Gout and Alcohol Consumption
Excessive alcohol use can lead to a variety of negative health effects and outcomes. Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that is caused by an excess of uric acid in the blood.2 Gout is generally caused when certain foods and substances, like alcohol, are broken down, resulting in an increase in uric acid. This can result in swelling and pain. While there is no medical consensus on the exact relationship between alcohol consumption and gout, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other organizations suggest that consuming alcohol can increased one’s risk of gout.2
Understanding what gout is and what the ongoing studies are showing about the relationship between alcohol use and gout can help you make healthy life choices.
What is Gout?
Gout is one of the most common rheumatologic conditions, with approximately 3.9% of adults in the U.S. (8.3 million people) suffering from the uncomfortable condition.1 The risk of gout increases with age and peaks at more than 12% in people over the age of 80.1
Gout is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis in adults. It is a metabolic disease, and the types of food and drink that we consume, as well as the amounts of them, can lead to and worsen its progression.1 It is caused by an excess of uric acid in the blood—a condition called hyperuricemia.2
What Causes Gout?
The body breaks down purines found in foods and within the body, the byproduct of which is uric acid.1 Typically, uric acid is excreted through the kidneys in the urine, but a buildup can lead to the formation of sharp crystals in the joints and tissues, causing inflammation, swelling, and pain.1
Several health factors increase the likelihood of developing gout. Men are more susceptible than women and chronic health conditions including obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes make a person more likely to develop the condition.2
Congestive heart failure, hypertension, and poor kidney function also make one more likely to experience gout.2 Those who take certain medications, such as diuretics, could be at a greater risk as well.3 Certain lifestyle factors also increase the chances of developing gout, including drinking alcohol, which may greatly increase the likelihood of this painful condition.3
Symptoms of Gout
The most common symptom of gout is swollen joints in the foot, commonly the big toe; but ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, and fingers can be affected as well.2 Approximately 60% of patients experience a recurrent flare-up within a year of their initial gout attack and about 78% have a recurrence within 2 years.1 These flare ups are often sudden and accompanied by severe pain, heat, and redness.2 After the pain has subsided, discomfort often lingers for days and even weeks.2
Gout, Joint Pain and Alcohol Use
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the more alcohol a person consumes, the more at risk they are for developing gout.2 Additionally, the results of one study suggest that alcohol intake, regardless of the type of beverage consumed, was associated with an increased risk of recurrent gout attacks.4 The study also revealed that the time it takes for alcohol to influence the metabolic processes that can lead to gout is short, occurring within only 24 hours after alcohol consumption.4
Gout is triggered by elevated levels of uric acid in the bloodstream, and studies have revealed that patients who consume alcohol appear to develop acute flare-ups at lower serum uric acid levels than patients who do not.5 In other words, flare-ups in those heavy alcohol users occur at lower blood rate levels—suggesting that it may take less uric acid buildup overall to trigger a flare-up in chronic alcohol users.5
Some research also suggest that alcohol might be a factor in other joint pain. Chronic alcohol use may increase susceptibility to the development and/or progression of osteoarthritis, the most common of all types of arthritis (i.e., including non-inflammatory types).6,7 One study suggests that chronic alcohol consumption may contribute to the development of osteoarthritis by increasing connective tissue loss in both knee and shoulder joints.6
Modifying one’s diet is key to controlling gout flare-ups such as eating less purine-rich food, in addition to losing weight, limiting alcohol, and changing or stopping medications associated with hyperuricemia (like diuretics).2
How to Safely Stop Drinking Alcohol
Although it may sound simple to limit or altogether quit drinking alcohol, it can be difficult for those who’ve developed a physical dependence on alcohol or those struggling with alcoholism. When a person can one can no longer control their drinking, compulsively abuses alcohol despite its negative ramifications, and/or experiences emotional distress when they are not drinking, they may have an alcohol use disorder (AUD).8
Acute alcohol withdrawal can occur when a consistently heavy drinker suddenly stops after a period of time.9 Left unmanaged, users may experience uncomfortable and potentially severe symptoms when attempting to quit.9 Some symptoms may develop as soon as 8 hours after the last time alcohol is consumed.9
Additional withdrawal symptoms, depending on the magnitude of physical dependence, may continue to arise beyond 24 hours, with some potentially severe effects emerging in the range of 2 to 4 days after abstinence.9
Symptoms may include:9,10
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Delirium tremens.
Severe withdrawal symptoms may include cardiac rhythm disturbances, markedly altered mental status, psychomotor agitation, and continuous grand mal seizures.9 A professionally supervised medical detox can help minimize the risk of severe complications and discomfort associated with acute alcohol withdrawal.9
Treatment for Alcoholism
If you struggle with recurrent gout attacks and have been unable to quit drinking alcohol, an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment facility may help you manage an underlying alcohol addiction. Rehabilitation programs can help provide the tools and resources necessary to remain sober and prevent relapse.
Alcohol addiction treatment offers a number of therapies and treatment modalities to help you better understand the disease and the behaviors that may have led to the abuse in the first place. Within a comprehensive treatment plan, you may experience private and group counseling, behavioral therapies, family therapy, support group meetings and medications.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is the parent company of Alcohol.org and offers a nationwide portfolio of treatment facilities to help you work toward sobriety. AAC is committed to making recovery accessible to everyone in need and our hotline is available 24/7 to discuss your treatment options. Call our admissions navigators at today to begin your path to recovery.