Does Alcohol Cause Adrenal Fatigue? Here's What We Know
When it comes to alcohol in our lives, we’re always putting things in terms of “good” and “bad.”
We often hear studies about how alcohol is linked to a decline in brain health. But then we also hear about how drinking a glass of wine is actually good for heart health.
Can everyone make up their minds already?
There is a lot of conflicting research and ideas around drinking alcohol out there, even though it’s pretty common to kick back and have a drink at the end of a long day.
Yet, studying the effects of alcohol on the body when you do this every day is still a work in progress.
And that goes double for consuming alcohol and adrenal fatigue. We’re only just beginning to understand what happens when you add alcohol to a condition of chronic stress and fatigue.
In this article, you’ll learn what the scientific consensus is around drinking alcohol with adrenal fatigue and what you can do to support total body wellness.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Let’s say you go to your family physician after months of feeling generally lethargic, stressed, at times wired, and at times completely burnt out.
Lately, you’ve been experiencing brain fog, like you’re in this funk that you can’t shake yourself out of and no amount of sleeping (when you get any sleep) seems to help.
It could be a range of issues — but you might want to start with taking a close look at your adrenal health. These symptoms, in particular, could signal some form of adrenal fatigue.
So what is adrenal fatigue, and why are its effects so all-encompassing?
The adrenals are two triangular-shaped glands that sit right at the tip of the kidneys. It’s surprising to learn how these tiny little glands can control a significant portion of the rest of your body’s functions.
That’s because of something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (or HPA, for short). The vital connection between these three parts along the “axis” controls the body’s stress response.
Each time you feel stressed out, your body initiates a cascade of events involving these three areas, which then release several hormones along the “axis.”
Your stress could be because you’re overworking yourself, experiencing a lack of sleep, responding to tense situations at work, or continually increasing your caffeine intake to keep up.
With adrenal fatigue, the glands responsible for releasing cortisol and adrenaline are constantly producing without rest. This leads to overwork and an unhealthy build-up of cortisol in the body.
What we experience externally as stress — especially prolonged stress over time — is what triggers symptoms like:
- Physical and mental exhaustion
- Trouble falling asleep (insomnia) and waking up
- Mid-afternoon slumps with an excess of energy at night
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
- Cravings for salty or sweet snacks
- Weakened immune system
- Brain fog
- Inability to focus
- Trouble remembering important information
- Easily distracted and unable to focus
- Body aches
- Low blood pressure or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
Why is this such a pressing issue right now more than ever?
First off, in the last 16 years, there has been an increasing number of individuals diagnosed with various adrenal gland disorders.
Secondly, the risk of developing these issues rises if you’re over 30.
And, finally, we even see more of the “rare” forms of adrenal issues, such as Cushing’s or Addison’s disease, come up frequently.
So it’s vital to your overall health and well-being that you address adrenal fatigue before your body spirals out of control.
Does Alcohol Cause Adrenal Fatigue?
When you commit to healing from adrenal fatigue, you might want to know what lifestyle factors, exactly, are causing this so that you can eliminate or change these areas.
With adrenal fatigue, there isn’t just one cause. Instead, it’s a combination of several factors that work together to trigger adrenal fatigue.
#1: Alcohol Upsets Your Body’s Natural Processes
Healing from adrenal fatigue calls for a holistic, total-body healing and wellness approach. You have to bring several areas of your body and mind functions back into balance.
And that means taking a look at the choices you’re making around sleep, movement, diet, and alcohol intake.
From what researchers know so far about alcohol and adrenal fatigue, there is a definite connection. A 2014 study showed that alcohol's effects disrupt the communication between your nervous, endocrine, immune, and circadian systems.
Expect alcohol to disrupt your sleep, impair your memory, upset the balance of hormones, and cause inflammation leading to decreased immunity. Yet, these are all the aspects of your health that you need to address to recover.
#2: Alcohol Amplifies the Effects of Adrenal Fatigue
This same study also found that, while alcohol doesn’t cause adrenal fatigue, there is clear evidence that chronic drinking contributes to a rise in cortisol levels.
High cortisol levels can trigger:
- Muscle weakness
- Rapid weight gain, especially around the face, chest, and abdomen
- Changes in skin coloration (unexplained bruising and stretch marks)
- Mood swings
- Increased thirst and frequent urination
Imagine experiencing all this, along with your adrenal fatigue symptoms!
Since adrenal fatigue involves high cortisol levels in the body, it’s not surprising to learn that alcohol can produce similar effects as adrenal fatigue in the body.
#3: Alcohol Contributes to Further Stress, Not Relaxation
A 2010 study showed that stress is a significant contributor to uncontrolled drinking, relapse, and withdrawal.
In other words, we turn to alcohol to reduce stress, but it simply increases it by raising cortisol levels. If we try to “quit,” the body also reacts with a heightened stress response because of the sudden abstinence.
Essentially, alcohol negatively influences the HPA axis and cortisol production. And the more you go through the start-and-stop cycle, the greater the neurological damage.
#4: Alcohol Disrupts Your Sleep
Drinking alcohol consistently can also increase the duration and intensity of your adrenal fatigue symptoms. While it’s supposed to make you feel drowsy and relaxed, excessive alcohol actually increases your brain’s activity — but at all the wrong times, and in all the wrong ways.
Even if it helps you fall asleep “quicker,” you won’t stay like this for long. Alcohol interrupts the REM stage of the sleep cycle. This is our restful, dream-state that we need to feel mentally refreshed and restored again. It’s why so many people experience a “hangover” the next day.
Also, alcohol, like caffeine, is a natural diuretic. This means you’ll feel the urge to wake up and head to the bathroom several times during the night.
There are more reasons to avoid caffeine than just poor sleep. Find out why coffee and adrenal fatigue are so commonly linked.
#5: Drinking Alcohol While Recovering From Adrenal Fatigue Could Lead to Addiction
If you’re routinely drinking while recovering from adrenal fatigue, it could set you up for an addiction.
Well, one of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
Studies show that this symptom creates the physiological and biochemical circumstances which trigger an addiction to the substance — in this case, alcohol.
This is also why treatments for addiction include thorough adrenal support.
Consuming alcohol during adrenal fatigue can trigger this vicious cycle. The conditions of adrenal fatigue increase cravings for food, stimulants, refined carbohydrates, and more alcohol.
At the same time, these are the very substances that overwork the adrenal glands, deepening our experience of adrenal fatigue symptoms.
How to Recover From Adrenal Fatigue
With a host of hormonal, neurological, and physiological issues related to alcohol consumption, it’s wise to not only cut back, but cut out while you’re recovering from adrenal fatigue.
Besides cutting out alcohol, you also need to support your body’s recovery process and make it more resilient against stress. Follow these five significant and additional lifestyle changes to heal from adrenal fatigue.
#1. Take Adrenal Fatigue Supplements
Many people turn to things like caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants because they’re looking for a quick “pick me up,” trying to offset the body’s natural feeling of tiredness. Instead, they end up keeping awake longer than necessary.
Or else, they’re looking for a way to wind down from the buzz when it’s time to relax — except that they can’t because they feel too jittery.
They’re trying to make their energy work for them using temporary solutions like caffeine and alcohol. Instead, you can focus on natural energy-boosting herbs to get your body operating at its best!
You can also turn to adaptogenic herbs for adrenal fatigue. Besides boosting the body’s energy, adaptogens naturally make the body more resilient to stress and inflammation.
Common herbs and adaptogens include:
Physical movement has so many benefits beyond just keeping you fit, trim, and toned.
And, by the way, when you’re recovering from adrenal fatigue, exercise shouldn’t be strenuous anyway.
However, there are quite a few low-impact exercises you can take on, consistently, which improve your over mental and physical health. These include:
- Jump rope
- Low impact interval training
- Dance aerobics
#3. Eat for Health and Healing
In recent years, diet therapy is gaining ground as the number one preferred way to heal the body of all sorts of inflammation, stress-related imbalances, and as a form of preventive and immune-boosting health.
So plan to eat an adrenal fatigue-friendly diet of foods designed to support your body’s overly-stressed functions. That means giving yourself the nutrition you need and cutting out things like refined carbohydrates, which make your body work overtime.
#4. Re-examine Your Priorities
Part of your recovery will be to reprioritize time for self-care. For example, that may look like doing meal prep for the week so that you’re not stressed out about what to eat or relying on processed takeout food, instead of committing to multiple social outings.
Or it could mean delegating your tasks to a team member or asking your boss for a more flexible work schedule because you’re not operating at 100% right now.
And that’s okay.
Take this time to address the behavioral and social aspects of your life. These contribute to your adrenal fatigue just as much as your choices around food, sleep, and exercise.
#5. Practice Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Like yoga and meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a specific approach you can use to alleviate stress — as well as anxiety, depression, and even pain.
It’s a formal system that was first pioneered by Jon Zabat-Kinn in 1979. The practice includes techniques such as:
- Box breathing
- Mindful focus and contemplation (awareness mindfulness)
- Sustained focus on only one thing in the moment (focus mindfulness)
- Body scans
- Object meditation
Want to learn more about adrenal fatigue recovery? Check out our dedicated adrenal fatigue recovery guide for that!
Think about it this way — mothers-to-be frequently forgo things like caffeine and alcohol during pregnancy.
Do they like it? Not likely. Is it worth it? Absolutely!
Your healing journey is quite a bit like that commitment — tough (in the beginning), but so worth it. It may be for a relatively short period of your life, but cutting out alcohol during adrenal fatigue can reward you with health and wellness that lasts a lifetime.
So don’t wait another second!