To Drink or Not to Drink? That Is the Question With Vasculitis

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by Allison Ross |

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If you know me well, you know I’m a whiskey aficionado. Strong, smooth, spicy, sweet — I enjoy it all. When traveling, a bottle from a local distillery is usually the souvenir I choose to take home.

There’s never been a time in my adult life when I didn’t drink. For me, it’s not a vice, and I’ve always been able to control my intake. A delicious beverage is a small thing, but it’s one of the pleasant indulgences in life that balances out the difficult times.

However, the question of drinking with a chronic illness isn’t one I’ve ignored. And even if it’s OK to imbibe as a vasculitis patient, there might be some medications that don’t mix well.

Over the years, I’ve had many questions about this, but it seems there’s still no consistent answer. Of course, everyone is healthier without alcohol, but what if I decide teetotalism isn’t necessary for my specific situation?

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I remember a particularly amusing conversation with my physician during my college years. Recent lab results showed I had increased inflammation, so we switched meds. I hadn’t been very ill, we just needed to try a different tactic to control the disease.

I had spent my time in college in a strange limbo as a sick girl who was still able to get an education without too much trouble. As such, I wanted to go out with friends when the opportunity allowed, and often this meant having drinks with them. But the new medication raised some concerns.

The conversation with my doctor went something like this:

Me: “How many glasses of wine am I able to have on this medication?”

Doc: “How many do you usually have?”

Me: “How many should I have?”

Doc: “How many do you want to have?”

It felt like a standoff, or like I was being tested. I wasn’t trying to push my limits, but I didn’t know where the cutoff was and didn’t want to shock or concern her. Ultimately, she said a few glasses once or twice a week wouldn’t hurt me, and we left it there.

I am either blessed or cursed with an amazing tolerance for alcohol — particularly whiskey. My body processes it rather than rejecting it or making me ill, which means I can ingest quite a bit before feeling bad. But that doesn’t mean I should push that capacity to the limit.

The question remains: How much booze can, or should, we have with a chronic illness before it’s detrimental to our health? Since we don’t know the underlying cause of vasculitis, some patients might choose not to partake at all, avoiding potential triggers.

We already know that alcohol can have negative effects on the body. But when I learned that it expands blood vessels and causes inflammation, I gained an entirely new perspective. Vasculitis involves inflammation of the blood vessels, so it doesn’t seem like a good idea to compound that.

Some vasculitis medications definitely don’t mix well with alcoholic drinks. In particular, methotrexate — the one my doctor switched me to in college — doesn’t directly interact with alcohol. The problem is that both can damage the liver, so mixing them isn’t wise.

Different drinks have different effects, as well. A glass or two of wine may not affect someone as much as the same number of tequila shots. Plus, wine includes antioxidants and other beneficial elements that may help control heart disease and cholesterol.

Then there’s the hydration aspect. Usually I match whiskey with water, meaning I never dry out completely. One drink, then one glass of water, and repeat for as long as the night goes on. This allows me to enjoy tasting my favorite beverage without the alcohol affecting my skin, stomach, or liver as badly as it might if I were dehydrated.

As with anything, moderation is important. I don’t feel the need to abstain completely, though some may choose that path, and that’s respectable. Neither do I consider myself in danger of overindulging to the point that it affects my condition.

Ultimately, I want to research the details and decide what’s best for me, along with my doctor’s input. Having a delicious drink is part of the sweetness of life, and I believe I can enjoy it responsibly.

Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.


Dorothy Frascati avatar

Dorothy Frascati

Thank you for thoughtful and informative opinion about alcohol and Vasculitis. I was recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Vasculitis and started on Methotrexate. I am still processing and trying to accept the fact that I have a disease after being healthy and active all my life. I appreciate your information about alcohol consumption. I do enjoy a glass of scotch or wine occasionally. Good luck to you and your career. I am also an Ohio native - grew up in Toledo.

Allison Ross avatar

Allison Ross

Hi to a fellow Ohioan! I spent the first 26 years of my life in the Akron area. :) Enjoy your scotch - I'll have a glass of that tonight, too.


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