Binge drinking can have a detrimental effect on the wound healing process.

The body is not a gentle entity – it can take a lot of bumping, bruising and other trauma and recover speedily on its own. However, abusing the body through excessive alcohol intake is an irreversible and very damaging mistake to make, and it can have a great negative effect on the wound healing process.

What is binge drinking?

Many people confuse binge drinking for alcoholism. However, they are two very different issues. The National Institutes of Health defines binge drinking as a pattern of consumption that brings one’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams of ethanol per deciliter of blood. Generally, this occurs after five drinks for women and four drinks for men within a two-hour period, though this can vary by body weight and other factors. Alcoholism, on the other hand, is a chronic and generally progressive disease that involves a physical addiction – an alcoholic may be preoccupied with alcohol, have trouble controlling their drinking and develop a physical dependence so that they need to drink more each time to feel the desired effect. While someone might be a binge drinker and an alcoholic, the two can occur separate from each other.

Unfortunately, binge drinking is all too common in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 38 million Americans binge drink (that’s 1 in 6 adults), generally about four times per month.

How does binge drinking affect wound healing?

Excessive alcohol intake is bad for your general health, and it can be particularly detrimental to wound healing. In 2014, researchers from the Loyola University Health System published a study that confirmed this fact. They found that binge alcohol exposure reduces the number of macrophages in the body, white blood cells that fight off bacteria and other harmful invaders. In effect, those who drink at this level are more likely to experience wound infections.

During the study, the Loyola University scientists also found that binge alcohol exposure hinders the production of a special protein that attracts these macrophages and, in effect, is essential for the wound healing process. Such consumption also has the capacity to reduce cathelicidin-related antimicrobial peptide levels in the body – these small proteins are located in the skin’s outermost layer and kill off bacteria while recruiting immune system cells to ward off infection.

These findings may explain why, as the researchers noted in a release, binge drinkers who have surgical-site infections tend to be hospitalized for twice as long and have higher readmission rates than those who do not binge drink. These at-risk patients are also twice as likely to die due to the wound infection.

Those interested in learning more about alcohol addiction can find information and take an alcoholism test through the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and you can call 1-800-NCA-CALL to find alcohol addiction help in your area.