Can I Drink With COPD?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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two pints of beer in pub

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, usually develops after a person has been exposed to a lung irritant for a long period of time. You can point the finger of blame at cigarette smoke. Although air pollutants and chemical fumes can and do lead to COPD, it’s usually a lifelong smoking habit that causes COPD. COPD also develops in some people who were exposed to secondhand smoke for many years.

So, smokers with COPD who haven’t quit smoking must toss every last pack of smokes into the garbage can for good. What’s less clear is if they should also give up drinking alcoholic drinks. You’re not the first person to wonder, “Are COPD and alcohol use incompatible? Can I drink with COPD?”

Alcohol use can affect your lungs.

Whether you’re a wine drinker or a whiskey aficionado, it’s important to understand how your favorite alcoholic beverage may affect your lungs.

One important effect: alcohol can alter certain functions of your airways, notably mucociliary clearance. A layer of mucus covers the tissue that lines your airways within your respiratory system. Tiny hairs called cilia beat rapidly back and forth and propel the mucus forward through your air passages to keep them clean. This process filters out dust and other particles that you might have inhaled. When the process doesn’t work correctly, you’re more likely to get sick from infections caused by bacteria and viruses that don’t get cleared out. That’s dangerous because your ability to breathe well is already compromised by the COPD.

If you’re an occasional drinker, you probably don’t need to worry. Research suggests that modest amounts of alcohol may not have a negative impact on this process. However, chronic alcohol use may impair your airway’s ability to clear out all those pathogens. In fact, some experts warn that heavy alcohol use may even contribute to a higher incidence of lung infections—the very lung infections that a person with COPD needs to avoid.

Moderation is key.

Researchers are still examining the possible impacts of alcohol consumption on the lungs of a person with COPD. Your doctor may not tell you to abstain completely, but you probably won’t get the green light to take up the bottle on a regular basis, either.

For now, while research is ongoing, it’s best to be cautious. If you don’t drink alcohol now, you don’t need to start doing so. Alcoholic drinks don’t usually offer any significant nutritional benefits—at least, not any that you couldn’t get from another source. And they can interfere with medications that you may be taking.

If you do consume alcohol, you probably need to consider the regularity with which you imbibe. You’ve probably heard this before, but moderation is key. Most experts suggest eating a high-fiber, low-sodium diet that also emphasizes drinking plenty of non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids. The liquids help thin out the mucus in your lungs so it’s easier to cough up and out. Alcohol isn’t specifically recommended or definitively ruled out in a typical COPD diet, but you should talk to your own doctor for more specific guidance on whether or not you should forego or limit your consumption of alcoholic drinks.

The bottom line.

If you continue to smoke and enjoy a drink along with your cigarette, your doctor is more likely to be concerned about the former, rather than the latter. Quitting drinking may help improve your health, but quitting smoking should be your first priority.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Greene CC, et al. The Association Between Alcohol Consumption and Risk of COPD: Exacerbation in a Veteran Population. CHEST. 2008. 134(4): 761-767.
  2. Nutritional Guidelines for People with COPD. Cleveland Clinic.
  3. Park J, et al. The Association Between Health Changes and Cessation of Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2017. 52(3): 344–350.
  4. Sisson JH. Alcohol and Airways Function in Health and Disease. Alcohol (Fayetteville, NY). 2007;41(5):293-307.