Results of a study just published by the American College of Rheumatology indicate that moderate alcohol consumption may decrease both the incidence and severity of chronic widespread pain (CWP) such as that experienced by those suffering from fibromyalgia. But U.S. doctors are cautioning against anyone thinking that starting or increasing alcohol consumption might be an effective treatment for fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions.
The study, published on 8/26/2015 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, was conducted by Professor Gary Macfarlane and Marcus Beasley of the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Of the 13,574 people in 2 areas of the UK who were surveyed, 2,239 (16.5%) reported pain that meets the medical definition of chronic widespread pain (CWP). Among those with CWP, 66% fell into the category of Chronic Pain Grades I or II (lower intensity, low disability) while the other 34% met the qualifications of Chronic Pain Grades III or IV (higher intensity, severely limiting). The survey also asked each participant to self-report their average weekly alcohol consumption.
The survey results pointed to 2 key associations that warrant additional investigation according to the researchers:
Moderate drinkers (those consuming the U.S. equivalent of 8-20 beers or 5-15 glasses of wine per week) are less likely to have chronic widespread pain (CWP) than those who have never drank alcohol regularly. Of those surveyed, 20% of those who never drank regularly have CWP while only 13% of moderate drinkers have CWP.
Among those with CWP, moderate drinkers have less intense chronic pain than those who have never drank regularly. 47% of those who have never drank regularly met the qualifications for the higher intensity pain grades while less than 20% of moderate drinkers experience the higher pain levels of CWP.
The lower incidence and severity of CWP did not continue to increase at higher levels of drinking. Those who self-reported themselves as heavy drinkers had incidence and severity rates of CWP that were not statistically different than those who have never drank regularly.
Interestingly, the recent Scottish study produced findings that are consistent with a March 2014 research study by the Mayo Clinic that found an association between low and moderate alcohol consumption with lower fibromyalgia symptoms and better quality of life compared to no alcohol consumption.
Words Of Caution From U.S. Doctors
Appropriately, medical professionals are encouraging chronic pain sufferers to not take these survey results too literally.
“It’s an odd way to suggest that chronic pain be treated,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.”I can’t imagine that any physician will suggest alcohol as a therapy,” she added. “The more you drink, the more you need to get the same effects.”
“Chronic drinking can make pain worse, and withdrawal from chronic alcohol use often increases pain sensitivity,” said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “It’s a poor self-medication and it ultimately causes further deterioration in patients with pain.”
Macfarlane, G. J., Beasley, M. (2015), Alcohol Consumption in Relation to Risk and Severity of Chronic Widespread Pain: Results From a UK Population-Based Study. Arthritis Care Res, 67: 1297–1303. doi: 10.1002/acr.22604