However, recent research does suggest a small amount of alcohol may be tolerated by some patients if it does not provoke symptoms. It’s essential to get personalized guidance from your rheumatologist, who can weigh the risks and benefits for your individual situation. With your doctor’s approval, very limited alcohol intake may be acceptable – but caution and moderation are crucial.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I drink alcohol if my lupus is in remission?

Even if your lupus is well-controlled and in remission, alcohol may still trigger flares and worsen symptoms. Remission means reduced disease activity, not cure. Lupus is a chronic condition that needs diligent, ongoing management. It’s best to avoid alcohol unless your doctor explicitly says it’s safe for you.

What about just having 1 drink? Can I have alcohol in moderation?

While many health professionals define “moderate” alcohol intake as up to 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men, that guidance does not necessarily apply to lupus patients. Even small amounts of alcohol may impact lupus. Check with your rheumatologist about whether any level of moderation could be tolerated based on your specific health status.

Are there any benefits to drinking alcohol in lupus?

There is no scientific evidence showing health benefits of alcohol consumption specifically for lupus patients. Small amounts of red wine have been linked to cardiovascular benefits in the general population, but similar findings have not been demonstrated in lupus research. Overall, the risks seem to far outweigh any potential perks. It’s best to avoid alcohol altogether when living with lupus.

Can I drink alcohol if I’m taking Plaquenil or steroids for lupus?

Drinking alcohol while on common lupus medications like Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) or corticosteroids can be dangerous due to interactions. Alcohol changes how these drugs are metabolized and can increase side effects and toxicity. It’s critical to avoid all alcohol unless your doctor specifically approves it.

Is it safe to drink alcohol leading up to a lupus blood test or screening?

It’s best to avoid alcohol for 48 hours prior to any lupus lab work or medical procedures. Even small amounts can skew certain test results and make it difficult to interpret disease activity accurately. Staying alcohol-free before appointments ensures your doctor gets the clearest picture of your health status.

The takeaway

For most lupus patients, avoiding alcohol altogether is the safest approach, as it can exacerbate this autoimmune condition in myriad ways. However, recent research has shown a small amount of alcohol may be tolerated in some cases if explicitly approved by a doctor. It’s essential to get personalized guidance from your rheumatologist based on your specific health profile and risk factors. With caution and restraint, a very limited alcohol intake may be acceptable for certain lupus patients.

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