COPD and Alcohol: Is There a Connection?
July 27, 2022

COPD and Alcohol: Is There a Connection?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases that affect your breathing. This includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

People with COPD typically have blocked airways and experience breathing-related problems. These problems result from reduced functional lung capacity along with lung inflammation and damage.

Some people with COPD also experience excessive mucus production, which can make breathing difficult.

COPD is very common in people who smoke. But there’s another factor that complicates the condition.

People who smoke also frequently drink. That makes understanding the relationship between drinking, smoking, and COPD hard to pin down.

What the research says:

There’s evidence that alcohol dependence and tobacco use are linked. But how does alcohol use connect to having COPD?

Here’s a look at how smoking and drinking can cause, and possibly complicate this lung condition.

On drinking and smoking

The relationship between drinking alcohol and smoking is well established.

According to the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, people with alcohol dependence are three times more likely to be smokers than the average population.

Similarly, people who are chronic tobacco users are four times more likely to be dependent on alcohol than the average population.

On smoking and COPD

COPD is typically caused by long-term exposure to lung irritants, which can damage your lungs and airways. In the United States, inhaling cigarette smoke is considered to be the number one cause of COPD.

Pipe, cigar, and other types of smoke — secondhand or environmental — can also cause COPD.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 15 million Americans are currently diagnosed with COPD.

Of those 15 million, 39 percent still smoke, despite the obvious relationship between smoking and lung diseases.

On drinking and COPD

Drinking regularly may increase your risk of developing COPD.

According to some researchers, heavy drinking reduces your levels of glutathione. This antioxidant helps protect your lungs against damage from smoke.

Additionally, regular or chronic drinking prevents your lungs from keeping up a healthy airway. Your mucociliary transport system works continually to clear mucus and contaminants out of your airways. When you drink heavily, the system doesn’t work as effectively as it should.

One-third of adults with chronic health problems, including COPD, reported that they drink regularly. Of those, nearly 7 percent reported drinking heavily.

2016 study indicates that being diagnosed with a medical condition or beginning treatment for a serious disease, like cancer, often prompts some adults to quit drinking.

But that’s not the case for many people with COPD.

The same study found that people diagnosed with COPD, as well as other cardiovascular disorders, aren’t as likely to give up drinking because of the diagnosis.

This suggests that many people with COPD regularly drank before being diagnosed with COPD. It’s hard to determine whether their alcohol consumption contributed to their diagnosis.

Other risk factors for COPD

Smoking is almost always the cause of COPD. Nearly 90 percent of all COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking.

In fact, smoking ultimately accounts for as many as 8 in 10 COPD-related deaths.

Still, 1 in 4 Americans with the disease have never smoked. Other causes also contribute to who develops the condition.

These include:

  • exposure to secondhand smoke
  • exposure to environmental toxins and pollution
  • exposure to fumes from burning chemicals or fuel
  • certain genetic disorders, such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency


COPD, Spirometry